TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — James Blackman insists nothing has changed. But nearly everything around him at Florida State is different this spring.
A month after coach Willie Taggart dismissed two-year starter Deondre Francois, the Seminoles’ No. 1 quarterback is clearly Blackman. When he was dismissed from the team, Taggart said Francois was not living up to the “high expectations” and “standards of conduct” expected of student-athletes.
Blackman will be backed up by a Louisville transfer, Jordan Travis, who is still awaiting the result of an appeal to be able to play in 2019, and walk-on Nolan McDonald. The quarterbacks may not push Blackman during the spring, but he says he is motivated to help the Seminoles rebound after a disappointing season in coach Taggart’s first year.
“Still got to come out here and work hard every day, get better every day, push my teammates every day,” Blackman said. “The standard is still the same. We’re at Florida State. The standard doesn’t change.”
The standard took a step backward in 2018 as Florida State went 5-7 in Taggart’s first season. Taggart hit the reset button in the offseason, bringing in offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, offensive line coach Randy Clements and wide receivers coach Ron Dugans.
Florida State began spring practice on Monday, the first of 15 leading up to the spring game on April 6.
Blackman, who is working with his third offensive coordinator in three seasons, has thrown for 2,740 yards, 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. After Francois was injured in the 2017 opener, Blackman started as a true freshman and improved down the stretch as he led the Seminoles to a win at Florida and a bowl victory over Southern Miss.
But Francois won the job last fall and started 11 games while Blackman filled in for Francois against North Carolina State and threw for 421 yards and four touchdowns in a November road loss. Taggart opted to stick with Francois for the remainder of the season and the Seminoles missed out on a bowl game for the first time since 1981.
Blackman was often animated on the sideline, cheering on and encouraging teammates, even though he wasn’t playing.
“He’s an alpha dog,” receiver Keyshawn Helton said. “He’s a leader. He’s determined.”
Blackman may not have much of a challenge behind him on the depth chart, but his spring will be busy as he adapts to a playbook that is now a blend of Taggart and Briles. The Briles offense lines up closely with what Taggart is trying to build in Tallahassee. A year after Taggart jump-started the fan base with his promise of “Lethal Simplicity,” the offense was often a dud (generating just 21.9 points per game in 2018, which was 113th out of 130 FBS programs) and not very fun to watch.
Taggart had an opening for an offensive coordinator this offseason and chose Briles, who coached a Houston offense that was fifth in the FBS (43.9 points per game) in 2018 and a Florida Atlantic offense that was eighth in the FBS (40.6 points) in 2017.
“I feel like he’s a great dude, has a chip on his shoulder,” Blackman said. “Ready to come out here and put in some work and get better.”
Blackman, a 59.2-percent career passer, said he is looking to improve his accuracy as well as chemistry with a young receiver group. Always smiling, teammates embrace Blackman’s positive attitude and demeanor — traits that were present whether he was a starter or on the sideline.
And now he is being called on to be a leader, once again, as the Seminoles attempt to bounce back in Taggart’s second season.
“Always enthusiastic,” Taggart said. “Loves his teammates. Always has a positive attitude on things and when you’re that way then you’ll achieve a lot things that you want.”