Francois ready to take next step in leading Seminoles offense

Deondre Francois showed promise in his first season as Florida State’s starting quarterback. He also displayed traits that are concerning but could be fine-tuned in time.

As Francois begins his second season running the Seminoles offense, these are the big questions in Francois’ development: Can he take the next step, learning from his experience, improving his accuracy and making quicker decisions while under pressure?

One quality that is evident is Francois’ willingness to acknowledge what he perceives are his weaknesses.

“Being patient, decision making and accuracy,” Francois said. “Obviously, I feel like I threw the ball well last year. But I feel like there’s another step I can take to my game that nobody has seen yet. Once I take that next step, people will understand the hard work I put in.”

Francois has been widely praised for his work in the spring and summer as No. 3 FSU prepares for the 2017 season, which begins against No. 1 Alabama on Sept. 2 in Atlanta. He has matured, a result of responsibility as the starter but also taking on a more vocal role as a leader. Francois spent the months leading up to preseason camp working with receivers and tight ends on his accuracy and chemistry with the group.

“He gives off a confidence about him,” tight end Ryan Izzo said. “It translates to the wide receivers and everybody. He’s a special player as a runner and a passer. I’m excited to see what he can do.”

Francois’ redshirt freshman season was in many ways quite good. He threw for 3,350 yards, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions (although his 58.7 percent completion rate must rise). Francois’ 3,350 yards ranks fifth on FSU’s single season passing list and it was the second-best season ever by an FSU freshman quarterback, only behind Jameis Winston’s Heisman Trophy year in 2013 (4,057 yards, 40 touchdowns).

It’s a season that FSU coaches think Francois can build on.

“Obviously, it wasn’t a year that Jameis had as a freshman, but it was a whole lot better than the kind of year most freshman had,” FSU quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said.

Francois showed poise under fire in the pocket, eluding a seemingly constant pass rush (he was sacked 34 times) or taking shots while trying to deliver passes down field. He also looked comfortable running the offense, piecing together drives that resulted in touchdowns or field goals.

And Francois put FSU in a position to win. While quarterbacks can’t be judged on a team’s won-loss record, it’s notable that Francois sparked fourth-quarter rallies in games that FSU won at Miami, at North Carolina State and in the Orange Bowl vs. Michigan while also staging rallies in narrow home losses to Clemson and North Carolina.

FSU coach Jimbo Fisher praises how well Francois played in situations.

“Go back and look,” Fisher said. “Third down? Outstanding. No. 1 red-zone team in the country. Five fourth-quarter comebacks … He understands situational football and how to play winning football. He’s great in all those scenarios.”

There is still work to do, but Francois feels he’s on the right track. One variable has been the receiving corps: gone are FSU’s top three receivers, including former Cardinal Newman star Travis Rudolph. In their place are Nyqwan Murray and Auden Tate, who emerged in the second half of the season and could help stretch the field.

Francois also noted that after reviewing film from last season he often held on to the ball too long, resulting in sacks. He completed 40 percent of his passes when under pressure, according to research by Pro Football Focus. Francois must learn to read defenses quicker and know where he can deliver short passes in the face of a blitz.

“Sometimes with young guys you have to make sure he knows what he’s doing and what the rest of the offense is doing,” Sanders said. “As you mature, you can start focusing more on what the other side is doing. The more you understand about what they’re doing, where to attack their weakness in their coverage, why they are doing that coverage, what’s the strengths of it? It allows you to have a plan better before the ball is even snapped.”

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