Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher needs to find answers about his own team before he can begin focusing on the season opener in Atlanta against Alabama in four weeks.
The biggest challenge facing the Seminoles is finding a replacement for All-American running back Dalvin Cook, who was drafted by the Vikings in the second round. Fisher said on Tuesday that Jacques Patrick is opening camp as the starter.
Patrick, a 6-foot-3, 231-pound junior, was Cook’s primary backup the past two seasons, averaging 5.4 yards per carry, and has a pair of 100-yard games.
The coach hinted during the spring that he was considering going to a backfield by committee approach, but Tuesday noted that Patrick has the potential to take most of the carries.
“He’s earned that right. He has proven he can do it at a good level. I love everything about him,” Fisher said.
Patrick will be pressed by a trio of underclassmen. Freshman Cam Akers, considered the nation’s top running back by many recruiting services in the class of 2017, got plenty of work during the spring as an early enrollee. Also getting a look will be sophomore Amir Rasul, an adept receiver out of the backfield, and freshman Khalan Laborn, who was a consensus four-star prospect. Senior Ryan Green, who is back on offense after playing cornerback last season, could also factor into the mix.
Running back isn’t the only concern for Florida State, which returns 20 starters from last season’s 10-3 team but only two at skill positions on offense. The top four receivers are gone but Fisher believes the development of juniors Nyqwan Murray and Auden Tate over the second half of last season gives them an edge. Murray had two 100-yard games and two touchdowns in the Orange Bowl win over Michigan.
On the offensive line, Rick Leonard will move to left tackle after starting six games at right tackle last year. Center Alec Eberle (hip) and Landon Dickerson (knee) are ready to go after offseason surgeries.
One place that isn’t lacking in experience is quarterback. Deondre Francois started all 13 games last season and the sophomore looks more confident and in control of the offense.
The Seminoles, who started last season 3-2, including a 42-point loss at Louisville, will be tested right out of the gate when they take on Alabama. But opening against a major opponent is nothing new for Florida State. It is the third time in the past four years the Seminoles are opening against a Power 5 opponent at a neutral site. They beat Oklahoma State in Arlington, Texas, in 2014 and Mississippi in Orlando last season.
“It’s going to be good for the program and it’s one of the things you can test yourself. They’re going to test themselves with us. You find out where your team is at early in the season,” Fisher said. “It is very challenging and very risky at the same time, but that’s what it’s about.”