By BOB FERRANTE
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — James Blackman is in the driver’s seat in the quarterback competition at Florida State.
As the Seminoles’ opened preseason practice on Friday, Blackman is the unquestioned leader. He was taking the first-team reps and guiding the Seminoles with a smile and business-like approach of a starting QB.
But Florida State’s quarterback competition is a wide-open race, with no timetable to end.
“Hearing the word compete, it challenges me,” Blackman said.
And there are many challenges for Blackman to embrace.
He was Florida State’s starter in 2017, but Blackman acknowledges he’s in an open competition with Wisconsin transfer Alex Hornibrook and others. Hornibrook completed 60 percent of his passes and led the Badgers to a 26-6 mark as their starter.
Blackman is the early leader to be the starter when Florida State opens the season against Boise State on Aug. 31 in Jacksonville, Florida. But it’s not a given. With Blackman and Hornibrook already in the mix, the Seminoles are also awaiting word on whether Louisville transfer Jordan Travis or Western Michigan’s Wyatt Rector will be approved for a waiver after they transferred in the offseason.
Travis and Rector will practice but for now the quarterback battle remains a two-man competition.
“We’re going to grade these guys every day on what we ask them to do and see if these guys can take information from the meeting room to the field, and who can run our offense and do it efficiently and do it to where we’re not being careless with the football,” Florida State coach Willie Taggart said. “A guy’s got to take care of the football and run our offense. A guy’s got to go out there and get all 11 guys running on the same page and do it consistently enough at a high level. That’s what we’re looking for.”
Blackman has challenged himself this offseason. He wants to improve on his accuracy, deep passes and limit turnovers. As a veteran quarterback and leader, he helped organize Florida State’s offseason player-only workouts.
The redshirt sophomore feels he has a strong grasp of what new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles wants to run. Even though Blackman has had three offensive coordinators and varied schemes in his short career, he said he has an understanding of “what to do and when to do it and how to do it” when it comes to what Briles’ high-tempo, spread offense.
And he’s learning the scheme without a playbook, everyone is.
It’s a new wrinkle for Florida State in 2019, something Taggart has embraced — and so have the players.
“It’s a great thing not having a playbook because you have to go and make sure you write up the plays by yourself,” Blackman said. “And go study by yourself and make your own playbook. Guys are really putting in the work to learn and understand your job.”
Hornibrook is also getting a crash course in the Briles’ offense. A drop-back passer in three seasons as a starter at Wisconsin, Hornibrook appears to be an unusual fit for what Briles wants. But if Hornibrook can adapt, present himself as an option to run and be accurate, he has a chance to win the job.
His first impression of Florida State was one of awe over at the Seminoles’ receivers.
“I had never seen that much talent in a wide receiver corps before and everybody just seemed hungry,” Hornibrook said. “I know we have a lot of weapons out here at receiver and I am excited to get them the ball.”
But he’ll have to beat out Blackman, who has not only improved many aspects of his game since 2017 but is also packed on a few more pounds.
His weight gain is noticeable. The 6-foot-5 Blackman played his first game at Florida State as a true freshman in 2017 weighing just 162 pounds. Now he proudly said he’s up to 195 pounds.
And Blackman is also ready to run, something Briles has done with quarterbacks at Baylor, Florida Atlantic and Houston. While Blackman may look like the typical drop-back quarterback, he is comfortable on the move.
Is he more mobile than people think?
“You’ll see,” Blackman said. “Don’t blink.”
Notes: Florida State opened preseason practice without receiver Tamorrion Terry, who had 744 receiving yards and a team-high eight touchdowns in 2018 as a freshman. There is no timetable for Terry’s return, but he is expected to play in the Seminoles’ opener, Taggart said.