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Five things to watch in Florida State's spring game

Florida State defensive back Derwin James since September. (Will Vragovic, Times)
Florida State defensive back Derwin James since September. (Will Vragovic, Times)
Published Apr. 8, 2017

Florida State caps off its spring practice with today's spring game at Doak Campbell Stadium (3 p.m., ESPN). Here are five things to watch for the Seminoles, who should start this season in the top five before a massive season-opening showdown against heavyweight Alabama in Atlanta:

1. How do the quarterbacks look?

There's no battle for the top job in Tallahassee; barring injury, Deondre Francois is the starter. Francois will need to improve from a solid but inconsistent redshirt freshman season, when he ranked 66th nationally in completion percentage (58.8) and 35th in passer rating (142.1). Today will show his progression and provide a glimpse at his possible backup on an inexperienced depth chart without former blue-chip recruit Malik Henry (transfer) and last year's backup, Sean Maguire (graduation). That leaves J.J. Cosentino (who struggled against Houston in his only significant appearance), four-star early enrollee Bailey Hockman and walk-on Jake Rizzo as the options behind Francois.

2. Can Cameron Akers replace Dalvin Cook?

It is an unfair task for an early enrollee with zero collegiate snaps. But that's how high the expectations are for Akers, a 5-foot-11, 213-pound Mississippi native, who was FSU's most heralded signee since defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. in 2012. Akers will have help in the backfield (with former five-star Jacques Patrick, among others), so he shouldn't have to do it all himself. His debut could leave fans buzzing over his potential.

3. How does Derwin James look?

The do-it-all defensive star hasn't played in a game since tearing his meniscus against Charleston Southern in September. It took a month before FSU's secondary figured out how to adjust to life without him. He's as talented as any player in the country, and he'll be a matchup nightmare, even for the Crimson Tide. Today will be a reminder of his abilities and a way to gauge how he's improved since surgery.

4. Who becomes Francois' go-to receiver?

Four Seminoles had at least 30 catches last season. All four are gone. FSU's top two targets should be Wharton High product Auden Tate, who has drawn favorable comparisons to former 'Noles star Kelvin Benjamin, and Nyqwan Murray, who caught five touchdowns over his final six games last season. The spring game will give a peek at which others (sophomore Keith Gavin? Junior Da'Vante Phillips?) could emerge this fall.

5. Which defensive backs and offensive linemen take advantage of others' injuries?

FSU has been without two returning starters (center Alec Eberle and right guard Landon Dickerson) all spring due to injuries. At least five contributors in the secondary have been hurt for some or all of practice, too. Today will show which healthy players have been able to fill those voids and potentially earn bigger roles. Five-star sophomore Levonta Taylor and top-40 recruit Stanford Samuels are among the players to watch in the secondary, while tackle Brock Ruble and Baveon Johnson (the country's top center recruit) have received praise on a line looking to rebound from last season.

Contact Matt Baker at


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