Florida State spring football 2013 preview: who will be starting quarterback?

Melina Vastola-US PRESSWIRE

For the first time since 2008, FSU has a real quarterback battle on its hands.

FSU spring practice kicks off March 20 at 3:30 and our Florida State football spring 2013 preview continues with a look at the quarterback position, which was good, but not great in 2012, as FSU turned in a top-25 offense (we are aware that FSU's traditional numbers, like total yards and points, are off the charts, but one must adjust for the quality of competition, and top-25 is probably much more accurate than top-five). Now FSU must replace E.J. Manuel.

The departed

Manuel was a good college quarterback. He was rarely great and rarely terrible. And that's perhaps what made him so frustrating for FSU fans. His performance in college is that of a fourth or fifth rounder, and yet, his physical tools, character and other attributes have NFL coaches thinking they can turn him into a superstar. Here's hoping they can.

But between Ponder and Manuel, FSU has had, at least "good" quarterback play for the last half decade.

The talent

Florida State will be choosing between four quarterbacks for the job. The nominal No. 1 going into spring is Clint Trickett, but those thinking this is anything but an open competition are fooling themselves.

Still, this analysis starts with Trickett. Trickett came to Tallahassee from North Florida Christian, and has hung around the program forever, as his dad is the offensive line coach. Trickett has the best grasp offense of the quarterbacks, of that we are pretty certain.

Here is his school bio:

PERSONAL: Son of FSU assistant head coach/offensive line coach Rick Trickett...outstanding student who graduated early from high school with a 3.8 GPA...carried a three-star ranking from both Rivals and Scout...Rivals rated him as the No. 36 quarterback in the nation...earned All-Big Bend honors as a senior...member of the Florida Super 75 list by the Florida Times-Union and was rated the No. 3 quarterback...rated No. 8 quarterback in Florida by Bill Buchalter of the Orlando Sentinel...member of the SuperPrep All-America 290 as the 10th rated quarterback nationally...threw two touchdowns for the North team in the FACA All-Star game...completed 103 of 169 pass attempts for 1,671 yards, 21 TDs and seven interceptions as a senior...in three seasons amassed more than 5,300 passing yards and tossed 59 touchdown passes for the perennial small school state power...earned first-team 1A/1B All-State honors as a junior...won a state championship as a sophomore...had multiple offers but settled on FSU after closely considering Florida and Arkansas...born March 19, 1991.

Trickett is now listed at 6'3 and 185 pounds. That's a big improvement over where he was previously, as he couldn't gain weight or absorb nutrients due to a gluten issue (celiac disease). Having seen him in person, I can confirm he does look considerably bigger. And that's important, because at his previous size, there were serious questions about his ability to last the entire season, particularly considering he is not mobile.

His arm is not awful, but it's not really anything to write home about, either, though people make too big a deal about arm strength while ignoring whether the ball is being thrown to the right person, and if it is being done so accurately.

Trickett in my mind is the choice with the highest floor, but also with the lowest ceiling. But that's only because the other two quarterbacks have not seen significant game action. We've seen him make about 100 college throws now, and the results just haven't been great. I'm a big stats person, but I'm not sure his stats mean a whole lot, because of the playing time he received.

I will note that Fisher did not play Trickett enough in 2012. This is a consistent gripe of mine about Fisher's personnel management. A team that won six games by 25+ points should see its backup QB play more in than those games than the 32 throws he attempted.

And he'll have his degree after the spring semester, meaning that he can transfer elsewhere and play immediately should he not win the job.

Trickett will be FSU's starter if: the other contenders are so limited in their command of the offense that Trickett, even given his considerable physical limitations, offers FSU the best chance to win games. That, and he has to be considerably better than them, because it does not make sense to play a player with a low ceiling in a year of low expectations if the year could be used to develop a younger QB. Trickett starts if the other two QBs look like they could produce a really bad (think 7-5) type season.

The second option, in order of seniority, is Jacob Coker.

PERSONAL: A three-star prospect by Rivals.com and Scout.com who also was ranked the No. 18 pro-style quarterback by Rivals.com and No. 44 QB by Scout.com...rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports...switched from running a wing-T offense in his junior season to a pro-style offense as a senior and completed 94-of-153 passes for 1,508 yards and 16 touchdowns while also carrying 61 times for 355 yards and five TDs...led St. Paul's to the semifinals of the Alabama State playoffs and a 10-2 record in his final season...No. 17 on the SuperPrep Alabama 43...selected to play in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star game as a senior...rated the No. 70 pro-style quarterback by ESPN...also an exceptional basketball player who led St. Paul's to 17 wins as a junior while averaging 17.4 points per game...named the Class 5A basketball player of the year in Mobile County as a junior and was invited to the state of Alabama's North-South All Star basketball game...averaged 21.9 points and nine rebounds per game as a senior for a team that made it to the Class 5A Area1 finals.

Coker is a big guy at 6'6 and 235 pounds, and he is considerably more mobile than one might assume. He also has a really big arm.

