NCAA Football News

Have We Seen the Best of Jameis Winston Already?

Last fall, Florida State faithful and college football fans watched one of the most impressive debut seasons in college football history unfold right in front of them.

A previously unknown redshirt freshman quarterback named Jameis Winston became a household name in a matter of weeks. The supremely confident 6’4”, 228-pound signal-caller led the Seminoles to heights they hadn’t scaled in more than a decade.

Teaming with a talented offense, Winston threw for 4,057 yards with 40 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, completing 66 percent of his passes.  He had a quarterback rating of 184.8, and also added 219 rushing yards and four touchdowns.

Winston became the youngest player (19 years, 342 days) to win the Heisman Trophy, and a month later, he rallied the Seminoles from an 18-point deficit to defeat Auburn for the BCS National Championship.

Which begs the question: can he do it again?

The departures of two of Winston’s top targets in standout junior Kelvin Benjamin (NFL draft) and speedy senior Kenny Shaw (graduation) raise a serious question: Have we seen the best of Jameis Winston as a collegiate player?

Winston and Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher don’t think so. They are working hard this spring to make sure the talented sophomore doesn’t rest on his laurels.

“You don’t want to relax,” Fisher said recently. “You can become complacent. This spring practice, we won’t be taking that mentality.”

Last fall, Florida State’s receiving corps was the envy of many a college quarterback. Junior Rashad Greene, who has excellent speed, quickness, hands and separation, caught 76 passes for 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns.

The 6’5”, 240-pound Benjamin finally put it all together and became a nearly impossible matchup for opposing secondaries, catching 54 passes for 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns. And Shaw was almost as impressive, rolling up 54 receptions for 933 yards and six touchdowns.

With Benjamin and Shaw gone, spring practice has revolved around finding the next great receivers to wear garnet and gold. Christian Green, a 6’2”, 200-pound senior, has speed and strength and is an option to replace Benjamin, as is 6’4”, 200-pound sophomore Isaiah Jones. But both are unknown quantities.

Scooter Haggins, a 6’0”, 193-pound senior, along with the 5’7”, 178-pound sophomore Kermit Whitfield and  Bobo Wilson (5’9”, 177-pound) are battling to replace Shaw in the starting lineup.

Haggins is coming off a redshirt season after missing all of 2013 with a stress fracture in his knee. Whitfield has elite, gamebreaking speed, as he displayed with a 100-yard kickoff return late in the fourth quarter against Auburn that gave the Seminoles their first lead of the game.

Florida State also has several high-profile receiver recruits arriving this fall in 5-star Ermon Lane (rated as the nation’s No. 24 overall recruit by 247Sports), 4-star Travis Rudolph (rated as the nation’s No.6 wideout)and 4-star Javon Harrison (rated as the No.16 athlete).

“It’s important that he learns a whole new group of receivers,” Fisher said. “We have to develop two or three more while also keeping a great bond with Rashad and (tight end) Nick (O’ Leary).”

For his part, Winston doesn’t appear worried about adjusting to a new group of targets and says all of his new receivers can “jump out of the gym.”

“I can spread the ball out to anybody,” he said. “That makes me smile. In our offense, it just gives us more weapons.”

Building trust, he said, is crucial.

“It’s very important for their confidence and our confidence,” he said. “We trust all the guys we go out there with. That’s why you come to Florida State, to win championships. We’ve got great players and those guys are going to be great. It’s going to be a fast adjustment to work on timing with me and them and we’re going to get this thing rolling.”

And you’d better believe that Fisher and offensive coordinator Randy Sanders pushed Winston on personal improvements this spring, too. Fisher said fundamentals are a key for Winston, and when “your mind plays fast, your arm plays fast.”

Fisher said his star has plenty to work on, and says “I think you’re always learning as a competitor in different situations.”

“It’s fundamental knowledge of our offense, the things we do and how you make decisions that create success,” he said. “You have to make reads against the coverage and blitz, press and blitz and recognize situations in the offense against a defense that will create big plays.

“Fundamentally, it’s the way he balances his body and moves in the pocket. Those are all areas where he’ll continue to grow and must continue to grow.”

Winston said Fisher is a “perfectionist,” and he and Sanders are always pushing him.

“There are things that coach Sanders brings to my attention a lot,” he said. “He’s always on coach Fisher about me. I’m always trying to get better. I’m not going to be the guy who sits back and lets things go. I’m going to get my hips up higher, get the ball up higher and I’m going to start throwing rockets.”

The possibility for off-field distractions also exists. USA Todayreported that Florida State was facing a federal civil rights investigation into its handling of rape charges against Winston. He was cleared of criminal charges in the case in December 2013. 

Opposing defensive coordinators will have a year’s worth of film to study. His receivers almost certainly won’t be up to the caliber of 2013. But if Winston regresses in 2014, it’s hard to say that it’ll be due to lack of effort on his part.

