2016 was a year of missed opportunities for Jimbo Fisher and the FSU football team.
Fisher fielded what was supposed to be his most talented all-around team, but a blowout loss at Louisville and a last second field goal by North Carolina derailed the Seminoles’ season before it really began.
That said, the ‘Noles are in prime position for another playoff run in 2017. FSU opens the season in Atlanta against likely-top ranked Alabama. FSU returns a sophomore quarterback ready to leave a mark on a conference he tore up in 2016 and, should the Seminoles find a replacement for Dalvin Cook, look like one of the best teams in the nation.
With Florida State returning most of its starters, identifying the areas of concern in which HC Jimbo Fisher must address this spring can be rather difficult.
Difficult, but not impossible. Here’s three questions that Fisher must answer before spring ball wraps up:
1. Who will replace Dalvin Cook?
The age old question that everyone is asking. Cook departed Florida State as the unquestionably best RB in school history, so completely replacing him is something that just cannot be done. However, FSU does enjoy an absolutely loaded backfield of young players ready to make an impact.
Jacques Patrick is the obvious first answer, but carried the ball just 61 times last season and scored only four touchdowns; a slight drop in production from 2015. Standing at 6-2, 230 lbs, Patrick possesses size similar to Derrick Henry but fails to break through weak tacklers. His work ethic was also called into question by some media outlets during the 2016 season, as Fisher seemed reluctant to offer any words of praise in his press conferences.
Ryan Green is a name seldom mentioned due to the emergence of Cook and Patrick in 2015-16. Green is a redshirt senior and one of the few remaining players from the 2013 national champion team. He registered carries in just four games in 2016 and has battled injuries throughout his career at Florida State.
Capping off the list is Florida State’s best RB recruit since Cook himself, Mississippi’s Cam Akers. The #2 player nationally and the #1 running back according to 247Sports, Akers actually played quarterback at Clinton HS despite technically identifying as a running back.
Akers was one of the most sought-after recruits in America in the class of 2017 and brings an extreme level of explosiveness to the FSU backfield. He chose Florida State over Ole Miss, Tennessee, and Ohio State.
2. Will Florida State’s offensive line actually improve?
Perhaps more important than finding a replacement for Dalvin Cook is the improvement of Rick Trickett’s lackluster offensive line because, frankly, a replacement won’t matter if he’s tackled three yards behind the line of scrimmage every other play.
Rick Trickett has coached the likes of Bryan Stork and Bobby Hart (the former a Super Bowl champion), but another season of porous OL play could see the longtime coach out the exit door.
Blaming every sack on the OL is simply unfair, but the group’s total inability to hold off a simple three-man rush (see: final drive vs. Clemson) can be attributed to coaching and execution.
It’s also worth noting: Redshirt senior Ryan Hoefield will not be returning to the team. While he was not likely to see much playing time anyways, his departure weakens the depth of an already injury-laden position group.
3. Which Charles Kelly will show up?
Fisher won’t admit it, but Charles Kelly’s defense was absolutely horrendous when it faced decent offenses. Don’t believe it? Here are the point totals for FSU’s opponents when the Seminoles faced spread-style offenses:
All three of FSU’s losses came in games where Kelly’s defense was torched by opposing offenses. The early-season injury to S Derwin James certainly didn’t help, but a team with the talent level Florida State possesses should never allow 63 points in a game.
However, once the meat of the schedule passed, Kelly’s defense improved dramatically. In FSU’s final five games, the Seminoles allowed point totals of 20, 7, 14, 13, and 31 to Michigan in the Orange Bowl. Despite allowing 31 to the Wolverines, Kelly’s defense is one of the bigger reasons the Seminoles prevailed in Miami, as the defense completely neutered the Wolverine offense for the majority of the night.
Simply put, the Charles Kelly that shows up in 2017 will determine how much success the ‘Noles enjoy.
Jimbo Fisher definitely has his work cut out for him. He’s already had to replace one Seminole legend (some kid named Jameis Winston) and has done so quite well, as Deondre Francois enjoyed an excellent season in 2016. Now, with 2017 and a matchup with the dynasty that is Alabama on the horizon, Fisher must address numerous areas of concern before spring practice draws to an end.
Your move, Jimbo.