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April 1, 2005

Six questions going into Saturday's scrimmage

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For the first time since spring practice kicked off on March 19th, the team is scheduled to complete a full scrimmage today. There have been two mini-scrimmages so far but this is the first time the entire practice will be devoted to live game-type situations.

Through the first two weeks of practice there have been some interesting developments including the introduction of a new assistant coach to the staff. Also, the battles for positioning on the depth chart are heating up; a few players are exceeding expectations while some others are behind schedule. There are still numerous questions to be answered before spring practice concludes with the annual Garnet and Gold game on April 16th.

Here is a look at a few of the top questions facing the team entering today's scrimmage:

Will the battle for the starting quarterback job really be open?

Through the first four practices everything was playing out how you would expect at quarterback. Of the three competing signal-callers, junior Wyatt Sexton was the most consistent and always completed a high percentage of his pass attempts in drills. Meanwhile, both Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee showed flashes of potential but neither was as consistent at the more veteran quarterback.

With those early performances going into Wednesday's mini-scrimmage, Sexton was doing exactly what was expected of him, and he was separating himself from the competition.

Then the bottom fell out.

"Wyatt had a tough time for some reason," head coach Bobby Bowden said after Wednesday's mini-scrimmage. "He was getting passes knocked down, fumbling the football and missing receivers. I hope it was just one of those days."

Looking at the statistics, neither Lee nor Weatherford did much better. However, they showed enough that both Bobby Bowden and offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden noted that they gained ground on Sexton. Lee, a former prep All-American quarterback, probably made the biggest impression on the coaching staff.

"Lee has surprised me," Bowden said. "He's done better than I thought. It's funny, he's the one that didn't play under center but he drops better than any of them. He plays under there like he's been there all his life. He's shown me more than I expected this soon. Weatherford is doing well too."

With Sexton's hold on the top spot slipping, he needs to bounce back with a better effort today or the race for the starting job might truly become "open". However, for that to occur, not only will it take another mediocre performance by Sexton, one of the two freshmen will have to put up better numbers than they did in the first two mini-scrimmages.

Does FSU have a potent ground game, or was Wednesday an aberration?

The most surprising aspect of the last mini-scrimmage was the ability of the offense to run effectively against a talented and experienced defense. The four scholarship tailbacks combined for 136 rushing yards on 24 carries for a 5.7 yards per carry average. When you consider that several offensive linemen, including Matt Meinrod, Cory Niblock and David Castillo, were out nursing injuries, that's pretty amazing.

"I came out last scrimmage and threw it, threw it, threw it and Coach McHale got on my butt," offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden said. "So I tried to run it more today to work this new running stuff with our line. It was good. We had some nice runs, but our execution still isn't there."

The offense followed-up the mini-scrimmage by scoring four rushing touchdowns in goalline drills. That kind of performance was a major positive for the offense, especially the patchwork offensive line, but it drew the ire of defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews.

"The times they ran the ball well against us, we didn't have guys in their gaps doing their job," Andrews said. "Some of it was where we had some walk-ons and first-year guys trying to learn the position. We didn't tackle as crisply as we ought to."

With the defensive players running several gassers after Wednesday's practice and with a couple days to look at film and correct mistakes, you would expect the defense to shut down the run in today's scrimmage. But if the offense is able to manage any kind of a ground game it would be a very positive sign for the running backs and Coach McHale's offensive line.

Will Willie Reid finally breakout?

Since he signed with Florida State in 2001, fans have been waiting for Willie Reid to strut his stuff on offense. He has shown his explosiveness on punt returns but to date has only been an afterthought at wide receiver. His lack of playing time is a result of him being underutilized in his sophomore year, and last year his time on the field was limited because of a groin and hamstring injury.

With the graduation of Craphonso Thorpe, Chauncey Stovall and Dominic Robinson, now is the time for the former Offensive Player of the Year in Georgia to be a major weapon for the Seminole offense, and that's the way he wants it.

"I want to be the go-to guy on the offense," Reid said. "I'm working hard to be that guy. Hopefully, I'll stay healthy and things like that happen for me."