But does he have a firm grasp of the offense? That's been the question through his time on campus. We're not allowed at practice, but we know enough to confidently say that Coker has a lot to learn. Whether it is a function of coaching, ability to learn, desire to learn (effort), or some combination thereof, I am not sure enough to say.

So the question becomes how much Coker can pick up before Labor Day, and how good FSU's offense can be with what he knows. Physically, he has it all.

Coker will be the starter if: he can command the offense better than Jameis Winston, and at such a level that allows his superior physical abilities to overcome Trickett's advantage in knowledge of and experience in the system. If Coker starts, QB run plays will almost certainly be a bigger part of the ofense.

Then there is Jameis Winston. You may have heard of him.

PERSONAL:Nation's top quarterback prospect in the class of 2012, who was also considered a top baseball prospect in the 2012 Major League Baseball Amatuer draft...USA Today 2011 All-USA first team All-American...2012 Parade All-American...SI.com second team All-American, ESPNHS first team All-American and Under Armour All-American...selected the 2011 Alabama Gatorade State Player of the Year...rated a five-star quarterback by Scout and a four-star QB by Rivals, ESPN and 247Sports...named to the 2012 USA Football National Team (U19) for the 2012 International Bowl on Feb.1...dual-threat quarterback who played in the shotgun spread where he excelled as a passer in the pocket and on the move...also a dangerous runner...can make all the throws and does a good job of keeping his eyes downfield when plays break down...named the Alabama Sports Writers Association's Class 5A Back of the Year as a senior after completing 69 percent of his passes for 2,424 yards and 28 touchdowns and rushing for 1,065 yards (7.4 yards per rush) and another 15 touchdowns...guided Hueytown to a 13-1 mark and the Class 5A state semifinals...named the 2011 Birmingham News Metro Player of the Year...the four-year starter totaled 6,871 career passing yards with 67 touchdowns, completing 60 percent of his 790 passes and threw only 25 interceptions... averaged 6.5 yards per rushing attempt for 2,912 yards and 35 touchdowns on the ground which adds up to 9,853 career yards and a part in 103 touchdowns...No. 1 on the Mobile Register's Super Southeast 120 and Elite 18 list of the top Alabama prospects...named a co-MVP of the Elite 11 national quarterback challenge last summer in Malibu...turned in an MVP performance in the Under Armour All-American game completing 8-of-9 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns...named to the ASWA Super 12 and Class 5A all-state teams as a junior and senior...No. 14 on the ESPNU 150 and No. 1 QB nationally, No. 5 player regionally and No. 1 player in Alabama by ESPN...named to the 2012 247Sports All-American team as the No. 1 dual-threat QB, No. 3 player in the state and No. 26 in the Top247 List...on the baseball diamond, shines as a switch-hitting centerfielder and right-handed pitcher who possesses a fastball in the 90's and was clocked at a 6.59 in the 60...rated by Perfect Game as the nation's No. 22 prep baseball player for the Class of 2012 and was named a Louisville Slugger Preseason All-American...named Birmingham News Metro West Player of the Year as a sophomore in baseball...hit .424 with seven homers and 36 RBIs during the Golden Gophers' Class 6A state semifinal run and finished 8-3 with two saves, a 1.92 earned run average, 92 strikeouts and six complete games as a sophomore...2011 ASWA all-state and Birmingham News All-Metro selection in baseball as a junior hit .370 and was 7-2 on the mound while playing shortstop, outfield and pitching...selected in the 15th round with the 486th overall pick by the Texas Rangers in the 2012 MLB firt-year player draft...selected Florida State over Stanford, Alabama, LSU and Ohio State.

Physically, Winston has it all. His arm might not be quite what Coker's is, but he still throws lasers, and he is extremely athletic, where Coker is more accurately branded "athletic for his size."

Winston has added considerable muscle during his time in Tallahassee, and now checks in at 6'4 and 218 pounds.

Like Coker, there are questions about Winston's command of the offense. And that's not a knock on Winston in any way. He's a red-shirt freshman playing two sports (I'll get to this in a minute). In fact, encouraging word has come about Winston's command of the offense for a freshman. I emphasized that because I think that as word has spread about Winston and his grasp of the offense, people are confusing the encouraging signs with word that he knows the offense and is ready to roll like Johnny Manzeil did as a red-shirt freshman. Manzeil was such a story because it was so rare for freshmen to play at that level. Let's not confuse progress, or being ahead of schedule, with readiness.

There's also the issue of baseball. Winston is a very good baseball prospect and is playing baseball. And he's not just on the team. He's a contributor. But he is on football scholarship and Fisher has made it clear that his QB will not miss football activities to play baseball.

Can a freshman who also plays baseball really win the job? Winston will be FSU's starting quarterback if: he has a better command of the offense than Coker. If that is the case, I think Fisher gives him the keys to the show and allows the offense to take its lumps in preparation of what could be a special four years. With four returning offensive linemen, a nice group of backs, and an experienced lot of pass catchers, and no expectations of a conference or even a division title, now is a great time to break in a QB.

And there's Sean MaGuire, who is also nominally in the mix.

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