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NoleGameday

2019 Spring Practice Focus: Quarterbacks

Logan Stanford/Icon Sportswire

This is the first installment of NoleGameday’s spring practice focus on the Florida State football team. The Seminoles are set to kick off their spring practice slate on Monday, March 4, culminating with the annual Garnet & Gold game at 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 6. We’ll be breaking down each position on offense and defense while also highlighting the special teams unit leading up to the first day of practice. It all begins with a deeper look at the quarterbacks.

This is the first time in three years that Deondre Francois hasn’t been involved in FSU’s quarterback competition. Francois won the starting job over Sean Maguire back in 2016, was the unquestioned starter in 2017 before suffering a season-ending knee injury, and then won the job again over James Blackman and Bailey Hockman a season ago. The rising redshirt senior quarterback was dismissed in early February after being involved in a domestic dispute with a woman. That, along with some of his previous off the field issues was the nail in the coffin for Francois. Suddenly, the ‘Noles most experienced signal-caller was gone and the team was left in a precarious spot with just one eligible scholarship quarterback (Blackman) remaining.



However, after a disastrous debut in Willie Taggart‘s first season as head coach, there may not be a better time than the present for a change at arguably the most important position on the football field. Enter James Blackman. The rising redshirt sophomore has been a model player for the program since his first day on campus. There were no complaints after losing the starting job. Instead, Blackman stayed active on the sidelines trying to keep his teammates engaged and making sure to offer both words of encouragement and advice when needed. I mean seriously, Blackman’s biggest issue off of the field is watching too much film. He’s the type of guy you want at the head of your team. He’s the embodiment of a leader. And now, barring something unforeseen, the skinniest man in Tallahassee is about to get his chance to finally lead the Seminoles on the field.

Departures

Deondre Francois, redshirt senior

As mentioned above, Francois was dismissed from the team earlier in the offseason and he’s currently in the Transfer Portal trying to find a school where he can finish his collegiate career. He leaves FSU with 6,291 passing yards and 36 touchdowns compared to 21 interceptions. There’s no doubt that it’s disappointing for ‘Noles fans to watch Francois go out like this after the way he performed as a redshirt freshman in 2016.

Back then, it seemed like the sky was the limit for the Orlando native. Now, he’s another quarterback added to the ‘What if?’ list. Just behind recent (2015-) signal-callers De’Andre Johnson, Malik Henry, and Bailey Hockman.

Returnees

James Blackman, redshirt sophomore

Nolan McDonald, redshirt freshman (walk-on)

With Francois gone, Hockman transferring prior to the beginning of the 2018 season, and multiple misses in Taggart’s first two recruiting cycles, the result is Florida State returning just one scholarship quarterback in Blackman. The 6-foot-5 quarterback was thrust into action early in his career, starting 12 games in 2017 as a true freshman after Francois’ season-ending knee injury.

At the time, he drew mixed reviews on his performance. Blackman definitely had the arm for the college level but he struggled at times with his accuracy and pocket presence in front of a shaky offensive line. It was clear he needed to continue to develop and build up his lanky frame. At the same time, it’s hard to expect much out of an 18-year-old kid who was on campus to learn the playbook and develop chemistry with his receivers for less than three months. Blackman finished his freshman season by completing 58.2% of his passes for 2230 yards with 19 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. In his final four games of the season, he threw for 10 touchdowns to just three interceptions, showing exciting potential for the future of his career.

After losing the quarterback competition to Francois as a sophomore, the coaches carefully chose when to play Blackman to preserve his redshirt. He saw action in four games during the 2018 season with the majority of his production coming in his lone start against North Carolina State. With Francois out due to injury, Blackman stepped in and led FSU’s offense to arguably its most productive outing of the season, finishing with 421 passing yards and four touchdowns to one interception.

Blackman briefly considered his transfer options during the offseason before fully committing to Taggart and the Seminoles. Now, he’ll likely be rewarded by getting his chance to hold the starting reins.

Nolan McDonald also returns after redshirting during his true freshman season. McDonald was named the scout team offensive player of the year and seems to have earned the respect of a lot of the team. He could see action in a reserve role and I expect he’ll be more involved in the spring as the coaching staff tries to prepare him for potential snaps.

Newcomers

Jordan Travis, redshirt freshman (transfer)

Wyatt Rector, redshirt freshman (transfer)

Florida State has already added two transfer quarterbacks over the offseason and the ‘Noles could still add another before the end of the summer depending on how certain things shake out. Jordan Travis transferred in from Louisville while Wyatt Rector has made his way to FSU from Western Michigan. Travis will be the only one out of the two eligible to participate in the spring since he’s currently enrolled at the university. Rector won’t enroll until later this summer.

Right now, the most important thing for both of these quarterbacks is to get a waiver for immediate eligibility. Each player has requested a waiver with the NCAA and it’s a waiting game as of now. If neither of them is ruled eligible then the only other current quarterback behind Blackman is McDonald.

Spring outlook

With James Blackman almost guaranteed to be Florida State’s starting quarterback, expect him to see a lot of the reps during the spring as he tries to adjust to his third offensive coordinator in three seasons. Thankfully, Kendal Briles is a good one and I expect this to end up as a fruitful partnership.

Likewise, with not much competition for the starting spot, it’d be smart for the coaching staff to give McDonald and Travis as many reps as possible to try and get them familiar with the new schemes. Each player has useful skills that could make them intriguing options under Briles. At least one of them, if not both, will see actual snaps in 2019 and it’s imperative for them to be ready to go behind Blackman.

While FSU has an extremely young quarterback room with its oldest signal-caller being a redshirt sophomore, there’s no questioning the leadership and heart Blackman will bring to the unit. It all depends on the men behind him.


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