Two years ago, it was a given that EJ Manuel would replace Christian Ponder as Florida State’s quarterback.
Now the battle to replace Manuel is filled with talented quarterbacks but no favorite in FSU’s first wide-open competition at the position in five years.
There’s Clint Trickett, a redshirt junior who has thrown for nearly 1,000 yards and is in his fourth year.
There’s Jacob Coker, a redshirt sophomore who is versatile and athletic but has thrown only five passes.
There’s Jameis Winston, a two-sport standout who was the nation’s top quarterback of the class of 2012.
And despite being the No. 4 option, redshirt freshman Sean Maguire is not discounted by coach Jimbo Fisher.
None has separated himself yet.
“Let them decide by how they play and their results,” Fisher said. “And how the team follows. At the end of the day, how does he move them down the field? And who can put them in the end zone?”
A decision could be made by April 13, when FSU holds its Garnet and Gold spring game. Or the competition could stretch into August camp.
All four are at least 6-feet-2 with strong arms and have spent at least a year in Tallahassee learning Fisher’s playbook.
Trickett has been Manuel’s backup the past two seasons and passed for 336 yards in a 35-30 loss at Clemson in 2011. Trickett has completed 62.3 percent of his passes for 947 yards and seven touchdowns with four interceptions the past two seasons.
While Trickett can roll out to buy time, he’s not as mobile as Coker and Winston. Trickett has struggled with Celiac disease, which limits the body’s ability to process food. The past few years he has been able to eat more gluten-free foods, and the 6-foot-3 Trickett now weighs 180 pounds. He’s also well-versed in Fisher’s system.
“I am pretty comfortable this spring,” said Trickett, who will be a redshirt junior. “My brother (Samford offensive coordinator Travis Trickett) was out at practice and he said, ‘You look more comfortable than I’ve ever seen. It’s noticeable.’ “
Coker is considered the longshot behind Trickett and five-star recruit Winston.
Coker is athletic. He’s a former Alabama player of the year in basketball but is known for versatility in football. Coker ran the Wing-T and pro-style offenses in high school. He was 3-for-5 for 45 yards and one touchdown in 2012 and seems to have adapted to Fisher’s system.
“It’s definitely gradual,” Coker said. “Took me a good while. Last year during the season was when it really started to make sense. … I love this offense.”
Winston’s FSU career began on the baseball diamond. He’s hitting .222 in 11 games. And the right-hander has a 1.86 ERA with two saves in seven relief appearances. This spring, he’ll practice with the football team on certain days and, when the football team is off, he’ll play baseball.
“I don’t have a social life anymore,” Winston said. “It’s hectic, but I’m a kid. That’s fine.”
Anyone who tries to guess what Fisher may do will struggle with the analysis.
After all, in 2008, Fisher chose a sophomore – Ponder – over senior Drew Weatherford and heralded recruit D’Vontrey Richardson. At the time, Fisher said he saw Ponder as a potential first-round pick, and in 2011 Ponder was taken No. 12 overall by the Minnesota Vikings.
This spring, all eyes are on the quarterback competition – and whom Fisher chooses.
Noteworthy: Former Glades Central offensive lineman Henry Orelus has graduated from FSU and is no longer on the team, Fisher said. It’s not clear if Orelus will transfer to another school to seek a master’s degree and complete his football eligibility.