FSU coach Mike Norvell may have only signed six offensive players so far in the NCAA’s early signing period, which runs through Friday, but those signings bring some perspective to the saying that less is more. With at least nine scholarships left to give you can be sure there is more help for Norvell and offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham on the way with significant holes left to fill.
That being said the Seminoles are off to a fast start despite having to recruit this class virtually because of the prolonged NCAA recruiting Dead Period, which is set to run through April 15. Here is a look at the six offensive signees and what they could mean to the future of FSU football:
QB McKenzie Milton: 5-11, 185 (UCF)
Things looked bleak for FSU as it pertained to signing a quarterback after longtime commitment Luke Altmyer re-opened his recruitment on Nov. 30 only to follow that announcement with a commitment to Ole Miss a couple of days later. But something tells me Norvell had an ace in the hole in knowing Milton was either already locked in to coming to FSU or he felt good about his chances landing UCF’s version of Charlie Ward. Signing Milton, or “KZ” as he is known by his coaches and teammates, could be a game changer on and off the field for Norvell and FSU. If healthy and ready to compete in the fall, and we are assuming he and Norvell feel good about his recovery from a horrific injury that almost cost him the lower portion of his right leg, FSU will have one of the winningest and most-productive quarterbacks in recent college football history manning the controls of its offense.
In 2018 Milton was the 18th leading passer in the nation, throwing for 2,663 yards and 25 touchdowns against six interceptions while leading his team to a 12-1 record with its only loss coming in the Fiesta Bowl to LSU. That was the only game Milton didn’t play that season after suffering his knee and leg injury in the last game of the 2018 regular season against USF. In 2017 Milton lead UCF to a 13-0 record and a win against Auburn in the Peach Bowl. All he did that season was throw for 4,037 yards and 37 touchdowns against just nine interceptions on his way to finishing as the nation’s ninth leading passer. I say all that to say this: Milton, if healthy, is definitely the best quarterback on FSU’s roster and its not even close. Even if Milton isn’t able to be as productive in the quarterback run game as he was before the injury he is a proven pocket-passer who makes quick decisions. He did run for 613 yards on 106 attempts (including scrambles) in 2017 under then UCF head coach Scott Frost, but in 2018 ran just 79 times for 307 yards when Josh Heupel took over the program. He likely will not be quite as fast or elusive as he was once but he has always been a pass-first, run-when-you-have-to type quarterback. Heupel and Norvell have been more similar in their use of quarterbacks (at least until FSU started Jordan Travis) in the run game than Frost.
He will also bring some instant confidence to an FSU offense that is very young and in need of some proven and veteran leadership. Everyone on FSU’s roster has seen Milton play and knows what he did for the UCF program. They are also aware of his story and will get to see him finish his Alex Smith-like comeback in-person. That should make the 2021 version of FSU football a more mentally and physically tough team as they learn exactly what Milton has gone through to get back on the field. He will change the dynamic of the FSU locker room the instant he steps foot inside it and brings a championship attitude into the building. On that off chance that he doesn’t play, or play right away, he will be a valuable resource for Jordan Travis, Tate Rodemaker and Chubba Purdy. He also gives Norvell another recruiting cycle before he brings in another high school prospect at quarterback. The way things work today, if FSU had signed Altmyer, who is to say Rodemaker or Purdy both stay in Tallahassee for the long-term?
Milton will also help FSU in recruiting immediately. He may help some with the high school prospects FSU will sign in February but should definitively help Norvell and Dillingham land some graduate transfers or transfers that might not have otherwise been thinking about the Seminoles because of their recent results on the football field. But having Milton in Norvell’s offense should attract some of the better offensive skill players and provide more impetus in FSU signing one or two veteran offensive linemen to protect their new signal-caller.
FSU got a winner and a warrior at quarterback.
Dillingham on Milton: “I think the culture that he’s going to create, that’s a kid who hasn’t played for two years. But he’s been around that program and he’s molded their quarterback to where he has had all that success. And for a veteran guy to just come into that room, the culture he’s going to be able to create, and teach our guys what it takes to be successful. And that’s something. Every coach can say, ‘Hey, go watch film. And you know, watch this film on your iPad for this amount of time. It’s third-down cut-up day. It’s red-zone cut-up day.’ But it comes a lot different when it’s a peer doing that. So our guys, guys like Jordan, Tate, Chubba, having a guy like that, who says ‘Ok, this is really what it takes to be successful.’ In the offseason, getting guys out to throw when we’re not around. What he’s going to bring from all those elements is something that’s never going to be talked about. But that is the key thing he’s gonna bring. He is gonna bring all those intangibles to that QB room to show them what it takes to really take that next step in our room. Because we love where our room is at. And I mean that. I love Jordan Travis, Chubba, Tate. We have a lot of guys in there that are going to be successful, and adding a veteran like that it’s only gonna make everybody in that room better.”
