Thursday, May 24, 2018
Colleges

Florida State Seminoles open spring football with high expectations

Times staff

Florida State took a big step forward last season as it sought to regain its past glory. With many starters returning, the Seminoles hope to move forward again this year, beginning with spring practice today. Here's what they hope to accomplish between now and the April 14 spring game.

1. Bolster the O-line

The Seminoles had shaky offensive line play last season and lose starters Andrew Datko, who missed time last year with an injury, and Jebrie Sanders. They've tried to supplement with transfers Daniel Glauser, from New Mexico Military Institute, who is on campus and will practice during the spring, and Menelik Watson, a junior college signee who joins the team this fall. Also, Cameron Erving moves over from defensive tackle. How the line comes together in the spring and fall could go a long way to determining the Seminoles' success.

2. Solidify the running game

The Seminoles had veteran running backs returning last year and talented incoming freshmen Devonta Freeman and former Plant High star James Wilder, but injuries and poor line play hampered FSU. If you take out sacks, it had the fewest true rushing yards since 2007. Despite the loss of Ty Jones and Jermaine Thomas, a stable of running backs returns, though Wilder's status is up in the air after his February arrest in an incident when police said he tried to prevent his girlfriend from being arrested. Early enrollee Mario Pender could make an early impact. The key could be improving the line play.

3. Get EJ Manuel healthy

Another area that could benefit from improved line play is quarterback. EJ Manuel came into last season with high expectations, but injuries and other factors kept his performance from being consistent. Despite a shoulder injury, he completed 203 of 311 passes for 2,666 yards. It's unclear how much action he'll see in the spring because he fractured his fibula in a bowl win against Notre Dame.

4. Evaluate the D-line

With all the hype surrounding the incoming defensive line recruits, little has been said about the prospects on campus.

Nile Lawrence-Stample was one of a small group of defensive linemen who redshirted last season, but he is probably the one redshirted class of 2011 standout who could be a factor for the Seminoles.

As a redshirt freshman, Lawrence-Stample could emerge as the unexpected tackle in the bunch who sees serious action in the rotation when the season starts. Near the end of last season, as the Seminoles prepared for their bowl game, Lawrence-Stample got his share of practice time alongside the starters on the defensive line.

5. Integrate Kelvin Benjamin

Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin redshirted in the fall, but coaches and fans have high hopes for the player from Belle Glade. With only one receiver leaving the program off last season's team (Bert Reed, graduation) and the Seminoles adding only one in their latest recruiting class (speedster Marvin Bracy), Benjamin has a chance to come in and contribute. At 6 feet 6 and about 240 pounds, he presents a large target who can be lined up alongside 6-6 Rodney Smith at wideout.

Information from the Orlando Sentinel was used in this report.

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