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Analysis: Reasons for optimism, areas of improvement

Florida State’s spring game featured enough positives to make fans optimistic about the progress in year 3 under Mike Norvell. And there were also position groups that have not shown nearly enough. We’ll try to line up what we saw on Saturday with the prior 11 open practices.

Three reasons to feel good

Depth at running back — FSU went into the spring without a decided No. 1 tailback and now an argument can be made the coaches have a potential star in Trey Benson. It’s still plausible Norvell and offensive coordinator Alex Atkins will go with a running-back-by-committee approach but fans should feel good about a mix of Benson, Lawrance Toafili and Treshaun Ward. Toafili remains one of the best pass-catchers on the field (regardless of position) and the staff will need to get him the ball in space. Ward uses his lower body well and is physical. 

Competitive defensive backs — There is no shortage of talent in the room. Renardo Green and Omarion Cooper are two options to be starting corners in the fall. Sam McCall and Azareye’h Thomas have been more than just competitive against older receivers, they’ve also been opportunistic in forcing takeaways. Akeem Dent is flourishing at safety, Jammie Robinson is excelling while playing in a variety of roles and Kevin Knowles has been consistent. Yes, the defensive backs have often looked good in 1-on-1s vs. FSU receivers in a spring or preseason camp in prior seasons, so it will be good to see how the defensive backs stack up once the season begins this fall.

Getting after the quarterback — The defensive line should again be able to put pressure on the quarterback even after losing Jermaine Johnson and Keir Thomas. Jared Verse’s athleticism is evident each day and it’s clear he gained comfort in what the coaches were seeking from practice 1 to now. Derrick McLendon has been a model of slow-but-steady progress and could enjoy a breakout year. Fabien Lovett continues to improve and often showed how disruptive he can be, while Robert Cooper is in the best shape since he arrived and will be effective against the run.

Three areas of improvement

Catch the ball — FSU’s receivers took a step forward this spring and it was because of Mycah Pittman, who has been very consistent. Ja’Khi Douglas has also shown he is more than just an occasional deep threat. Johnny Wilson had a few drops in the spring game, but has also shown in practices that he’s a dangerous option in the red zone. There have definitely been flashes from a variety of receivers, including Kentron Poitier’s sideline grab on Saturday. If the ball is thrown in the area of a receiver, the expectation is that they will haul it in but that’s too often not the case. It needs to be for the offense to be more efficient at moving the ball.

Developing young quarterbacks — Tate Rodemaker has improved with increased reps in practices but he’s still a long way from being a quarterback FSU can lean on. Rodemaker has shown he can push the ball downfield but often forces passes into coverage instead of throwing the ball away. AJ Duffy often looked like a true freshman in the spring game but he has also often played behind a patchwork No. 2 offensive line (aside from Wisconsin transfer Kayden Lyles). Norvell will need to seek options via the transfer portal.

Run defense — The flip side of running well is that the Seminoles didn’t stuff the run game. This is a tough one to get a great read on as linebacker Tatum Bethune did not play Saturday and there was a heavy rotation along the defensive front. But it’s fair to question how good the interior of FSU’s defense is when Robert Cooper and Fabien Lovett aren’t in the game. FSU was 54th against the run in 2021 and there are reasons to feel better about it than what we’ve seen this spring, especially with Bethune at linebacker.

Up next

FSU will hold its final practice of the spring on Tuesday afternoon. We’ll have more from Norvell as well as more reflections from spring practices this week.