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Position by position progress: Young Noles who’ve shown development

A full spring and preseason practices gave coaches plenty of time to evaluate. It gave younger players a chance to show they knew what to do, how the offseason strength and conditioning program had helped them and then put their knowledge and effort out there on the field.

For the purpose of this story, we’ll take a quick look at one player at each position who has made the most of reps on the field in August. We’re not going to project them as starters necessarily but just an indicator that they’ve taken a step forward in their development. We narrowed the field to those who don’t have much experience and have started only a few games (with one exception).

Quarterback: Chubba Purdy

Early on in camp, Purdy was under pressure, rolling out and looking to run. It was clear coach Mike Norvell and offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham were telling him to keep his eyes up when he rolled out and Purdy was looking more to pass than run. He needs to improve at throwing with accuracy on the run. Purdy is still very much in a developmental stage because of time lost last season as well as the spring due to injury. He is also well behind McKenzie Milton and Jordan Travis in terms of polish at this point in his career. But Purdy appears enthusiastic, has taken to coaching and his improvement from early August deserves praise.

Running back: Treshaun Ward

Ward shows why the coaching staff gave him a scholarship — it’s because he earned it through hard work on the field and in learning the offense. Ward has lateral quickness that allows him to run off tackle and get into the open field, but he’s also had times to show he can run it up the middle. Norvell and Dillingham used three backs to varying degrees in 2020 (Jashaun Corbin, Lawrance Toafili and LaDamiam Webb), so it’s fair to state Ward has made an impression that he’s deserving of a spot in the rotation.

Wide receiver: Kentron Poitier and Malik McClain

Poitier had a few catches last fall and was thrust into playing early. He commented in August the need to make two or three plays in a row when the ball came his way, and he made the routine receptions as well as the contested catches. McClain has made his share of mistakes but it’s also tough to deny he has some big moments where he plays well beyond that of an early enrollee. If you’re looking for a first- or second-year receiver who will see early playing time, these are worthy options. 

Tight end: Preston Daniel

This one is unusual because playing time will be tough to come by after Jordan Wilson and Camren McDonald. Daniel saw time in all nine games in 2020 and hauled in a big 36-yard reception against North Carolina. He’s likely to make more of an impact on special teams and in a few situations on offense as his blocking isn’t yet up to the level of Wilson or McDonald (another year of strength and conditioning could help him considerably). But Daniel is a walk-on who, like Ward, has put himself in position to earn a scholarship down the road.

Offensive line: Dontae Lucas

This is something of an exception to the above criteria as Lucas has made 14 starts. But Lucas had moments where he didn’t have the right mindset in the spring and struggled. He has made a turnaround in camp, appears to be taking to coaching and can be viewed as one of the eight linemen that Alex Atkins will count on. It remains to be seen if Devontay Love-Taylor will be a guard, tackle or both, although he’s listed as the starting right guard. Lucas is good depth and will learn from veterans like Love-Taylor and Gillan Gibbons.

Defensive line: Dennis Briggs Jr.

This one is fairly easy, even if it will be tough to evaluate linemen until we see them in a game against Notre Dame, Wake Forest and other opponents. Briggs’ quickness proved tough for FSU’s linemen in one-on-one blocking drills. He isn’t 300 pounds but Odell Haggins isn’t bothered. Briggs was chosen as the player to smash a stone signifiying the end of the preseason on Sunday. And Bridgs has shown he should be an impactful interior lineman along with Fabien Lovett and Robert Cooper.

Linebacker: Kalen DeLoach and D.J. Lundy

Neither Lundy nor DeLoach saw much playing time in 2020 but both have been praised for their development in the preseason. When FSU released a depth chart on Monday, there were few surprises. But among those that were interesting? Lundy ahead of Stephen Dix Jr., while DeLoach was also listed ahead of Maryland transfer Cortez Andrews. It remains to be seen how the linebackers are used, if the Seminoles lean more on a 4-3 front or nickel as a base defense and if Amari Gainer is a three-down linebacker or used in situations. But it’s a good indication of growth that DeLoach (220 pounds) and Lundy (255 pounds) have emerged. Lundy may be more practical against a run-oriented offense like Notre Dame or BC, while DeLoach may be a better option against spread offenses.

Defensive back: Travis Jay

Jay has been limited in his first two seasons in part due to injury. He played in six games (two starts) in 2020 and has spent time at corner and safety. Jay had a consistent preseason, battling FSU’s receivers consistently well in one-on-one drills. Now that Jay is locked in at corner, his instincts and athleticism should allow him to grow as a cover corner.

Special teams: Alex Mastromanno

It’s worth reminding that Mastromanno had never seen a live college football game until he stepped on the field to punt last fall. There is comfort in knowing what to do and what is expected, and it has showed up in camp. Mastromanno displayed consistent hang time and distance. Honorable mention to Ryan Fitzgerald, who won a tightly contested kicking competition in August.