Winston was pulled in the second half of many Florida State blowouts, which may have surpressed his numbers. Depending on the closeness of FSU's games this fall, it is entirely possible that he could match or build on his 2013 numbers, despite the personnel around him.

It could be his last collegiate run: Winston has been projected as a top selection in the 2015 NFL draft, and former NFL general manager Jerry Angelo says he'd have been the top pick in the 2014 draft if he were eligible. However, Winston said in February he'd like to play two more college seasons.

None of that really matters right now, however. He's just focused on repeating last fall's success and building on it. 

“I’m going to be relentless,” he said, “in trying to lead my team to another national championship.”

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes for this article were obtained directly by the author.

*Connect with Greg on Twitter @gc_wallace

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Nebraska Football: Week 4 Spring Practice Stock Report

The Nebraska football team wrapped up spring practice on Wednesday, April 9. After four weeks of practice and 14 total practices, the team is ready to show off in the annual spring game on Saturday, April 12.

Head coach Bo Pelini has been pleased with spring practice this year. He was particularly pleased with the final few practices.

While some things will remain a mystery until the 2014 season begins, a lot has been answered for the Huskers over the short few weeks of practice.

 

News from the Week

According to Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald, the Huskers had an opportunity to practice outside on Wednesday. The team has had to be indoors for most of spring practice, but was able to get outside and practice in Wednesday's 80-degree weather.

Pelini told 247Sports.com's Michael Bruntz that he doesn't expect Ameer Abdullah and Randy Gregory to play much in the spring game.

Defensive tackle Aaron Curry has a sprained neck, according to The Daily Nebraskan. He will be out for the spring game. He has been sitting out of practice with a neck brace since the injury last Saturday.

As for Marcus Newby's sprained back, Bruntz is reporting that Pelini expects the linebacker to play in the spring game. “My experience with that is that it usually settles down after a day or two,” Pelini said.

 

Important Position Battles

Quarterbacks will be protected in the pocket at the annual spring game, but the position will still have a lot of eyes on it. Tommy Armstrong is expected to be the starter and recently told the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com) that he's learned from his mistakes since last season.

Based on a report by the Omaha World-Herald, Armstrong seems to be finding his groove just fine in spring practice.

There are a lot of starting spots that have yet to be determined for the Blackshirts. However, defensive coordinator John Papuchis likes what he sees. As Lincoln's 1011 Sports reports, Papuchis believes the group is growing in confidence and belief in one another:

True confidence is only built when you have a great understanding of your role and responsibility. It was hard to have that swagger a year ago because guys were just learning. Now that they feel confident and comfortable with what they do, and with all of the hard work they've put in this offseason, they've earned the right to go out there, have some fun and just play. We're going to play much better when we're loose, flying around and jumping around. That's the way I want us to play, and that's the way they want to play, but you have to earn the right to get there.

As for the player he's most impressed with so far? It looks like the honor falls to Nathan Gerry. 

 

Biggest Storylines

Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal Star notes that Nebraska's spring game will have a different format this year. The new offense vs. defense format was confirmed by Pelini after Wednesday's practice. It will replace the usual combination of units to create two different teams.

Pelini talked a bit about the need for change:

It's the only way we're going to be able to function, and really be able to protect certain guys we want to protect. … Trying to field two teams wouldn't happen right now because we're thin at a couple positions and we don't want to put kids in a position to get hurt.

How the game will be scored has yet to be determined, but it will likely be a system that awards points for good plays.

Worried about the weather for the spring game? Don't be. At least Pelini doesn't believe fans have any reason to worry.

A statement made by the head coach following Wednesday's practice has gotten a bit of attention. As mentioned in the McKewon report, Pelini noted what he would do in response to unfavorable weather:

The weather keeps changing if you guys follow it. Every day I look, it looks like 100 percent rain, 100 percent no rain, and there’s half a sun and half of a rain cloud. I’ll just get Coach Osborne here, and he’ll part the skies, and we should be good to go.

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JC Shurburtt of 247 Sports: Nebraska Commit Kevin Dillman Is the Next Tim Tebow

Kevin Dillman, the 11th-ranked dual-threat quarterback of the 2015 class, has committed to the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Dillman is originally from Sweden, but currently goes to high school in Denton, Texas.

The 6'4", 220-pound athlete is a perfect fit for the Huskers offense and Bo Pelini. Does Dillman have the skills to compete for the starting job when he arrives on campus in 2015?

Check out 247Sports.com National Recruiting Director JC Shurburtt break down what Dillman means to Nebraska and which college football legend he compares to.

 

Highlights courtesy of XOs Digital.

Player ranking from 247 Sports Composite.

