The Case for Bailey Hockman (to be the Backup)

This time last year, I wrote about Florida State’s quarterback battle and compared the strengths and weaknesses of each of the four competitors. This year, with Deondre Francois firmly cemented as the starting quarterback, we instead shift our attention to the backup quarterback battle.

Florida State fans saw last season as Francois took hit after hit, often times blatantly after the play was dead. Any normal person would leave the game after hits like those, but Francois still kept playing. Still, it raises the concern for the backup quarterback, a position that might be called upon at any given moment.

There are two main competitors for the backup quarterback job: redshirt junior J.J. Cosentino and true freshman Bailey Hockman. We’ll begin this series by looking at Hockman, a talented recruit that many fans were eager to see debut in the spring game.

Rated as a four-star recruit and the 13th best pro-style passer by the 247Composite rankings, Hockman hails from Powder Springs, Georgia at McEachern High School. Hockman was a three-year starter for McEachern and his dad was the head coach for his team as well.

However, one key factor is working against Hockman in his quest to become the backup quarterback.

Jimbo Fisher has never played a true freshman quarterback before. Every single quarterback, from Jameis Winston to EJ Manuel, has taken a redshirt year in their first season on campus.

But with the backup job wide open, will Hockman prove enough to make Jimbo buck this trend?

The backup quarterback is a very important job.

He needs to have a good knowledge of the playbook, be ready to jump into the game in the midst of action and be prepared for the eventual blitzes that defenses will send at him.

What better prepares someone for that role than being the son of a coach?

As the son of his high school coach, Hockman is arguably more polished and prepared than most of his peers in his recruiting class. While his eventually ceiling is probably lower, the floor level of his play is reasonably high. This means that if Francois were to go down (knock on wood) in a reasonably winnable game, Hockman could step in and do enough to win the game. Just don’t count on that game being the first game of the season against Alabama.

A lefty, Hockman has good, but not great, arm talent. He showed as such in the spring game, spraying the ball all over the field. What he lacks in arm strength, he makes up for, at times, in touch and accuracy.

This throw to Nyqwan Murray was incomplete, but it highlights the ability to loft the ball over defenders in tight coverage in order for his receiver to make a play on it. This is often times a skill that cannot be taught and is very difficult to master. We saw players like Winston have mastery over this skill and it looks his Hockman is well on his way to learning it as well.

Hockman is also sneaky athletic, despite being listed as a “pro-style” quarterback coming out of high school. MaxPreps credits him with four rushing touchdowns as a senior and Hockman showed in the spring game that he has enough wiggle to escape from the pocket if necessary to extend the play on the run. He’s not going to beat anyone in a race, but a good comparison for his athleticism is Christian Ponder, who was also able to extend plays outside the pocket.

Another factor working for Hockman seems to be his processing speed of the game. We’ve seen this before with high school kids transitioning to college ball when they mention the “speed of the game” and “the game slowing down for them.” Despite playing only a handful of snaps in the spring game, it did not seem like things were moving too fast for Hockman.

Many highly-ranked quarterback recruits have busted for this exact reason. Despite putting up video game numbers in high school, they are ultimately doomed when they line up against Division-1 college athletes. This is something that Jimbo Fisher looks for in his quarterbacks and Hockman seems to have that factor in his game.

It is no secret that Jimbo Fisher’s offensive playbook is one of the most advanced and comprehensive in college football.

I find myself coming back to this quote from former FSU quarterback EJ Manuel when he was learning to the Buffalo Bills’ offense after the 2013 NFL Draft.

“I’ve done great. The learning curve for me is a lot shorter simply because of what I had at Florida State,” Manuel told Sirius XM NFL Radio. “[FSU’s offense is] more complex and a little bit harder to catch on and learn. This offense is very simple. I’ve done a great job with it.”

This is probably one of the biggest aspects that the coaching staff will question upon making a decision about the backup quarterback: his knowledge of the playbook.

Despite being the son of a coach, Hockman will only have had a couple of months to learn the playbook by the time the regular season rolls around. Will that be enough time to learn enough if he is called upon to play serious snaps?

Like all true freshman, there is no way to know if Hockman is ready for serious snaps at this stage in his career. While he did make some throws in the spring game against backups and walk-ons, he also made some mistakes as well, which I’m sure Jimbo Fisher pointed out to him in post-game analysis.

While Hockman made some fun plays in the spring game, there is a stark transition between facing third team or walk-on players in a scrimmage versus lining up against Division-1 athletes on Saturdays in the fall. There’s a reason why the majority of true freshman quarterbacks around the country redshirt in their first year on campus. We’ve seen this at Florida State, where every single quarterback recruit has sat and learned in their first year on campus.

Could Jimbo Fisher break that trend this year? Maybe, but hopefully Florida State will never be in a place this upcoming season where they’ll have to send someone out there with Francois out of the game.

If you’re down by a score or tied against a team like North Carolina State or Duke next season and Francois goes down, who are you throwing in there?

Option A is the fourth year junior who has spent his time on campus largely underperforming. He makes mistakes, is slow to process information and the game always seems to move too fast for him. However, he might know the playbook better and will get his players lined up in the right spot for, presumably, a few handoffs in a row.

Option B is a true freshman, who might make a few mistakes as well but can process information being thrown at him at an arguably higher rate. He might not know the playbook that well, but the potential for “wow” plays are higher. With Option B you also have the opportunity for growth and development for the future that you wouldn’t get with the first option.

If you are Jimbo Fisher, who do you choose?

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