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5 things to watch during FSU’s spring football practice

How will the quarterback competition shake out? And will the offensive line show more progress?
FSU football coach Mike Norvell should get a full spring to install and evaluate after the coronavirus shutdown ended things early last year.
FSU football coach Mike Norvell should get a full spring to install and evaluate after the coronavirus shutdown ended things early last year. [ DON JUAN MOORE | Don Juan Moore/Character Lines ]
Published Mar. 8
Updated Mar. 8

A year after the coronavirus shutdown limited Florida State to only three spring football practices, Seminoles coach Mike Norvell is ready to get in a full 15 sessions, starting Tuesday.

“I’ve never missed spring ball more than I’ve missed it over the course of this last year,” Norvell said.

His team missed it, too. The lack of practice time didn’t give the roster much time to adapt to the new staff and playbook.

Here are five things to watch as FSU goes through what will hopefully be a complete spring leading up to the April 10 spring game at Doak Campbell Stadium.

1. How do the quarterbacks look?

Tate Rodemaker is one of three returning Seminoles who started at quarterback last year.
Tate Rodemaker is one of three returning Seminoles who started at quarterback last year. [ ETHAN HYMAN | ehyman@newsobserver.com ]

The good news is that FSU has four quarterbacks with starting experience. The bad news is that FSU has four quarterbacks with starting experience because last year didn’t work out. Jordan Travis, Chubba Purdy and Tate Rodemaker all took the first snaps at least once last season as FSU tried to spark the nation’s No. 85 scoring offense. Needing a veteran presence to help two redshirt freshmen and a redshirt sophomore, FSU added former UCF star McKenzie Milton as a transfer. Milton has recovered well enough from a gruesome 2018 knee injury to play this spring, but can he win the starting job?

“I am so excited about what their future is,” Norvell said of the quarterback room, “and I’m excited about the competition.”

2. How will the other transfers mesh in the locker room?

Keir Thomas, seen here chasing Florida's Feleipe Franks as a player at South Carolina in 2018, was a valuable transfer addition for the Seminoles.
Keir Thomas, seen here chasing Florida's Feleipe Franks as a player at South Carolina in 2018, was a valuable transfer addition for the Seminoles. [ JOHN RAOUX | AP ]

Milton is one of seven notable transfers the ‘Noles brought in to add experience to a team that was 75 percent freshmen or sophomores in 2020. Transfers are risky moves; every player in the transfer portal is there for a reason, and coaches don’t want me-first mercenaries. But the reward can be great, too, like former Houston quarterback D’Eriq King starring at Miami last season. Norvell liked the approach he saw from his transfers during winter conditioning. We’ll see what this spring tells us about additions like four-star running back D.J. Williams (Auburn) and defensive linemen Jermaine Johnson (Georgia) and Keir Thomas (South Carolina).

3. Can the offensive line continue developing?

Maurice Smith, seen here against Notre Dame, is a promising young offensive lineman at FSU.
Maurice Smith, seen here against Notre Dame, is a promising young offensive lineman at FSU. [ NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS | Notre Dame Athletics ]

Blocking has been a years-long problem in Tallahassee that goes back to the end of the Jimbo Fisher era. But the line seemed to show some progress last year. FSU allowed fewer tackles for loss (dropping from 8.5 per game to 7.3) and sacks (from 3.7 to 3.2). Almost every notable contributor returns, including two of the nation’s top freshman linemen (Robert Scott and Maurice Smith). This spring provides another chance for the line to continue developing back to respectability.

4. Will there be a breakout star?

Mike Norvell called Jashaun Corbin a star of FSU's offseason workouts.
Mike Norvell called Jashaun Corbin a star of FSU's offseason workouts. [ JAMIE RHODES | ACC Pool ]

Spring practice usually gives programs and fans a peek at some of the players poised for bigger falls. Two players to keep an eye on: linebacker Amari Gainer and running back Jashaun Corbin. Gainer led the ‘Noles with 65 tackles last season but still has room to develop. Corbin does, too, even after averaging five yards per carry last season. Norvell called Corbin a star of FSU’s offseason conditioning and praised Gainer’s physical transformation, too. We’ll see how it carries over to the field.

Related: Florida State’s future hasn’t looked this bright in years

5. How much will the stability help this fall?

Mike Norvell will finally get a full offseason to improve his Seminoles.
Mike Norvell will finally get a full offseason to improve his Seminoles. [ KYLE PULEK | Courtesy of FSU Sports Information ]

Although a 3-6 season is unacceptable at FSU, Norvell and his staff deserve at least a partial mulligan because of the abbreviated spring and chaotic fall. That won’t apply this spring. The ‘Noles have five weeks to do the installations and evaluations they missed out on a year ago. This reboot will give us a better gauge of Norvell’s ability and whether he’ll be able to turn the program around.