JACKSONVILLE — The setting of Florida State’s Friday practice was fitting for the Seminoles’ recent dismal past: a muggy, buggy, no-frills University of North Florida field with only one end zone.
The surroundings, however, were a reminder of the program’s storied history, with former greats Sebastian Janikowski and Corey Simon strolling by as the War Chant blared.
Somewhere in the middle between the glory and the glum was 2022 FSU.
Fourteen practices into preseason camp and 15 days before their season opener against Duquesne, you can see the Seminoles going either way under third-year coach Mike Norvell.
A receiving corps that was pedestrian last season stood out — literally, in the case of Arizona State transfer Johnny Wilson. The 6-foot-7 redshirt sophomore has an NFL body with production that’s starting to live up to his potential. It’s not hard to envision him becoming FSU’s best receiver since Rashad Greene. Lakewood High alumnus Deuce Spann and Tampa native Mycah Pittman flashed at times Friday.
The defense has looked good. Albany transfer Jared Verse probably won’t replicate the performance of 2021 ACC defensive player of the year Jermaine Johnson, but he’ll be an impact player. So, too, will blue-chip freshman Sam McCall.
Jordan Travis has proven himself as a good, if not very good, college quarterback and has impressed in camp. Pittman compared him to Justin Herbert, his former Oregon teammate and current Pro Bowl quarterback for the Chargers.
“Seriously,” Pittman said. “He’s that impressive to me.”
If Pittman is correct, FSU will have a breakthrough season. It maybe won’t make a New Year’s Six bowl — that’s unlikely with its schedule — but it could get eight or nine wins and enough improvement to give fans and administrators confidence that FSU can look like the Seminoles of Simon and Janikowski again.
“I see constant growth,” Norvell said. “That’s what you want to see.”
But you also see cracks from the recent past that Norvell and his staff haven’t repaired.
Though FSU has upgraded certain parts of its roster, depth remains an issue. Tampa native Kayden Lyles’ season-ending injury suffered recently was a serious blow at center. If Travis can’t stay healthy, FSU’s next options at quarterback, Tate Rodemaker and blue-chip freshman AJ Duffy, are unproven.
The Seminoles don’t have a lot of high-end talent, either, because of four consecutive recruiting classes that ranked outside the top 15. Safety Jammie Robinson is FSU’s only first-team preseason all-ACC player. If this good-not-great roster suffers a rash of injuries or unlucky breaks, another 5-7 season looks possible.
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Norvell, naturally, focuses on the positives. The competition along the lines. The growth at quarterback. The blend of talented newcomers and experienced holdovers. The way his players were “irritable” Friday during a week designed to make them uncomfortable.
The truth is that in a season filled with coast-to-coast uncertainty, FSU remains a wild card. It should be good enough to challenge every opponent except maybe Clemson and North Carolina State. It is also weak enough that only Duquesne and Georgia Tech look like guaranteed wins. LSU, Louisville and Florida loom as tossups that will determine whether the Seminoles take a significant step forward or whether fans start pining for FSU legend/Jackson State coach Deion Sanders.
Norvell appreciated the former Seminoles stars who were watching Friday.
“It’s so good for our current players to know who they represent,” Norvell said. “You take the past, connect it to the present, and it really does build you for the future and how we’re going to continue to push this program.”
Halfway through the preseason, it’s clear Norvell has been pushing FSU the right way. It’s also clear that he has a lot of pushing left to do.
Contact Matt Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.
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