The next biggest piece of the FSU offensive puzzle in recruiting was to bring in some talent and athleticism on the offensive line and the Seminoles are off to a good start with two prospects signing yesterday and a third, Kimo Makaneole, committed and expected to sign his National Letter of Intent in February. Here is a look at the two signees on FSU’s offensive line:
OT Rod Orr: 6-7, 296-Gadsden City (Ala.) High School
This is the most important signee in the 2021 class thus far as it pertains to the long-term future of the program. Orr is a tremendous “get” for Norvell and offensive line coach Alex Atkins. He is long, athletic, has great feet, can bend, has length, plays hard and has a physical component to his game that will only grow as he gets bigger and stronger. He has all the attributes that you are looking for in an offensive tackle and should compete for a spot on the two-deep the moment he steps on campus — if not compete for a starting job. He has big-time potential at the major college level and if he lives up to his considerable potential is a guy you wouldn’t be surprised to see playing on Sundays five years from now.
Dillingham on Orr: “Rod Orr is a big, long tackle. He is a big, long left tackle. And that’s something we really needed in this class was length. We needed guys who could protect the quarterback with their length. He is developmental, he’s a guy whose coach Atkins is going to get his hand on and you’re going to see him drastically improve similar to our situation this year. And he’s a kid with unbelievable potential. And he fits us because of his personality, his work ethic. That’s the one trend in this class you’re gonna see is you’re gonna see guys hungry and hungry and hungry to be the very best they can possibly be. And those are the guys we’re going to get.”
OG/C Bryson Estes: 6-3, 291-McDonough (Ga.) Eagles Landing Christian High School
Estes projects as either a guard or center at FSU. He doesn’t have the measurables of Orr, or as gifted athletically but he is an outstanding prospect at center or guard. He has good feet, plays with good leverage and has shown the ability to get out and make blocks in space and on the second level. He will likely need a redshirt season but should be competing for playing time by his second year on campus.
Dillingham on Estes: “There’s no question. He is a powerful mover of men. When you turn on the tape, his feet never stop and he moves people. And we see him as an interior guy for us that can bump out to tackle. But he’s a jack of all trades, he can play center, guard, tackle all over the place.”
Norvell and Dillingham did add three more skill players to the fold yesterday but need to look at bringing up to two more wide receivers from the transfer portal or high school prospects that can contribute from day-one. With the transfer of leading rusher La’Damian Webb to Troy it is also likely they could bring in a running back. Here is a look at the two skill players who signed with the Seminoles yesterday:
WR Josh Burrell: 6-2, 212-Blythewood (Sc.) High School
Burrell has good size, is very strong and has football-friendly hands. Based on where FSU is from a talent and depth standpoint, Burrell should have the ability to come in and compete right away for playing time. He has the size to line up on the outside and create favorable matchups against smaller corners and the versatility and sure-handedness to line up in the slot and catch the ball between the hashes. He is also good at getting up field after the catch. Burrell has good but not elite speed and he isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty blocking in the run game.
Dillingham on Burrell: “Josh is a kid who’s 6-foot-2 foot, 215, 220 pounds. He runs low 4.5. Strong hands, strong runner with the ball. When you watch him play, the ball is in his hands, he becomes a running back. When the ball’s in the air, he goes and gets it. So he’s got that great balance of being that big wideout that can go win contested catches, but he’s that guy who wins that contested catch, shrugs off the corner and goes for 70. And that’s something we needed was somebody to go make those contested catches, and somebody who could make a play with the ball in their hands. And I think he could do both. This is another kid, all he knows how to do is work. Work, work, work. And he fits that mold of what we’re looking for.”
TE Jackson West: 6-4, 235-Huntsville (Al.) High School
West has a nice combination of athleticism and size that should eventually give Norvell and Dillingham the versatility they are looking for in a tight end. He has enough speed and ability as a pass-catcher that will allow him to be used in the slot against linebackers and safeties. West should only get bigger, stronger and better as a blocker, which will allow for him being used as a unit tight end or as an H-back/fullback. This type of tight end will expand what Norvell and Dillingham are able to do on offense out of their base 11-personnel package. West will likely need a redshirt season but with Cam McDonald, Jordan Wilson, Preston Daniel and Carter Boatright scheduled to return, he should have time to develop before competing for significant playing time his second year on campus.
Dillingham on West: “Jackson was just a kid that we actually saw in camp a few years ago. And he’s underrated for how fast he is. Really good ball skills. But more importantly, he’s a guy who can put his hand in the dirt and knock somebody off the ball. And the thing that excites me most about Jackson is he texts me and says, ‘Hey, coach, I’ve been watching your games on YouTube. And I see the route that you’re running. So I’ve been practicing them with all my buddies in the backyard.’ This is a guy who wants to be the very best he can be. And he is studying our games, practicing what we’re doing. And he’s already learning our system right now. So he has a passion to be the very best he can be.”
TE Koby Gross: 6-3, 235- Diablo Valley (Ca.) Junior College
Gross is somewhat of a mystery, there is very little film of him from high school or junior college but seems to have used this year away from football to get himself in shape based off what I have seen on social media vs. the limited tape from junior college. That tape showed a big, athletic, physical but raw prospect that could fill the H-back/fullback role in Norvell’s offense.
Dillingham on Gross: “He obviously had family out here in Florida. So he grew up being a Florida State fan. And we watched his tape. Another guy who can put his hand in the dirt and block. But this guy’s ball skills are extremely underrated. He’s been out there, working, sending us videos almost every day. And this guy is going to be a playmaker for us.”
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