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Jake Fruhmorgen Commits to Clemson: Tigers Land Massive 4-Star OL

Offensive lineman Jake Fruhmorgen announced his commitment to Clemson on Thursday afternoon, capping off a nationwide recruitment. The 4-star Florida prospect picked the Tigers from dozens of collegiate options, including Alabama and Florida.

Fruhmorgen, a 6'5", 280-pound junior at Plant High School in Tampa, Fla., is viewed as one of the country's premier offensive tackles. He rates No. 7 nationally at the position in 247Sports' composite rankings.

His choice ultimately came down to Clemson and Florida, reports SaturdayDownSouth.com writer Brian McLaughlin. Fruhmorgen eliminated Michigan and Alabama from consideration during the late stages of a widespread decision-making process.

He holds family ties to the Crimson Tide,, but that wasn't enough to draw him to Tuscaloosa. His father, John Fruhmorgen, played at Alabama before a stint in the NFL.

Nick Saban was one of several high-profile coaches who invested significant time into recruiting the dominant blocker. His expansive offer sheet features Florida State, Notre Dame, Penn State, Miami, Ohio State and LSU.

He helped lead Plant to the state semifinals as a junior. Fruhmorgen fueled an offensive attack that produced an average of 400 total yards per game, according to MaxPreps.

Fruhmorgen, a 2015 U.S. Army All-American Bowl selection, hails from a high school that has produced several college standouts in recent years. Wide receiver Mike Williams (USC), tight end Orson Charles (Georgia) and quarterback Aaron Murray (Georgia) are among notable alumni.

Clemson was considered the front-runner for his commitment prior to the announcement. The Tigers held 90 percent of predictions in 247Sports' Crystal Ball, comprised of 40 expert projections.

He provides a much-needed presence in Clemson's 2015 recruiting class, which now features nine players. The Tigers have an immediate need for depth at offensive tackle, and head coach Dabo Swinney has quickly ensured that help is on the way.

Fruhmorgen joins 5-star Georgia tackle Mitch Hyatt in the class. The duo gives Clemson elite options and possible immediate solutions along the offensive front.

Meanwhile, Florida whiffs on a key in-state target. Will Muschamp and his staff will turn their attention to other offensive tackle prospects, including fellow Floridian Martez Ivey and Maryland product Isaiah Prince.

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Georgia Football: Why A.J. Turman Is the 1 Player to Watch in the Spring Game

Georgia Bulldogs running back A.J. Turman knows that he is fighting an uphill battle. The competition at running back is fierce as Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are the top two backs, while J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas proved to be worthy backups last season. Then there are newcomers Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, who are expected to do some big things this upcoming season.

So Turman has to have a good G-Day game to solidify his status on the depth chart which is also why he is the one player to watch on Saturday.

After practice this past Tuesday, Turman told Seth Emerson of the Macon Telegraph that he has done what he’s needed to do, but he really needs to show the rest of the world what he can do on Saturday, especially with him not having any games under his belt.

Turman had his chance to get some playing time last year due to the injuries to Gurley and Marshall. However, Turman pulled an MCL muscle during preseason practice, and that led to Green and Douglas getting the majority of snaps.

Turman did travel with the team during the early stages of the season, but the coaches decided to put the redshirt on him after the Tennessee game.

2014 marks a new year for Turman, and so far, he has been having a great start with a successful spring. What has helped Turman the most is the coaches have been taking it easy on Gurley when it comes to the workload, Marshall is still recovering from knee surgery and Green has moved from tailback to cornerback. So Turman and Douglas have gotten the bulk of carries this last two weeks.

#UGA tailback A.J. Turman is confident about his spring so far in what will be a crowded backfield in the fall (free) http://t.co/8Cpm9jAqAa

— Gentry Estes (@GentryEstes247) April 9, 2014

In the first scrimmage of spring practice, Turman struggled to get anything going as he rushed for 20 yards on 10 carries. But in the second scrimmage that took place last week, he was able to pick things up with a four-carry, 22-yard performance. Despite not having the stats to back it up in the first scrimmage, Mark Richttold Gentry Estes of 247 Sports (subscription needed) that Turman ran the ball well and did some good things.  

When asked about Turman later in the week, Richt told Emerson that he improved a lot in terms of his work ethic and he’s grabbing everyone’s attention in the effort he has made.

The G-Day is set up where Turman will get a lot of carries. So there’s a really good chance that he could really impress the coaches, players and fans on Saturday. Turman, who is now at 210 pounds, told Estes that he likes a lot of contact and likes to run between the tackles. He also told Estes he wants to be at 220 pounds before the season begins.

We know what Gurley, Marshall and Douglas can do. But Turman is an unproven player that has been doing good things since he’s arrived on campus last year. It’s time for him to show Athens why he was a top recruit last year and why Richt has given him so much praise this spring.

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