Through the first five practices, Reid has been held out of most of the live drills and scrimmages with a minor ankle sprain. However, he should be released to take part in Saturday's scrimmage. With De'Cody Fagg, who is Reid's backup at split end, playing extremely well it is time for Reid to assert himself on offense.

Kamerion Wimbley a party of one?

So far this spring Kamerion Wimbley has left little doubt that he is the team's top pass rusher. Through the first two mini-scrimmages the rising senior from Wichita, Kansas has racked up five quarterback sacks. It would be surprising if he didn't get to the quarterback a few more times today.

In his first three seasons, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound defensive end has always been in a backup role, but there is little doubt that he will lock down one of the two starting spots.

"I think I'm pretty comfortable going into this year knowing that I'll probably be a starter and I just have to work and hold the position and get better," Wimbley said.

The big question facing the defensive line is who will lineup opposite Wimbley when the season begins. Darrell Burston is currently the first team left defensive end but with Willie Jones and D.J. Norris sitting out the spring while they recover from injuries, it's anybody's guess who will be the starter on September 5th.

So far none of the other defensive ends have put a good foot forward. After Wimbley, all the other ends have combined for only one sack in the two mini-scrimmages. With the offensive line focusing on Wimbley, Saturday's full scrimmage should provide a golden opportunity for another defensive end to step up and make a run at becoming FSU's other starter.

Who will step in for Sims at strongside linebacker?

Everybody got a huge scare when All-American Ernie Sims went down holding his right leg on Wednesday. As things turned out, the injury shouldn't threaten his ablity to play this season and hard-hitting linebacker should be good as new in a couple months. However, with Sims no longer holding down the strong-side (Sam) linebacker spot this spring somebody else must take up the slack.

Rising sophomore Lawrence Timmons is listed as Sims' backup and the former Parade All-American should get plenty of reps with the first team defense over the next couple weeks. Nevertheless, linebackers coach Kevin Steele loves to cross-train and has already hinted that he may try some different combinations with Sims out of the lineup.

One possibility is sliding Buster Davis, who is currently the starting middle linebacker, over to the strongside and moving Sam McGrew up to be the starter's role in the middle. That would leave Timmons in a backup role on the strongside and move fellow sophomore Jae Thaxton up to the second slot at middle linebacker.

The other possibility mentioned by coach Steele would be to move Marcello Church, who is currently the backup on the weakside (Will), to the strongside. In that scenario, it is uncertain who would backup A.J. Nicholson at the weakside spot. Based on the pre-spring depth chart, redshirt freshman Rodney Gallon is the next logical choice at weakside but he has the least experience of all the linebackers.

Look for coach Steele to try these and other combinations in Saturday's scrimmage.

Can Gerard Ross hold off the competition?

As with Kamerion Wimbley at defensive end, Antonio Cromartie is a lock to start at one of the cornerback spots this season. The other spot is up for grabs.

Senior Gerard Ross will be entering his fifth year at FSU but has been plagued by injuries and inconsistencies throughout his career. This spring is his best opportunity to prove to the coaches that he is a legitimate starter instead of a lifetime backup. So far he hasn't been spectacular in practice, but he hasn't made any big mistakes either.

At least through the first five practices, Ross seems to have done enough to impress the coach that will make the final decision on whether he is a starter.

"Gerard doesn't have another chance after this year," defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said. "His coverages are getting better. His tackling is better. He's more physical. He got run over one time in the first scrimmage and he had a chance to make up for it today and he made a good solid tackle. We're encouraged by him. He's got to come through. It's his time for him to step up and take over."

If Ross falters, there are two very talented second-year players nipping at his heels. Redshirt freshman Tony Carter and sophomore J.R. Bryant both arrived at FSU last year with big accolades. In fact, Rivals.com ranked both among the top four prep cornerback prospects in the country. So far this spring, Bryant and Carter have made a few big plays in passing drills but haven't done enough to make a case to pass Ross on the depth chart.

If either can step up in Saturday's scrimmage, that could give them a legitimate shot at earning the starting job.

Redshirt freshman Trevor Ford is another very talented prospect at cornerback but he usually backs up Cromartie.

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