The Daily Nole

Good News, Bad News: A Look Back on FSU’s Spring

Mitch White/FSU athletics

Florida State head coach Willie Taggart’s inaugural spring game went about as well as one could hope for, with no injuries and plenty of highlights.

Garnet defeated Gold 31-13 to conclude the spring part of football practice, which will resume later in the summer. The new open practice policy from Taggart means the team gained more exposure than it had in the past four years. That also means more takeaways can be had from observations.

Which developments are smoke and mirrors and which are actual realities? We’ll help you sift through it all.

Good News

James Blackman Looks More Comfortable

Another offseason of work could only help James Blackman, who was originally supposed to take a redshirt in 2017. He looked like the best quarterback in every open practice — which might not be saying much, but it’s still encouraging to see him adjust to a new system after being thrown into the fire last season. The spring game performance had its ups and downs. He tossed for over 200 yards, but missed on some deeper throws. Keep in mind that he was facing off against two starting corners and his receivers were not the best on the team. Still, he maintains a slight lead in the quarterback competition heading into fall camp.

Receivers Are Coming Along

Taggart’s offense seems to be a blessing for a few receivers who didn’t get much time last year or otherwise did not make much an impact. Keith Gavin, Tamorrion Terry, and D.J. Matthews all looked capable of managing the starting spots next season. Terry and Matthews each went for over 100 yards for the Garnet team on Saturday and made highlight reel catches. That’s going to be an essential development if Nyqwan Murray’s injury holds him back to begin fall camp.

Secondary is Still Very Talented

Florida State will not be lacking for options in the secondary this season. The sheer amount of talent and experience guarantees that there will be some sort of continuity, even if youngsters do initially struggle to adjust. Everyone knows names like Levonta Taylor and Stanford Samuels III, but players like Hamsah Nasirildeen, Cyrus Fagan, and Carlos Becker also received reps last year (Becker saw playing time in 2016 as well).

Oh, the Seminoles also have three 4-star cornerbacks coming in and a top 5 safety in Jaiden Woodbey already enrolled. Woodbey made nine tackles and recorded a sack in the spring game.

Bad News

Offensive Line Injuries

It’s disappointing that the position group with the most questions is also the one that suffered the most injuries. Center Alec Eberle, offensive tackle Jauan Williams, guard Cole Minshew, and center Baveon Johnson were all missing for at least part of spring practice. That’s two starters and two players who were expected to compete for other starting positions. Combine this with the transition into a new offensive system, and the line has serious work to do before Labor Day.

Quarterback Depth

The ongoing theatrics with Deondre Francois and a recent stress fracture to Bailey Hockman’s foot left James Blackman as the only fully healthy quarterback. Will most of these issues clear up by fall camp? Certainly. But just like last year, all it takes is one serious injury to derail a season. Just ask offensive coordinator Walt Bell, who was forced to play his fourth-string quarterback at Maryland midway through the 2017 season.

Florida State needs to do everything in its power to make sure that it has three experienced signal-callers ready to play in 2018. A substantial injury to even just one of them puts Taggart in a precarious position.

Final Notes

All the pieces about Taggart “changing the culture” and the practices looking “totally revamped” are true. A new coach instills his method wherever he goes, and in Florida State’s case, his method is the opposite of predecessor Jimbo Fisher’s. There are benefits and drawbacks to each style, but it is especially refreshing for outlets that were increasingly restricted over the past year.

That being said, reports come out of every program with a new head coach swearing upgrades in every facet. Players look stronger, bigger, faster, more focused, etc. No doubt some of these are true, but none of these are guarantees that the team will maintain it when it actually gets on the field.

The truth of the matter is that the predictions when Taggart got hired are the same today. The team can win anywhere from 8-10 games, there’s going to be growing pains with new systems on both sides of the ball, and the schedule remains one of the toughest in the nation. Nothing in spring practice has shown any different, even if certain players or position groups have impressed.

Recruiting is largely the same deal. The staff assembled an impressive list of visitors that is not lacking for star power. Florida State certainly has the coaches to pull in an elite recruiting class, and it’s more likely than not that the 2019 haul will be top 10 if not top 5.

But again, getting players on campus is different from having their signatures. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Seminoles will gain commitments from a number of recruits who visited on Saturday. It still doesn’t mean a complete overhaul of recruiting at Florida State.

It’s always nice to get acquainted with the new coaching staff. Just don’t take spring practice as an ultimatum.

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