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5 things to watch in FSU football’s spring game Saturday

Mike Norvell says his offense is built for playmakers. Have the Seminoles found some more?
Florida State running back Lawrance Toafili, a Pinellas Park High alumnus, is expected to emerge with a bigger role coming out of spring football.
Florida State running back Lawrance Toafili, a Pinellas Park High alumnus, is expected to emerge with a bigger role coming out of spring football. [ MARK WALLHEISER | AP (2021) ]
Published Apr. 7|Updated Apr. 8

Florida State will hold its annual spring game Saturday night with guest coaches and former Seminoles standouts Peter Boulware, Danny Kanell, EJ Manuel and Bryant McFadden.

Here are five things we’ll be watching at Doak Campbell Stadium.

Related: FSU coach Mike Norvell: ‘We’re getting close.’ The Seminoles better be

1. Has quarterback Jordan Travis taken another step forward?

Jordan Travis helped FSU knock off rival Miami last season.
Jordan Travis helped FSU knock off rival Miami last season. [ MARK WALLHEISER | Associated Press (2021) ]

Coach Mike Norvell thinks so. After a recent scrimmage, Norvell said that Travis is “in a much better place” than he was at any point last season and the redshirt junior is the starter. When healthy, Travis is a very good college quarterback. The Seminoles averaged 53 more yards and almost 16 more points per game in his eight starts last year compared with their four other contests.

Travis has room to grow with his accuracy — his 62.9 completion percentage ranked 51st nationally — and consistency.

Also, Saturday is the debut of blue-chip early enrollee quarterback AJ Duffy.

2. Who is this year’s Jermaine Johnson?

Florida State defensive end Derrick McLendon has a chance to emerge as a key pass rusher for the Seminoles this season.
Florida State defensive end Derrick McLendon has a chance to emerge as a key pass rusher for the Seminoles this season. [ ETHAN HYMAN | Associated Press (2020) ]

Johnson was a role player at Georgia (four starts over two seasons) before transferring to FSU. His breakout spring game last year (two sacks and a quarterback hurry) foreshadowed his explosion into the ACC’s defensive player of the year and a potential top-10 pick in next month’s NFL draft.

Related: Randy Shannon on ‘unique’ coaching journey through 4 Florida schools

It’s unfair to expect anyone to replicate Johnson’s success, but FSU needs strong pass rushers to emerge, starting this weekend. Albany transfer Jared Verse had 10½ sacks and 13 quarterback hurries last year and will have a chance to star. Keep an eye, too, on Derrick McLendon (near right), who recorded 24 tackles through three seasons and has impressed coaches this spring.

3. Does FSU have playmakers at receiver?

FSU receiver Malik McClain had flashes of success last season. The Seminoles need him and others to emerge as consistent playmakers.
FSU receiver Malik McClain had flashes of success last season. The Seminoles need him and others to emerge as consistent playmakers. [ CHRIS CARLSON | Associated Press (2021) ]

When Norvell was hired, he promised his offense would be built for playmakers. The Seminoles did not have enough of them at receiver; they were tied for 97th nationally last season with only 14 catches of at least 30 yards.

Related: Has FSU football coach Mike Norvell done what he promised on Day 1?

FSU tried to fix that through the transfer portal, adding Mycah Pittman (Oregon), Johnny Wilson (Arizona State) and Lakewood High alumnus Deuce Spann (Illinois). Saturday is the first full look at their potential, along with opportunities to check out the development of Malik McClain (11, left) and Ja’Khi Douglas, who have shown flashes of being true playmakers.

4. How does the secondary look?

Akeem Dent and the Seminoles' secondary have something to prove this year.
Akeem Dent and the Seminoles' secondary have something to prove this year. [ MARY SCHWALM | Associated Press (2021) ]

FSU did not look like a program known for its defensive backs last year. It gave up 25 passing touchdowns (tied for 95th nationally) and was beaten deep too many times, including on the final play in the 20-17 rock-bottom loss to Jacksonville State.

The good news for FSU fans is that the secondary is different. Jarvis Brownlee is in the transfer portal. The Seminoles’ top two recruits, Sam McCall and Azareye’h Thomas, are defensive backs, and Louisville transfer Greedy Vance has ACC experience (nine career starts). Their additions, along with the return of all-ACC safety Jammie Robinson and the improvement of Akeem Dent, are reasons for optimism about a turnaround.

Related: Worst. Year. Ever. What went wrong with Florida college football?

5. Who is earning more touches at running back?

FSU running back Treshaun Ward, a Tampa Bay Tech alumnus, will have opportunities for more touches.
FSU running back Treshaun Ward, a Tampa Bay Tech alumnus, will have opportunities for more touches. [ GERRY BROOME | Associated Press (2021) ]

Though FSU lost last year’s leading rusher, Jashaun Corbin, to the draft, the Seminoles haven’t seemed worried. That’s because they are deep at the position with former Tampa Bay Tech product Treshaun Ward (left), Pinellas Park alumnus Lawrance Toafili and Oregon transfer Trey Benson, among others.

Related: Treshaun Ward bet on himself as an FSU walk-on. It’s paying off, for his family and the Seminoles.

The Seminoles will rotate players through the season and again find creative ways to put multiple backs on the field at once. But who and how? Saturday will provide the first clues, including assessing Benson’s health after a knee injury and the developments of Toafili and Ward.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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