Jimbo Fisher has run the range of emotions this spring from laying into his team for “going through the motions” on the first day to describing one of the final practices of spring as “solid.”
And Fisher insist his evaluations are not “coach speak,” not just a ploy to make sure a team returning 16 starters and is expected to be a consensus top 10 (possibly top 5) does not get comfortable.
Fisher now has one more chance this spring to see where his team stands in Saturday’s 3 p.m. Garnet & Gold game, played in the Citrus Bowl because of ongoing renovations at Doak Campbell Stadium.
The venue is advantageous for different reasons. Not only is it more convenient for fans in Central and South Florida, but it gives the Seminoles a test run in the stadium in which they open the 2016 season on Labor Day night against Ole Miss.
Following are five story lines to watch.
Quarterback competition: Sean Maguire, who started five games last season, continues to rehab his surgically repaired ankle, which gave more reps this spring to the three young quarterbacks hoping to challenge the senior.
Redshirt freshman Deondre Francois was expected to emerge from the spring as the biggest threat to Maguire in preseason camp and nothing that has happened in the competition with redshirt sophomore J.J. Cosentino and incoming freshman Malik Henry has changed that.
Fisher said he will learn a lot about his young, inexperienced quarterbacks when they are forced to perform with 40,000-plus fans in the stands.
“It’s the one time you get to see these guys walk out there and all of a sudden it’s not a practice field,” he said. “Even though it’s a spring game it tells you a little something about how those guys handle that situation.”
No Dalvin Cook: Not that this is going to change the game considering the Seminoles’ best player was not going to be heavily involved even if he were healthy. But Cook had shoulder surgery Tuesday to “clean up some stuff,” according to Fisher. And if he is ready for the season, this may not be such a bad thing.
Jacques Patrick and Ryan Green will be the featured backs. Coaches were looking for Patrick, now in his second season, to become a dangerous complement to and (with his size: 6-foot-2, 233 pounds) a change of pace from Cook. Green is back in his comfort zone after spending a season at cornerback.
Receivers looking for more: Rising junior Travis Rudolph, the former Cardinal Newman standout, has drawn the most praise from Fisher this spring and along with Jesus Wilson and Kermit Whitfield, they return as the top three targets.
But this group also will be defined by the younger receivers and who among them emerges as other options. The player who appears to have made the biggest jump is 6-5, 218-pound sophomore Auden Tate. He could help change the narrative on the receivers because of his size and being a red-zone threat. But FSU also needs production from another receiver or two out of George Campbell, Ermon Lane, Nyqwan Murray, Ja’Vonn Harrison and Da’Vante Phillips. Harrison and Phillips are out of the spring game with injuries.
New look linebackers: The position remains thin after losing senior starters Reggie Northrup and Terrance Smith and the departure of Lorenzo Phillips. FUS has just five healthy linebackers available for the spring game. But all eyes will be on the two new starters, Ro’Derrick Hoskins and Matthew Thomas.
Hoskins’ emergence last season was huge for the defense and FSU is cautiously optimistic Thomas finally will get it together. Thomas, though, is carrying a lot of baggage after missing part of the 2014 season and all of last year because of two suspensions.
Secondary starters: The defensive backfield is looking for starters to replace cornerback Jalen Ramsey and free safety Lamarcus Brutus and at least three young players at those positions will be on display Saturday.
At cornerback, Tarvarus McFadden, a rising sophomore, should step into Ramsey’s spot. Marquez White, the other starting corner, is out of the spring game with a broken bone in his hand.
Nate Andrews’ experience gives him the edge at free safety but rising sophomores Calvin Brewton and A.J. Westbrook are expected to push Andrews.
White along with safety Derwin James and nickel back Trey Marshall will anchor the secondary.