Willie Taggart lives by the simple motto, “Do something.” The Florida State coach will finally get to see his team do something on the practice field next week.
FSU will hold the first of 15 spring practices on Wednesday. The Seminoles will wrap up four weeks of practices with their spring game on April 14 at 6 p.m.
“We have some good young men here that are really ready to right the ship and do right,” Taggart said. “I’m excited about these individuals and really excited to see what they can do.”
Here’s a look at five positions to watch this spring as Taggart brings his “lethal simplicity” on offense as well as an aggressive, attacking defense to FSU:
FSU will have just three scholarship quarterbacks available this spring. And that includes Deondre Francois, who will be limited this spring after suffering a season-ending knee injury in the 2017 opener against Alabama. Francois is expected to take part in practices although he will most likely wear a non-contact jersey and have limited mobility.
Former Glades Central star James Blackman has gained some weight and is up to 176 pounds. While he was thrust into a difficult position as a starter in 2017 as a true freshman, the experience is invaluable and he looked comfortable late in the year in helping FSU win its final four games. Left-hander Bailey Hockman took a redshirt in 2017 but has shown the ability to throw on the run with accuracy. Taggart is expected to gradually introduce his offense this spring and he will begin the evaluation of which quarterback is the best fit.
FSU’s deepest position on offense is again running back. The Seminoles return a 1,000-yard rusher (Cam Akers) as well as a senior with seven touchdowns in the last five games of 2017 (Jacques Patrick). There’s also speedy Amir Rasul and redshirt freshmen Khalan Laborn and Zaquandre White.
How is Taggart going to keep them all happy? It will be interesting to see if Taggart uses one-back sets or tries to get more backs on the field, either in a two-back set or lining one up at receiver.
FSU will have just four scholarship receivers this spring – Nyqwan Murray, Keith Gavin, D.J. Matthews and Tamorrion Terry. They likely won’t get much of a breather this spring as Taggart implements an offense that emphasizes tempo.
It will be interesting is to see if young receivers like Matthews and Terry emerge as reliable options. And if Murray, a senior with 73 career catches, can step into the role as a No. 1 receiver.
The Seminoles also lose their top two tight ends as Ryan Izzo left for the NFL draft early and Mavin Saunders graduated and transferred to Kansas. Taggart has reclassified fullbacks Jonathan Vickers and Gabe Nabers as tight ends, signifying a shift in the need for traditional blocking fullbacks in his offense but also converting both into potential blockers and pass-catchers.
Talent is not a question but depth is after two underclassmen left for the NFL early. The Seminoles expected to lose Josh Sweat (56 tackles, 5.5 sacks) after his junior season. But Jalen Wilkerson’s decision to leave early was a surprise – the reserve had just 19 tackles and .5 sacks.
FSU has an athletic, quick end in Brian Burns, who is FSU’s top returning tackler (48) and was second on the team with 4.5 sacks in 2017. Joshua Kaindoh also flashed his speed and agility as a freshman, recording 17 tackles and four sacks. It’s easy to pencil both in as starters but the Seminoles must continue to develop depth, notably redshirt sophomore Janarius Robinson and redshirt freshman Tre’ Lawson.
FSU loses a pair of senior starters in Matthew Thomas and Ro’Derrick Hoskins. Also gone is a situational linebacker, senior Jacob Pugh. The only returning linebacker with significant experience is junior Dontavious Jackson, a run-stuffer and a fill-in starter his first two years on campus.
Taggart’s defense will likely emphasize two linebackers (along with five defensive backs). Jackson has the inside track at a starting job if he shows the ability to range side-to-side and make open-field tackles. But then there are plenty of questions: Can Leonard Warner make the jump from reserve to starter in year 2? Is Emmett Rice healthy after a knee injury suffered in the bowl game? Does the new staff view Josh Brown as a potential option?