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2018 FSU football spring preview: Quarterbacks

A three-man QB race highlights the first spring practice under Willie Taggart.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Florida State Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

New Florida State head coach Willie Taggart has many responsibilities this spring. Between forging relationships with recruits and learning his new roster, it is hard to say that Taggart has had a moment to breathe since arriving in Tallahassee.

But perhaps the most pressing issue for Taggart is how he will handle the quarterback situation.

The topic of quarterbacks starts nowhere else than with redshirt-junior Deondre Francois.

A former four-star recruit, Francois burst onto the scene with a promising redshirt freshman campaign in 2016. He started all 13 games, leading the Seminoles to an Orange Bowl victory over Michigan. Francois threw for 3,350 yards, 20 touchdowns, and rushed for an additional five in his inaugural season under center.

But despite his flashes, Francois also showed his flaws. He was inaccurate at times, only completing 58% of his passes in 2016. In the aforementioned bowl game against Michigan, he completed only nine of 27 passes.

Francois’ sophomore campaign was cut short by a knee injury he suffered in FSU’s opening game against Alabama. He was forced to watch from the sidelines as Florida State limped to a 7-6 record, one of the most disappointing seasons in team history.

Despite being sidelined with an injury, Francois still made his way onto headlines. He was active on social media, frequently retweeting people on Twitter who claimed the team would be better with him at quarterback. While this might be true, it was a bad look for a team that was struggling to get into the win column with a true freshman under center.

Francois’ dedication to the team was also called into question by both Taggart and former head coach Jimbo Fisher. Francois famously skipped out on FSU’s Senior Day, drawing a terse response from Fisher in his post-game press conference. Taggart has also spoken to Francois since his arrival on campus about what the new head coach expects from him as a leader.

So while Francois had a promising freshman season two years ago, it’s a clean slate now. Hurting his chances even more is the fact that he is still rehabbing from injury, which opens up chances for the two second-year quarterbacks on the roster.

It might not be a stretch to call sophomore James Blackman the frontrunner for the job at this point.

After Francois went down with injury, Blackman was called to action earlier than many expected. The former three-star recruit did not enroll early and was listed at a slim 169-pounds on FSU’s official roster. He’s added some weight in the offseason, as detailed in this piece from our David Visser that highlights the most significant body changes since last season.

Blackman had an up-and-down true freshman season, throwing for 2,230 yards and 19 touchdowns. He struggled mightily at times, completing less than 50% of his passes three times during the year. Opposing rushers were often able to get pressure against Blackman and the passing game was stagnant at times.

But despite that, the freshman showed promise. He played well against some of the tougher opponents on FSU’s schedule like Miami and Clemson. Blackman also tossed 12 touchdowns to only three interceptions over the last six games of the season.

Now, as a sophomore, Blackman will have the opportunity to take all the first string snaps in spring practice. This means more time working on timing with receivers and learning Taggart’s new Gulf Coast offense.

The only competition to Blackman this spring will be redshirt-freshman Bailey Hockman.

Considered a dark-horse candidate for the job, Hockman enrolled early at Florida State last season but suffered an injury in fall camp that allowed Blackman to gain the upper hand. Per his official bio on FSU’s roster, the lefty logged time as the Seminoles’ scout team quarterback during his redshirt season. Hockman also traveled to every game and was often the first person congratulating Blackman coming off the field or offering words of encouragement.

Hockman was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and, despite being listed as a “pro-style” quarterback, has the mobility that Taggart looks for in his signal callers. If there’s ever an opportunity for Hockman to challenge for the starting job, it’s now.

Ultimately, Taggart has a fairly good situation at quarterback.

On one hand, Francois is a fourth-year player with a big arm and 14 career starts under his belt. On the other, Blackman is a true sophomore with great upside with an additional 12 starts in his young career. If neither of those options suffice, Hockman is a former blue-chip recruit as well.

But with a plethora of talented running backs and an offensive coaching staff that looks to maximize the talent on that side of the ball, perhaps the quarterback does not need to be the face of the team this year.