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Florida State football preview: Quarterbacks

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Will Deondre Francois take the next step? Who will be his backup?

NCAA Football: Orange Bowl-Michigan vs Florida State Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

For the Florida State quarterback position heading into the 2017 season, there is good news as well as bad.

The good news is that the Seminoles return their starter from a season ago, redshirt sophomore Deondre Francois, who excelled in some aspects as a freshman and has plenty of room for growth heading into his second year as the starter.

The bad news is that FSU no longer can fall back on its journeyman backup Sean Maguire, who graduated after the 2016 season. Instead, the prospects of a Francois-less FSU are a smidge more grim entering this season.

The Starter

Francois, as briefly mentioned above, showed some promise as a freshman. His accuracy on long throws was impressive, his poise and toughness which allowed him to get up hit after vicious hit last season won his teammates over and has him in position as a possible leader of the offense as a sophomore.

However, Francois also had aspects of his game which left plenty to be desired a season ago. For as strong as his long-throw accuracy was, his accuracy and touch on short throws was downright bad at times. He was also guilty of holding the ball too long in the pocket, subjecting himself to some violent sacks and collisions.

There’s no denying the fact that Francois is the clear starter for the Seminoles at this point. If he takes the next step, he could become a top quarterback in a conference which just lost two players who went on to be first-round draft picks. If he fails to make notable progress, however, he has some talented depth options behind him breathing down his neck heading into the future.

The Depth

FSU’s depth at QB has taken a few hits of late. The Seminoles counted on having a redshirt freshman Malik Henry to back up Francois this season, but circumstances being what they are, he is now playing at a community college in Kansas after just one year with the Seminoles.

With Henry out of the picture, the backup role falls to a mix of some new faces as well as a familiar one who has underwhelmed each time he was given an opportunity.

That last player, junior quarterback J.J. Cosentino, is an enigma. A four-star quarterback out of Pittsburgh, Cosentino has been called upon in a variety of relief roles ranging from replacing an injured starter to garbage-time replacement. The common theme among these appearances is that, although Cosentino’s arm talent is undeniable, he has never looked comfortable on the field. His dreadful two series while Maguire was getting a cast on his leg in the 2015 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and his inexplicable safety last year against Charleston Southern are just two examples of his knack for seeming totally unprepared for the moment.

In short, Cosentino hardly seems like a viable option to relieve Francois should the worst happen. That being said, would Jimbo Fisher feel comfortable trotting out a true freshman or a walk-on against Alabama?

Those freshmen, Bailey Hockman and James Blackman, have proven to be quite a dynamic duo early in their time in Tallahassee.

Hockman, the southpaw blue-chip quarterback out of Powder Springs (Ga.) McEachern, enrolled at FSU in January. He was heralded as a quarterback ready for Fisher’s complex system due to his high school’s offensive scheme and, although he has not been seen in a real game yet, he has shown his skills in practice on a consistent basis. Should a freshman be given the reigns of the offense this season, it will likely be Hockman.

Blackman, looked at as more of a low-floor, high-ceiling prospect, committed to the Seminoles shortly after he was offered for his impressive showing at Fisher Camp two summers ago. Blackman’s ability to throw pretty balls has been praised by Fisher on multiple occasions this fall. From the little bit of practice the media is able to observe, this checks out. Blackman is extremely unlikely to see the field this year, both on account of him not enrolling until summer and being behind with the playbook and due to his 6’5, 185-pound frame which is desperately in need of at least one year in FSU’s weightlifting program. Still, early returns show why FSU brought in Blackman as the second QB of its 2016 recruiting class. He definitely has the potential to be in the middle of a position battle in the future.

The last remaining quarterback is walk-on Jake Rizzo. Rizzo drew some kind words from Fisher last fall when he was called upon briefly to be FSU’s No. 3 quarterback, but he doesn’t project as anything more than a career practice squad player.

After close examination of FSU’s quarterback depth, a few things are clear. It’s true that Francois will start the Alabama game for the Seminoles with little direct competition. But, that hardly means that there’s nothing to pay attention to with regard to the other signal callers further down the depth chart. Quite the opposite, in fact. You never know when the backup will be needed and, with backups like these, you never know which person would hear their name called.