Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher addressed the press to open fall camp Monday, and didn't waste any time in getting to his preseason message, using some form of the words "develop," "educate," "teach," "learn," "young," "potential," and "knowledge" 20 times in his opening statement. Before taking a single question, Fisher set the tone about just how young his team is and how different 2015 will be from the three-year run upon which his program had embarked.
And he was sure to work the youth angle in whenever he could in answering questions that followed in the 30-minute session.
He's not wrong about Florida State's youth, of course. FSU is incredibly green heading into 2015, with just 27 upperclassmen (10 seniors, 17 juniors), and particularly on the offensive side of the ball.
Gone to the NFL are Jameis Winston, Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary, Josue Matias, Cam Erving, Tre' Jackson and Bobby Hart. And their replacements are about as green as can be.
Heading into fall camp last year, Florida State's projected offensive starters (per the FSU media guide) boasted a combined 189 career starts. The returning starts for this season's projected first-string offense? 30. That number jumps to 54 if Everett Golson wins the starting quarterback job, but those have all come in the golden helmet of Notre Dame and not Florida State, of course. And some of those are from sophomore running back Dalvin Cook, who is indefinitely suspended while facing a battery charge for allegedly punching a woman outside a bar.
The youth movement begins up front. Last year, center Austin Barron was the green one, bringing his five career starts to a line that returned 108 among Cameron Erving, Josue Matias, Tre' Jackson, and Bobby Hart. This year, Roderick Johnson's five starts leads the offensive line, as no other player on the entire depth chart has started a game.
Florida State hasn't been this inexperienced on the OL since 2011, when the 'Noles wrapped up the season starting four true freshmen. That year, FSU rushed for just 3.3 yards per carry and allowed 41 sacks en route to a 9-4 finish in the last season the Seminoles failed to win the ACC.
While the quarterback battle has gotten most of the attention heading into fall practice, FSU will also rely on very inexperienced players at the other offensive skill positions. The only draft-eligible players at RB/WR/TE are Mario Pender, Freddie Stevenson, and Jesus Wilson, only one of whom is currently listed as a starter (Wilson); last year they accounted for just under 12% of FSU's rushing and receiving yardage.
Contrast that to the Seminoles' title season of 2013, when nearly 91% of Florida State's yardage from those positions came from an upperclassman, and Fisher's comments betray perhaps the overriding theme of this year's FSU offense: for the 'Noles to move the ball, several unproven players will need to step up significantly.
That youth is a big reason why a Florida State program which has lost only three games in the last three years is expected to lose three this year by Las Vegas oddsmakers, and why Clemson was picked to win the division.
Defensively, the Seminoles do return more established names in players like Jalen Ramsey, Terrance Smith, and Nile Lawrence-Stample. Florida State is actually more experienced on this side of the ball than it was going into last fall, with more career starts by a 121-82 margin. However, that counts MLB Reggie Northrup, whose status is somewhat uncertain after knee surgery.
NLS will anchor a deep, though young, front seven, and the 'Noles have some prized recruits, like Derrick Nnadi, Demarcus Christmas, Jacob Pugh, and Rick Leonard looking to make their mark this year, but they're far from proven, with zero combined starts. And it remains to be seen how far along Josh Sweat has come after his own knee injury, as well as how new linebacker Tyrell Lyons will perform after moving down from safety.
FSU definitely lost some star power in the defensive backfield, as cornerbacks Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams took their acts to the NFL. Combine their departure with Nick Waisome's graduation, and FSU is losing 62 career starts at the cornerback spot alone.
There's certainly hope in the secondary, however, as Ramsey is the team's best player and newcomer Derwin James could contribute significantly. Key word: "could" (well, maybe make that "should"). Nevertheless, he's yet to play a collegiate snap.
A lot can change in fall camp. As Fisher has voiced, Florida State will be counting on a number of young, inexperienced players in 2015. That said, he nevertheless warned against looking down on players due to their youth:
"In the NCAA rulebook, where does it say that there's an age limit on being good? There's an age limit on consistency? There's an age limit on doing this well, doing that well? I can't find that part of it. There's usually a correlation with experience a lot of the time, but you can't go in putting restrictions on guys or thinking negative about guys. They'll sense that.
You think people don't know what you think or when people ask a question how I can see you ask it or when you coach a guy, the vibe you give him? That's part of it, that's huge. You start putting limitations on guys, you let them put their own limitations on themselves, then you help them overcome those. I'm going to wait and see what this team can do."