Florida State football players will report for the start of fall camp on Friday and hit the practice field for the first time since April as a team on Saturday morning. Despite last year’s struggles on the field, which resulted in a 3-6 season there is a lot of excitement surrounding the program as it heads into year two under head coach Mike Norvell. That being said, and we do anticipate that FSU will be better than it was a year ago, here are some things the Osceola staff will be looking to see at practice as the Seminoles prepare for the season opener against Notre Dame and the 2021 season.
Quarterback clarity: It is very likely that Norvell will operate with some sort of two-quarterback system in order to take advantage of McKenzie Milton’s and Jordan Travis’ complementary skill sets. There are two questions here. First, will and who will separate themselves as the definitive starter? And will the offense be more consistent if Milton or Travis were to grab firm grasp of the job?
If you believe in the old adage “if you have two quarterbacks you really don’t have one” you would think that someone taking control of the job would allow for more consistency from the offense and in some respect simply the game planning for the offensive staff and players alike. However, that adage is not always true. There are multiple examples of teams using two quarterbacks very effectively over the course of college football history, including FSU’s history. However, I am not sure how much the quarterbacks themselves like it, past and present. It will be interesting to watch how this battle plays out and what he means for the long-term success of the offense this season.
Pass protection: FSU was much more effective running the ball last year under Norvell than it had been in several years. However, it struggled in pass protection last year and even in the spring. If FSU can protect the passer, especially Milton, the Seminoles’ passing game could help make the running game that much better. We will be looking to see how much the return of a healthy Devontay Love-Taylor and the addition of Notre Dame transfer Dillan Gibbons impact the unit’s ability to protect the passer. Improvement in this area could change the dynamic of the offense. Allowing FSU’s quarterbacks time to take shots down field in the vertical passing game could do wonders for the offense as a whole.
Fill the gap: Forever dating back to legendary coach Bobby Bowden’s early years, FSU has almost always had a dominant player at one of the linebacker positions. That has not been the case over the last several seasons. Will we see improved play from this unit in their second year in defensive coordinator Adam Fuller’s system? How does a healthy Emmett Rice impact the position group and the defense as a whole? Will Amari Gainer and Stephen Dix become more comfortable than they were in the spring in Fuller’s 4-2-5 base-nickel alignment? Can linebackers coach Chris Marve find and develop dependable depth from a unit the includes Kalen DeLoach, Jaleel McRae, DJ Lundy and Jayion McCluster?
Jordan Wilson factor: Of all the injuries that hurt what the Seminoles were trying to do in 2020, it’s fair to venture that the loss of grad transfer tight end Jordan Wilson was an early loss and an irreplaceable one. Wilson was viewed as a battering ram, a versatile tight end-fullback hybrid who could make the run game go as well as offer a pass blocker — a position Norvell values highly. This isn’t to knock Camren McDonald one bit. He arrived at FSU as a flex tight end and has done everything asked of him and has improved as a blocker. There’s a role for both but what Wilson offers is something other tight ends on the roster can’t do.
Consistently catch the ball: Of all the curiosities of FSU football going into camp, for me it’s a question of which illustration of the receivers do we see – the receivers who dropped passes last fall and in the spring or the ones who consistently looked quite good in the spring game. If FSU starts three receivers, it’s easy to state it will be Andrew Parchment, Ontaria Wilson and a true or redshirt freshman. But it’s not even a certainty to me. Who catches the ball with consistency? Who has game-breaking ability? Who blocks well on the perimeter? It’s about as wide-open a competition as any on the team going into camp.
Pass rush: It feels strange not to mention pass rush since it’s probably the No. 1 focal point on Sept. 5 when the season begins. Perhaps the effectiveness of the pass rush can’t be measured appropriately until FSU holds a scrimmage or two but how good Jermaine Johnson, Keir Thomas and Marcus Cushnie are at applying some amount of pressure is essential to the season. We won’t see them sack quarterbacks in green jerseys in August, but we will want to see it happen at least in scrimmages.