TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It’s the question that will almost certainly define Florida State’s 2015 season, potentially dictate the Atlantic Division and could determine the entire ACC: Who is going to quarterback the Seminoles?
“I don’t have a plan,” sixth-year coach Jimbo Fisher said. “I have a plan when I see it. Let them play.”
The candidates entering spring practice, which opens Wednesday, are redshirt junior Sean Maguire and redshirt freshman J.J. Cosentino, although receiver/quarterback John Franklin III and enrolled freshman De'Andre Johnson will each have an opportunity to make a formal pitch to Fisher over the 15 practices. It doesn’t sound as if Fisher expects to leave the spring with a starter in place, though, a stark contrast to last spring when he returned an undefeated Heisman Trophy winner.
For any of the four scholarship quarterbacks on the roster to establish himself as the leading candidate, there is going to have to be a consistency with each practice leading up to the Apr. 11 spring game. It won’t always be about going for the big play, Fisher said. Game manager" is too often a misconstrued asset for a quarterback, one that induces cringes from fan bases (especially ones that have watched three consecutive first-round picks at the position), but that's what Fisher seeks this spring.
Quarterback Jameis Winston elevated Florida State and re-established it as a national power, but the future quarterback is not being asked to do the same. Instead, he takes over a program with a wealth of riches at most every position, and it will be his responsibility to guide Florida State through a manageable schedule and to a fourth consecutive ACC title.
“Manage the game, get  guys in the huddle to believe in you, process and move down the field, make your throws and your reads,” Fisher said. “But let the  guys around you function and do their job. That’s the first job you have.
“If you have a chance to make plays and become ‘that guy’ then you do. You do that when you get confident and the guys around you are confident.”
Before any quarterback takes a snap, Maguire is considered to have the best chance of the group to eventually earn the starting position. The 6-foot-3, 224-pound Maguire is a step ahead of the group due to his time in the program and experience under pressure situations. While Maguire has served mostly in a backup role the last two seasons, he was thrust into the starting lineup just days before a prime time and nationally televised game against division rival Clemson. The winner of that game would likely go on to win the Atlantic Division, and Maguire was asked to step in for Winston for all four quarters less than 24 hours before kickoff.
“I see a very good leader,” Fisher said. “He’s been having a great [offseason]. I see the presence and command and he’s talking more like ‘It’s my time.’ ”
Cosentino has the prototypical pocket-passing quarterback size (6-4, 237) and comes with a strong arm. Johnson and Franklin bring an athleticism to the position.
Fisher and his staff have time to make a decision -- a little more than five months. The rest eagerly await an answer.
Sophomore left tackle Roderick Johnson is going through his first offseason, and he continues to impress the staff with his maturity. Inserted into the lineup in November, Johnson helped solidify a struggling offensive line. He established himself as one of the premier tackles in the ACC in a short time. “Big Rod is really special. It’s like he’s been here 10 years the way he works,” Fisher said. “He’s a veteran already.”
The linebacker group won’t be at full strength this spring. While Terrance Smith has had a few months to recover from a knee sprain, leading tackler Reggie Northrup is rehabbing an ACL tear suffered against Oregon. E.J. Levenberry is transferring, and although Kain Daub is still listed on the roster, Fisher expects him to transfer. Ukeme Eligwe was dismissed from the team last fall. For former five-star recruit Matthew Thomas, who has battled injuries and suspensions, there is no time like the present.
The pass rush was too often ineffective for Florida State last season, but Fisher said he likes what he is seeing from the sophomore group. Lorenzo Featherston, Derrick Nnadi and Jacob Pugh all flashed productivity at points last season, and Fisher pointed those three out as players looking strong in offseason workouts. Both Featherston and Pugh have added about 10 pounds since last season based on the updated roster measurements.
Outside of this first week, Florida State will practice Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday each week this spring, culminating with the Saturday spring game in April.