By Brandon Mellor, Seminoles.com
A year ago at this time there was a quarterback controversy at Florida State.
And nobody – not even head coach Bobby Bowden or offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jimbo Fisher – knew who would win the signal-caller battle between the incumbent Drew Weatherford, the up-and-comer Christian Ponder, and the wild card D’Vontrey Richardson.
This year? Save the drama.
Now that spring practice has officially commenced for the FSU football team, there’s no controversy. Weatherford has since graduated, Richardson is contributing on the baseball diamond for the Seminoles and Ponder is firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback at Florida State University.
Of course nothing is a sure thing and Labor Day night when the Seminoles welcome rival Miami to Doak Campbell Stadium to kick off the 2009 campaign is still several months away.
At the end of spring practice, though, there is no question that if the season started tomorrow, Ponder would trot onto Bobby Bowden field at the top of the quarterback depth chart.
After earning the starting nod last season as a redshirt sophomore and starting all 13 games, Ponder entered spring practice with something no player can truly be taught: experience. And after throwing 13 interceptions last year, he knew that using that know-how to help improve his decision-making skills was priority No. 1 on his off-season to-do list.
Before a sub-par performance in the spring game in which he had two interceptions, the Colleyville, Texas native hadn’t thrown a pick all spring. That’s pretty remarkable when you consider that his favorite targets from a season ago, Greg Carr and Preston Parker, are no longer on the team and FSU’s top returning pass-catcher, Taiwan Easterling, had to watch from the sidelines as he recovered from a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Still, there’s no question that Ponder needs to continue to develop his presence in the pocket. He has to get better at making the right decision — and making it fast — in passing situations.
But his first spring as the incumbent at quarterback has set the foundation for that development to continue to occur. With a full year of experience, coupled with the continued tutelage of Fisher and months of preparation and film-studying still ahead before opening night, Florida State’s starting quarterback is in a good position to keep getting better.
Miami traditionally pressures and forces bad decisions by opposing quarterbacks very well, so it will be evident early on just how successful Ponder’s hard work in the spring and the rest of the off-season will prove to be.
What to watch for:
So, what about the rest of the depth chart?
We know Ponder is “The Guy” for Florida State in 2009. But in a game like football there has to be a contingency plan for any situation — and that means having quality depth at every position.
While Ponder’s 13 games of experience may not seem like a whole lot, it’s a great deal more than any of his understudies combined.
There’s no telling how the past few months would have played out if redshirt freshman E.J. Manuel hadn’t broken a bone in his hand in early March and missed nearly all of spring practice. The Virginia native has the size, tools and athletic ability to earn the starting quarterback job one day at FSU and should be fully healed by the time summer workouts come around.
After missing the opportunity to gain invaluable experience as the No. 2 quarterback this spring, Manuel will have to work even harder from here on out to continue to learn from Ponder and Fisher – just as he did so diligently while redshirting last season.
Still, because Richardson is utilizing his skills for Mike Martin’s baseball team, Manuel should remain as FSU’s backup quarterback.
Walk-on Corey Eddinger got more repetitions than expected this spring because of Manuel’s injury and capped off the practice period with an impressive showing in the Garnet and Gold game. It’s likely that he will man the third spot on the quarterback depth chart when fall camp rolls around.
Will Secord — FSU’s latest quarterback signee — is scheduled to join the fold when he officially enrolls at Florida State this summer. In all likelihood, the 6-foot-3 signal-caller from Frisco, Texas will take a redshirt this season that will allow him to learn the playbook and get acquainted with college just like Manuel did last season.
For each quarterback, the rest of the offseason is very important.
But because of the simple fact that the depth chart lacks much experience, the pressure is especially on Ponder in the next few months to not only continue to improve but to stay healthy as well.
This has been the first installment in Seminoles.com’s weekly position breakdown. Check back next Monday when we take a look at the Florida State linebackers.