TALLAHASSEE — Florida State will enter September’s opener against LSU in Orlando as a top-10 team with a legitimate shot at its first College Football Playoff bid since 2014.
Nothing that happened in the Seminoles’ spring showcase Saturday should change that perception. Quarterback Jordan Travis flashed Heisman Trophy potential in an abbreviated performance. Defensive end Jared Verse showed enough to justify the first-round hype he’ll be embracing a year from now. New skill players emerged, even though some top talents were either out (receiver Johnny Wilson) or limited (running back Trey Benson). There were no major injuries and no major concerns that surfaced in an exhibition that was part scrimmage, part public practice.
One of the most encouraging signs came afterward, when coach Mike Norvell expressed quiet confidence when asked about the transfer portal opening Saturday.
“I like where we are,” Norvell said. “I like this group we have.”
He should, because this group still looks like a team that should, at minimum, challenge for an ACC title in his fourth season.
Here are four other takeaways from Saturday’s exhibition, in front of an announced crowd of 33,107 at Doak Campbell Stadium:
Kentron Poitier has emerged at receiver
Poitier was the offense’s most improved player last fall and built on it this spring. He had two big highlights, a one-handed grab on the sideline and another 20-yard grab. He also caught a touchdown pass from Travis and blocked well on the outside on a touchdown run.
That’s a strong showing on its own for Poitier, who had only 22 receptions through his first three years. But it’s especially important because of FSU’s depth chart. Wilson didn’t play. Another key contributor from last year, Tampa’s Mycah Pittman, is at least several months away from returning. FSU needs playmakers on the outside. Poitier looked the part Saturday — and, according to offensive coordinator Alex Atkins, has done so all spring.
FSU’s offensive line is deep
A unit that decayed under Jimbo Fisher and was one of the worst in the nation under Willie Taggart has become a strength — if not the strength — of the Seminoles. FSU’s size and depth stood out Saturday. Lamar transfer Bless Harris was the top left tackle. That’s notable because coaches were excited about his potential last season before he missed the final 12 games of the season with an injury.
Redshirt freshman Julian Armella was also impressive. The former top-200 national recruit held his own against South Carolina transfer Gilber Edmond during the scrimmage. For the first time in almost a decade, FSU fans shouldn’t have to worry about this unit.
Kalen DeLoach starred
He has been a starting linebacker for the last two seasons, so his success doesn’t qualify as a surprise. But he was still one of the best performers of the day. He intercepted Travis early in the exhibition and recovered a fumble late. Both might have been defensive touchdowns in normal games without quick whistles.
Linebacker hasn’t been FSU’s strongest position in recent years. That’s changing, in part to DeLoach.
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“I just know from a consistency standpoint, if he plays at his optimum, he can be a big-time playmaker for us this fall,” defensive coordinator Adam Fuller said.
FSU’s backfield has another contributor: Rodney Hill
A deep position group looks even deeper now after the former four-star recruit built on a buzzworthy spring with a breakout game. He rushed for a touchdown and caught another out of the backfield.
“He’s letting his playmaking ability take over,” Norvell said.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pound redshirt freshman is also learning from his mistakes. Hill dropped a would-be touchdown in Thursday’s practice and stewed over it that night. He told Norvell it was a play he had to make.
Saturday, FSU gave him the chance on the same play. He made it, securing an over-the-shoulder catch.
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