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April 13, 2012
Spring Game Preview - Five things to look for
The Florida State football team will don the pads one more time this spring on Saturday for the annual Garnet and Gold game. Saturday will also be the last opportunity for fans to watch the Seminoles in action until the home opener against Murray State on Sept. 1.
The number of fans that make their way into Doak Campbell Stadium at 4 p.m. to watch the annual intra-squad scrimmage is always a point of interest. Last spring, FSU set a record with a reported attendance of 53,818. Early speculation is that the crowd will again be large but probably slightly less than last year's record setting number.
On the field, head coach Jimbo Fisher will be keeping a close eye on his team following what he described as a disappointing scrimmage last Monday. With the team split into two unfamiliar squads, it will be interesting to see how the players respond under these unique circumstances.
"I wanna see how sometimes you have certain leaders on this team and some ofthose leaders will get split up, some of those leaders will be away from those guys and see how other guys will step up in that situation and learn to get some of their leadership and learn to come out of their shell a little bit," noted Fisher. "And good clean football. I wanna see plays made that were good plays, not just a total bust in what we're doing."
Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m.
Whether you will be in Doak Campbell Stadium or watching the game on ESPNU, here are five things to keep your eye on this Saturday:
5. Playing time and performance for some big name backups
With the team being split into two teams there is a golden opportunity for some backups to see significant playing time and shine in front of the fans, and more importantly, Jimbo Fisher and the coaching staff. On defense, linebacker Jeff Luc and safety Karlos Williams were elite recruits when they signed with FSU but so far neither has seen much time on the field outside of special teams. That should change this Saturday. How much Luc plays and how he performs will be especially interesting since there have been rumors, started by his brother on Twitter, that the former No. 1 ranked inside linebacker is considering a transfer. For Williams, there was talk of a move to offense in the off-season but he decided to stick it out on defense. With the teams split, he should see plenty of time at safety and have an opportunity to impress defensive coordinator Mark Stoops.
On offense, a couple players will be looking to shake off some rust and get back into the flow. James Wilder Jr. missed the first two and a half weeks of spring practice while dealing with a legal problem. With that issue now resolved, he has been seeing time with the first team offense in practice and should get a healthy dose of carries this Saturday. How he performs will go along way to establishing the pecking order at running back behind Devonta Freeman this fall. Former starting wide receiver Willie Haulstead sat out the entire 2011 season after suffering a serious concussion in a scrimmage last August. He finally received his medical clearance this spring but is up against a stacked depth chart full of talented wideouts. The 6-foot-3, 233-pounder will need to have a solid spring game, and lose a few pounds, if he hopes to resume a substantial role on the offense this fall.
4. Chance for a unknown defenders to shine
Injuries to starters Bjoern Werner, Tim Jernigan and Xavier Rhodes have put a few relatively unknown defensive players in the spotlight. Defensive end Cornellius Carradine, defensive tackle Demonte McAllister and cornerback Keelin Smith have all seen time with the first team defense this spring as a result of the injuries to the regular starters. All three have received praise from the FSU coaching staff for their play the past three weeks but the real test will take place this Saturday.
With the injury to Rhodes, and the departures of Mike Harris and Avis Commack, Keelin Smith went from redshirt to starter overnight. At 6-foot-3, the former Treasure Coast standout has the size to excel in the secondary but will be tested by some outstanding FSU receivers. With the nature of his position, Smith could be relied upon heavily this fall. Playing in all 13 games last season, "Tank" Carradine is a little better known than Smith and was very productive coming of the bench recording 38 tackles (8 for loss) and 5.5 sacks. But this spring has been his first opportunity to line up with the first team defense. With Rick Trickett breaking in a couple new tackles, the 6-foot-5, 265-pound end should have plenty of opportunities to wreak havoc in the backfield. Finally, Demonte McAllister has made a few contributions in his first two seasons but has been a victim of a stockpiled depth chart at defensive tackle. With the injuries to Jernigan and Jacobbi McDaniel, the Tampa native has seen a significant increase in his playing time this spring and from all reports has made the most of his opportunity.
3. The battle for backup quarterback
Despite Jimbo Fisher's statement that every position on the team is up for grabs, it's a foregone conclusion that EJ Manuel will be FSU's starting quarterback this fall. But what isn't decided is who will back up FSU's senior signal-caller. Clint Trickett gained experience last season starting two games for an injured Manuel. While he shined coming off the bench against Oklahoma and in his start at Clemson, he struggled greatly at Wake Forest. Nipping at his heels is 6-foot-5, 235-pound redshirt freshman Jacob Coker. While Coker has a distinct advantage in size, arm strength and athleticism, Trickett has the experience advantage and has a better grasp of Fisher's offense. Also, from all reports coming out of practice, the redshirt sophomore has built on last year and has been sharp all spring.
While Trickett probably holds a slight advantage in the battle for No. 2, that could change if Coker gets the better of Saturday's spring game.
2. Starting offensive tackles ready for prime time
With the offensive line clearly the team's Achilles Heel last season, all eyes have been on Rick Trickett's squad this spring. The three first string interior players - Tre Jackson, Austin Barron and Josue Matias - are the same group that started against Notre Dame in the bowl game. While that was somewhat expected, what is a surprise is the current first team offensive tackles. Instead of Bobby Hart and junior college transfer Daniel Glauser holding down the starting spots as expected, recently converted defensive tackle Cameron Erving and former guard/center Bryan Stork have received the bulk of the reps with the first team. And from all signs, both are the front-runners to not only start on Saturday but this fall as well.
Erving, who never played offensive line before this spring, has been receiving high praise from his teammates and Fisher. However, the media and fans alike are probably a bit hesitant to jump on the bandwagon after Jacob Fahrenkrug fell short of his lofty expectations last season. However, a strong showing on Saturday could go a long way to convincing everyone that Erving is more than capable of holding down the left tackle spot. Stork, who has 14 combined career starts at guard and center, is just as big a surprise at right tackle. While his versatility isn't in question, at only 6-foot-3 to 6-foot-4, Stork doesn't have the prototypical size to play tackle. Even more surprising is that Bobby Hart, who started nine games at tackle (8 at RT) last season as a 17-year old true freshman, has apparently been relegated to second team behind Stork.
1. Is Kelvin Benjamin as good as advertised?
Since the day he enrolled at Florida State last summer, the hype surrounding 6-foot-6, 240-pound receiver Kelvin Benjamin has been palpable. A redshirt season may have somewhat softened the anticipation among fans last year but the spark was reignited this spring. While official stats were never released to the media, the former Glades Central standout reportedly hauled in five touchdowns in FSU's two scrimmages. Even more important, is that teammates, including several FSU defensive backs, have been giving glowing reviews about Benjamin's performance in practices. Even quarterback E.J. Manuel compared throwing to Benjamin to a LeBron James' alley-oop pass - "You always know he's going to come down with the dunk."
While all the hype and talk makes for good off-season chatter, the proof will be in the pudding on Saturday. It wasn't that long ago that junior college transfer Corey Surrency was supposed to be the second coming of Randy Moss. However, the highly regarded wideout fell well short of those expectations after just one short season. Unlike Surrency, who had just one year of eligibility, Benjamin will have plenty of time to make his mark at FSU. This Saturday might provide a clue as to whether that mark will start in 2012.
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