McKenzie Milton is the clear front-runner this spring in Florida State’s competition to decide a starting quarterback. It is a process that will likely go well into preseason camp in August.
“It is probably going to play out, to be honest,” offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham said. “Like I said, we got four guys that all have playing experience. So that’s gonna play out.”
FSU fans can take that as coachspeak. The reality is it would be stunning if Milton, one of the top quarterbacks in the nation before his injury, were not the Seminoles’ starter for the season opener (presuming his knee and recovery continues on its current track). Dillingham referenced Brad Johnson, who recalled being in the quarterback room in the early 1990s at FSU with Casey Weldon, Charlie Ward and others.
“That’s what we’re trying to build here,” Dillingham said.
FSU has four quarterbacks with varying degrees of starting experience, from Milton to Jordan Travis, Chubba Purdy and Tate Rodemaker. Norvell called it a “true competition” and spent part of his press conference after Day 1 of FSU’s spring practice on Tuesday discussing each of the quarterbacks.
“Those guys are competing in all aspects,” Norvell said. “I thought they did a good job with it today. McKenzie, I thought it being his first day, it looked like he had a nice control of what we were asking him to do. There were some good plays and some bad plays. … Jordan looked really good. Chubba, Tate made some really nice throws. That group is going to be fun to watch. The diversity and talents, but also the approach that all these guys bring to it and the competitors that they are, it’s a really good group at that position. We’re going to continue to get better and those guys are going to push each other.”
FSU held a squat party on Friday to celebrate the end of the winter strength and conditioning program. If there was one takeaway from the numerous videos posted on social media, it went beyond the weight gain. The cheering and camaraderie stood out.
“Honestly, I haven’t felt this in three years of my college football career, I’ve never felt a family,” quarterback Jordan Travis said. “And I feel like this team, we love each other. We trust each other. And it’s just a way different feeling.”
One of the intangibles, an important one, has been about creating a culture at FSU. It remains tough to evaluate or determine how far along in the process the program is but the comments from Travis as well as videos are encouraging.
“It was a very competitive day,” Norvell said. “We were able to bring the guys there together. It was exciting to see. You see a team that comes together through the challenge. Through the work. When you have a day like that where you’re maxing out on squat and there’s a lot of weight flying around. Guys truly fighting a battle through each rep. … I think the relationships are definitely coming together. And it’s been fun watching this team, whether it’s the newcomer or a guy that’s been here for six years, we’re all putting in position to continue to help grow with each other. That’s something that’s been a nice sight to see as we’ve gone through Tour of Duty. That was the grand finale of our winter program and it was a heck of atmosphere in there. Was really proud of our guys.”
FSU hasn’t released any numbers from the winter conditioning but it’s clear among those who have stood out was offensive lineman Darius Washington, who had shoulder surgery and missed time in the weight room in the offseason in 2020 but is now impressing coaches.
“There’s no question that there’s been an unbelievable transition and transformation for him,” Norvell said. “Just in having a full offseason. I think I talked the other day about Jashaun maybe being the star of the offseason. But you look at Darius, and he’s absolutely the most improved in what he’s done. From the weight gain to the overall strength, just the work ethic of what he’s showing, we’ve got big expectations for him, and he answered the call there in the winter program.”
Production from receivers
Finding dependable receivers will be one of the key storylines this spring for FSU. Beyond Ontaria Wilson (30 passes for 382 yards and two touchdowns) and the departed Tamorrion Terry, no FSU receiver had 15 receptions in nine games in 2020.
The Seminoles lacked consistent options and frequently turned to tailbacks as receivers late in the year. Two early enrollees, Malik McClain and Joshua Burrell, have haad a chance to get a jump on learning the offense.
“Malik is just a big, tall lanky guy who could run,” Dillingham said. “And Josh is like a world champion squatter, I guess. But they’re both guys who come in with the physical tools to help us early. They’re both guys that have the mental want to and they’ve been in their playbook, they’ve been getting extra reps to be able to go out there and execute.
“But after one practice it’s about consistency when you’re a young guy. When you’re a freshman anybody can flash or have a play. For those guys, I want to see the consistency of the work. Can they make the great play in back-to-back days? Can they make it three days in a row? Can we count on them?”
One veteran who could be an option is Keyshawn Helton, who caught 14 passes (two for touchdowns) but didn’t have that same speed or crisp route-running in 2020 after suffering a major knee injury in October 2019.
“I think going through the winter program, his movements and the confidence with the way he’s planting, changing direction, you can see the speed really coming back to form,” Norvell said. “There’s no doubt about it, he’s much further along than what he was at any point this past year.”
Jashaun Corbin has been praised for his work in the weight room this offseason. Strength and conditioning coach Josh Storms last week called the tailback a “stud” who was “ultra, ultra dependable.” But the normally reserved Corbin has also taken on the role of a leader in his position group.
“I try to lead by example,” Corbin said. “Just trying to do all the little things that the coaches ask and doing extra. Because I have experience playing college football, I try to share that with the young guys. That’s kind of what it’s like to me.”
Where’s Gainer lining up?
Amari Gainer’s versatility has been on display for the past few years and he has played various roles for the Seminoles. Norvell said Gainer, who is FSU’s returning leader with 65 tacklers, will start at inside linebacker.
“One of Amari’s great strengths (is) the versatility that he has,” Norvell said. “He’s got to be a guy that can impact in all different aspects. We’re starting off this spring taking a good look at him being inside because that was something he didn’t do as much last year. But you’ll see him in all spots. His talent and the versatility that he brings just in his overall understanding has been impressive.”
FSU’s first day of spring practice was closed to the media but some practices will be open, including those on Thursday and Friday. Norvell, defensive coordinator Adam Fuller and some players are expected to speak on Thursday.
Norvell speaks to boosters, fans
Norvell will speak with virtually to Seminole Boosters and fans on Wednesday at 6 p.m. (link here). He was asked about the plan by athletics and the boosters for a football-only building, with a few sites being evaluated. Seminole Boosters’ CEO Michael Alford said fundraising is going well for a building, which is in the design phase.
“I’m really excited about what the future holds in all aspects of the program and the continued push to elevating a lot of different areas,” Norvell said. “And one of it is the facilities, the football facility I think there’s a lot of momentum with what we’re looking to do and where we want to go. We’ve got an incredible administration, and incredible support with the Seminole Boosters and excited about what the future holds.”