Spring practice always presents a number of questions. And, on occasion, it even answers a few as well. We're eight practices in, with six more and the Spring Game still to come. Here's what we've learned so far, and what remains to be seen.
A major question entering spring practice was which signal caller would emerge from the group of three healthy scholarship quarterbacks. Would it be the redshirt freshman Deondre Francois, the true freshman phenom Malik Henry, or the most experienced of the three, J.J. Cosentino, who looked out of his element in the limited snaps he has played during his career?
Jimbo Fisher has spoken highly of all three quarterbacks throughout the first half of spring practice, refusing to name one as a leader, as has been the status quo since the 2015 season concluded. Still, a closer look inside the 25-minute section of practice to which the media are privy gives a clearer answer as to who leads the QB race.
After working as the No. 2 quarterback in reps behind Cosentino for the first six practices of spring, Francois seemingly moved ahead before Saturday's scrimmage, taking the first reps for the first time in his career, and worked first once again on Monday.
There's still plenty of spring practice left and the biggest test for each of these three is coming in a little less than two weeks in the form of the Spring Game on April 9th, but with the recent shift, it's possible that Francois is separating himself.
The other lingering question is whether the quarterback who wins the starting job after spring ball will kick off fall practice ahead of the incumbent, Sean Maguire, who is missing the entirety of spring with a fractured ankle but will be back for fall camp. This is what makes the remainder of spring so crucial for the quarterbacks.
This has been a tricky session for the 'Nole OL. Injuries plagued the unit through much of last season, and the spring of 2016 began similarly. Before spring ball even began, offensive linemen Abdul Bello (knee), Ryan Hoefeld (shoulder), Derrick Kelly (knee), and Chad Mavety (heart) were ruled out, which, in turn, resulted in a position change that saw Rick Leonard move over from defensive end to offensive line.
While the left side of the line seems rather secure in tackle Rod Johnson and guard Kareem Are, the rest of the front remains shrouded in questions. Fisher has spoken of Leonard's seemingly never-ending potential, while relaying rather tepid responses to the performance of current first-team RT Brock Ruble-- and that's with Kelly and Mavety absent. And the other day, for the first time, Leonard took first team reps with the media present, at right guard, while Wilson Bell was with the twos at RT. At this point, Leonard certainly seems likely to snag a starting spot.
However, when -- and if -- Mavety presents a challenge is, unfortunately, a worthwhile question. Cardiac issues are not typical football ailments. And as such, they should not be taken lightly. It's one thing to question how quick, or powerful, a player may be returning from an injury. But a young man's heart? That can be, quite literally, a matter of life and death, and only time will provide answers.
The center spot also appears to be up for grabs. Alec Eberle has taken most of the first-team reps, but Corey Martinez has worked in there as well, as has the versatile Leonard.
There have been some very positive returns about the receiving corps early on, most of which have focused on junior Travis Rudolph's continued development and leadership. And Rudolph himself has been complimentary about sophomores Auden Tate and Nyqwan Murray. However, questions still abound, as Fisher's response indicated when he was asked if he's pleased with the group: "No. Not at all. Travis Rudolph has been really good but other than that there's not enough greatness out there, not enough consistency. I mean there are some guys making plays but Travis is really emerging out and the rest of them just have to continue to grow and get better."
Perhaps the return of senior Bobo Wilson, who just resumed practicing, will help this otherwise injury-riddled bunch. Pigg Harrison is out with a turf toe, and George Campbell missed time due to a concussion. Moreover, WR Da'Vante Phillips is out for the spring with a groin injury, and Noonie (Murray) was not present on Monday. So the story remains the same for Seminole receivers: tons of talent, much of which remains unproven.
It hasn't changed much for tight ends, either: Ryan Izzo is the uncontested lead dog, especially since Jeremy Kerr is out for spring ball with a shoulder ding. Mavin Saunders has spent some time with the TEs, but he's worked primarily with the receivers, given his mobility and blocking deficiencies. New addition Chris Casher, who moved over from defensive end, has nice ball skills, but still needs some polish on footwork and route running.
Florida State has the luxury of entering next season with an established running back, Dalvin Cook. Because of this, the questions on the running backs have been directed more toward who is emerging behind Cook as the No. 2 and even No. 3 options at RB. As it turns out, the biggest surprise at running back this spring may in fact be the biggest surprise across the entire team.
Ryan Green, the running back commit turned defensive back, was shifted back to the running backs early in spring practice and has quickly moved his way up from working fourth in reps all the way to working second in reps, right behind Cook. Fisher, Cook, and other teammates have all been complimentary of Green's re-transition and have cited his speed, athleticism, and catching as strengths in his game.
A major focus on Jacques Patrick's game this spring has been running more behind his pads and using his massive frame as an asset. Fisher relayed to the media on Saturday that he has been developing these skills well; he likes his progression, but it seems, still, to be a work in progress. Freddie Stevenson, who gets most of his reps at fullback, also saw some work at running back during Saturday's scrimmage.
There have been some definite setbacks among the running backs, though, as Mario Pender has yet to practice this spring, dealing with what Jimbo Fisher called a "nick" and Johnathan Vickers was not participating in Saturday's scrimmage as well.