Florida State Seminoles Football Spring Preview 2011: Quarterback

This is the first in a multi-part series covering Florida State Spring football practice.  Today we'll be looking at the quarterback position.

Quarterback is the most important position on the field and Florida State has a history of having great quarterbacks.  FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher is regarded as one of the top QB coaches in the country.  He continues  to mentor the quarterbacks as head coach, but is also joined by quarterback coach and stud recruiter Dameyune Craig.  Craig played for Fisher at Auburn before coaching at South Alabama.  He knows Coach Fisher's system.  He also worked under Nick Saban for a year during Saban's brief stint with the Miami Dolphins.   His bio is here.  It is difficult to judge how well Craig did in his first season, because FSU again had excellent quarterback play.  Was that because of Fisher?  Craig?  A combination thereof?  I don't know, but if the QB play is again very good FSU fans won't care who is really schooling the QBs.  

 A New Era
At 6'4" and 230 pounds, Manuel is one of the most physically-impressive quarterbacks in the country.  But the Virginia native has also displayed good leadership qualities during off-season workouts.  Expectations are sky-high in Tallahassee and will fall squarely on Manuel's shoulders.  
 Not Inexperienced

The 'Noles threw 396 passes last year.  298 of those came from Christian Ponder, who is likely to be drafted in the late first or second round.  Replacing a highly-drafted quarterback is a monumental task.  Ponder had a tremendous grasp of the offense and was one of the more mentally gifted quarterbacks in recent college memory.  

Trying to replace him will be red-shirt junior EJ Manuel (no spaces in EJ, per his request).  Manuel was one of the top QB recruits in the country in 2008, and was Jimbo Fisher's first major recruiting win for the 'Noles.  The Virginia Beach native is 6'4" 230 and extremely athletic.  

Last year for Spring I wrote:

Backup EJ Manuel is out for Spring after recently undergoing shoulder surgery to repair a very partial tear in his rotator cuff.  The Gator Bowl MVP's procedure was done as a precautionary measure to clean out some debris.  Manuel should be back for summer passing drills.  Due to some bad luck last year (compound finger fracture), Manuel has not yet gone through a Spring practice.

And despite not having gone through a Spring practice, Manuel played well in relief of Christian Ponder.  Manuel too battled some injuries suffered in practice and lifting during the season, inspiring some rumblings as to his availability for the Boston College game in which he was likely needed to relieve Christian Ponder.  

Manuel played pretty well last season, including a better game in a loss against Virginia Tech than the win over Clemson.

He battled issues with his motion through his first two seasons, but looked much better throwing the football last year.  His wrist and shoulder are better aligned, and his accuracy has improved.  

Some will trumpet the idea that Manuel is unproven because he was Ponder's backup.  I don't buy that in this case because Manuel's experience didn't come in the traditional style of a backup at a major program.  No, Manuel has rarely had the opportunity for mop-up duty.  Of his 200 career passes, only 25 came in a relief appearance during which the outcome was already decided.  The other 175 passes came as a starter or in relief of a contested game.

As the chart shows, Manuel improved considerably in 2010, specifically in meaningful games. Yes, a 2-3 TD-INT ratio is concerning. But if Manuel throws for 8.3/Attempt, FSU fans would happily take a TD/INT ratio of less than one.

So to call Manuel unproven would be inaccurate.  No, he is not a battle-tested starter.  But he does have significant experience in meaningful games.  And so far, he has had ice in his veins in close fourth quarters, going 17-22 for 145 yards and running 13 times for 98 yards.

What then, does Manuel need to work on this Spring?  

Reps, reps, and more reps.  Despite Fisher's claims that Manuel had the entire playbook available to him, I sure didn't see it.  Now as the starter, Fisher will tailor the playbook to his specific talents.  That likely means more option than FSU ran with Christian Ponder.  Manuel does an excellent job with the option.  It also likely means more play-action.  What else EJ wants to run is anyone's guess.  And while he is excellent on designed runs, he will need to acquire better pocket presence.  That will only come with more reps.  He'll finally have the chance this Spring.

The Backups

Redshirt freshman quarterback Will Secord

Last year on Secord I wrote:

That leaves redshirt-freshman Will Secord as the backup quarterback.  Secord is really a bit more than the backup for Spring, however, because of Ponder's limited work load.  In case you don't follow recruiting, you should freshen up on the 6'3" 210 lb quarterback from Texas.  Here's some film.  He was rated a three-star prospect by all of the services.  Rivals had him as the #32 pro-style QB, Scout as the #57 QB, and ESPN: #60 QB.  Secord was heavily courted by Bobby Petrino of Arkansas.  A prospect wanted by both Jimbo Fisher and Bobby Petrino has to be pretty good.  He's also the son of a coach.  Secord spent his redshirt year learning the offense and refining his footwork. 

Secord didn't do anything on the game field last year.  And rumor has it he didn't do anything on the practice field to distance himself from the then #4 QB Clint Trickett (Below).  Quarterback is not a position where major college football teams carry a backup senior to the starter.  If Secord is not ahead of Trickett after the Spring, we could see him transfer.  At least, one would hope he has the competitive spirit and love for the game that he would want to play out his college career by, you know, actually playing.  

Freshman quarterback Clint Tricket

Speaking of Trickett, last year I wrote:

The third quarterback (who is really like the #2 given the limited workload Ponder will receive) is freshman Clint Trickett.  He is the son of Florida State Offensive Line Coach Rick Trickett.  His brother Travis is on staff as well.  Clint was probably the top quarterback prospect in the state this past year.  He enrolled in January and is eligible to compete in Spring.  Normally, I wouldn't expect a true freshman quarterback to do much in Spring, but Trickett has been around this team for almost 4 years and already has a good working knowledge of the offense.  It will be very interesting to see how he reacts to the speed of the college game. 

Everyone says that Trickett looked pretty good in practice last season, and barring injury, he'll get his shot to start as a 4th-year junior in 2013.  For now, he has the backup job to win.  Perhaps more importantly, he has to get bigger and stronger.  A "hard gainer" Trickett has been unable to add much mass.  He still has time to do so, but the strength staff must figure out a way to bulk him up a bit.  6'2" 200 is fine for a smart, game-manager type.  6'2" 175 is not.    

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