If the Florida State Seminoles are to be competitive in the ACC race next season, let alone earn a trip to Tampa for the league finale in December, they first have to show their mettle against one another now.
"That's what you're looking for, competition at all positions," said coach Bobby Bowden of the 15 days of spring practice, which begin Tuesday and culminate with the Garnet & Gold game on April 12. "When you don't have competition at a position, it's dangerous. The guy's not pushed. He doesn't have to worry about a guy beating him out and I don't think you get a guy's best effort that way."
After consecutive 7-6 seasons, he and his staff desperately want to see spirited battles throughout the entire depth chart. But the most scrutinized spring showdown figures to be at quarterback.
Though rising fifth-year senior Drew Weatherford has been the predominant starter the past three seasons (33 games) and his chief rival, Xavier Lee, left early for the pros, the coaches are high on rising redshirt sophomores Christian Ponder and D'Vontrey Richardson.
"I want to see them try to take the job," offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jimbo Fisher said of the youngsters. "Not try to be the backup, I want to see them compete for the starting job."
That's not meant as a knock on Weatherford. Fisher and Bowden praised the former Land O'Lakes standout's progression in the new offense last season and his reduction in turnovers. After throwing 29 interceptions in his first two years, he threw just three last year and set a school and ACC record with 270 consecutive passes without an interception.
"But we have to start making a few more plays out of that position," Fisher said.
Weatherford threw only nine touchdowns. Ponder had one touchdown pass at Virginia Tech (he did have three turnovers filling in for the injured Weatherford) and showed the ability to make plays with his arm and legs.
"Ponder gave you enough excitement that he makes you interested," Bowden said.
Meanwhile, Richardson is a dazzling athlete who worked at quarterback, receiver, running back and punt returner during the season. He also committed to football full time instead of playing baseball this year.
But the dearth of big plays wasn't just on the quarterback. Sometimes the line didn't buy him enough time. Sometimes receivers or running backs botched a play. FSU needs more effectiveness from all of them.
Defensively, three key members of the incoming recruiting class enrolled in January and could shorten the usual freshman learning curve: weakside linebacker Nigel Bradham, middle linebacker Vince Williams and corner Terrance Parks.
"It should be a big boost for them," defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said. "They should be able to step forward, the opportunities are there. We've got to have (immediate) help this fall."
Especially at the outset of the season. A dozen players will be out the first three games after missing the Music City Bowl. Student-athletes involved in the academic misconduct scandal must sit out 30 percent of their season and for football that is four games. The players projected as backups might get a little more work now, but not a lot more.
"The guys who'll sit three games, you have to get them ready, too," Fisher said. "Everybody's going to get plenty of reps. I promise you that."
Brian Landman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3347.