With the first real look most people will get at the 2019 Florida State Seminoles football team on Saturday, the annual Garnet and Gold Spring Game has quite a few things to look out as FSU hopes to improve on last season’s rough 5-7 start under head coach Willie Taggart.
Storylines to pay attention to are easiest to focus on when watching only a few players, and there are eight who will be most important to see when they take the field at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Possibly the most important player to the team’s success in 2019 is James Blackman. With graduate transfer Alex Hornibrook coming into the mix at quarterback, this is a huge opportunity for Blackman with Hornibrook not on either roster for the spring game. With new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, Blackman’s improvement will hopefully be on full display in Tallahassee on Saturday.
After playing through an injury in 2018, Cam Akers can hopefully return to his 2017 freshman season form when he rushed for 1,025 yards and seven touchdowns. If Akers can be the threat he was as a freshman, this offense should be much better, and hopefully there will be a successful passing attack to pair with the ground game. Seeing how he looks in FSU’s spring game is important because it was an ankle injury that bothered him last season, so live action will be a great test, even if he is back to 100 percent now.
The importance of Akers can’t be overstated, but the return of Khalan Laborn shouldn’t be either. Laborn had the best performance during last year’s spring football game when he had 140 yards on 13 carries, with 91 of his yards coming on one carry. But his 2018 season was short, sustaining a knee injury in the second game of the season, he should play a huge role in the offense this season. With Jacques Patrick gone, the second running back position is now open, and Laborn could be that change-of-pace back to make big plays.
The redshirt sophomore only had 37 yards from scrimmage last season, all coming during one play where he took a screen pass and made every Virginia Tech Hokies defender miss after the catch. If this is the player who shows up during the Spring Game and the 2019 season, the offense will look much scarier.
With one of the best seasons on the team a year ago, Tamorrion Terry takes on the role as FSU’s leading wide receiver with Nyqwan Murray graduating. Terry led the team with eight receiving touchdowns last season and was tied with Murray for the most receiving yards at 744. With only one receiver in the 2019 recruiting class, there aren’t going to be many new faces to change the passing game. Terry needs to take a step forward in his development and this can hopefully be the time we see that happen.
He’ll be on Blackman’s team for the Garnet and Gold Game, so it is possible this will be a successful connection moving forward into the season. If he can improve and be the clear top target, he could possibly be the first 1,000-yard receiver for the Seminoles since Rashad Greene had 1,365 yards back in 2014.
The top player in Florida State’s recruiting class in 2019, Akeem Dent should be able to make an impact almost immediately. Watching freshman in their first spring game can be dangerous because they are so new to this level, they may not be physically ready. But a player like Dent is someone to keep an eye on and could show why he belongs and why scouts saw him as a top guy out of high school.
One of the most important pieces in the 2019 recruiting class was Dontae Lucas, an offensive lineman out of IMG Academy. With the offensive line struggles over the last three seasons, bringing in top talent to help that group is key, and that is exactly what Lucas is. At 6-foot-5 and 330 pounds, he is already big enough and should be strong enough to contribute immediately, even if just as one of the key backups along the offensive front. But the spring game is a great opportunity to see where he is and how he looks against some really good defensive lineman like Marvin Wilson.
The top returning defensive lineman on the Florida State football team is Marvin Wilson, and they will need him to be even better this year with Brian Burns and Demarcus Christmas both gone. Wilson should be the leader of the defensive line and can hopefully take advantage of an offensive line that has been one of college football’s worst in recent years.
Not only is this unit important because they lost two of their top performers from last season, but they are also changing up the scheme. Over the last few weeks of spring practices, the Seminoles have been trying out a 3-4 defense instead of the 4-3 defense they used in the past. This could be interesting to see a slight change and how often they use it during the spring game, and potentially making the shift to only three defensive lineman to make up for lack of depth and athleticism.