There are plenty of storylines to consider from Saturday's Garnet and Gold game. Jacobbi McDaniel played well for the first time since breaking his ankle agaisnt Duke in 2011. PJ Williams stood out on the first team. The receivers all looked impressive.
But nobody dropped as many jaws on Saturday as Jameis Winston.
The 6-4 218-pound QB couldn't have made much more of an impression on the Florida State fanbase than he did when he entered the game and immediately threw a 58-yard touchdown pass on his first play from scrimmage.
Florida State called a play with four vertical passing routes, Winston went with his second read and dropped a beautiful ball over the shoulder of David Tyrell for 58 yards and a touchdown. It was an electric moment that brought everyone in the stands to their feet.
Jimbo Fisher mentioned the degree of difficulty that throw takes for someone coming off the bench, but the more impressive compliment that was paid to Winston was in regards to his second touchdown pass- a back-shoulder throw to Rashad Greene from 20 yards out.
“If you watch the NFL, if you ever watch the real deals, those guys you’ve got to beat them deep and beat them back, you’ve got to throw them open," said Fisher. "And that’s open. When you play big time people, against good people, that’s going to be open. I mean you’re going to have a couple inches here and there and you’re going to have to put the ball on the right shoulder. That’s why arm strength and accuracy are so important when you’re going to high levels of ball.
“I mean to the average person that doesn’t look open but in real football that is open.”
When you talk to players about how the Spring has gone and you ask them about Winston, they all say the same thing. He's got "it." It's more than just athleticism or accuracy or intelligence, Winston is a playmaker. That's just something that comes naturally to some guys and if you ask the people close to this program, they'll tell you Jameis was born with some to spare.
"He’s athletic so every time he drops back to pass he’s a threat to run. He’s just a playmaker," said LB Christian Jones. "He’s a shifty guy, he can move so when you come down to the backfield you’ve got to be ready to get on him because he’ll get out of there.”
Winston's skillset is extremely similar to EJ Manuel's. He's a big, strong, athletic passer with good intelligence and accuracy. Manuel even took Winston under his wing when Jameis first stepped on campus.
But there's a couple of major differences between Winston and his predecessor.
“EJ had the same ability as Winston has but EJ he prided himself more on being just a true quarterback in the pocket," said Jones. "Winston, he’s more of a [playmaker], he’s going to run it a little bit more. EJ had the same qualities that Winston had, they just play different.”
Manuel never wanted to be known as a dual-threat quarterback. Winston- who is a dual-sport athlete- could care less how people perceive him.
And that fits into the second difference between Manuel and Winston. Both were excellent at blocking out other people's impressions of them, but Winston is wired differently than Manuel.
A lot differently.
“He’s a guy who the harder you press him, the better he plays," said Fisher. "He wants it, he’ll walk by and ask me, 'what? You can’t get on me enough?' He loves to be challenged.”
Manuel was a tough kid, but he wasn't the kind of guy who invited Fisher's harshest criticisms and thrived on being ridden by him.
Winston seems to. And that may make all the difference in terms of his development under Fisher's tutelage. The reason for that may be that Winston is his own sharpest critic. Case in point, after finishing the Garnet and Gold game 12/15 for 205 yards and the only two touchdowns thrown against the first-team defense, Winston wasn't happy.
"I got to get better," he said after the game. "I still have to get better on my reads and play recognition, it's just so many different things and different aspects of my game that I have to improve on. I don't really have a comfort zone with my performance right now."
Then he hurried across the parking lot to Dick Howser stadium to join the baseball team as they took on Duke in a doubleheader.
Part of the reason Winston has been able to take Florida State by storm is he's a very mature young man. He's still in his freshman year, next season he will be classified as a redshirt freshman, but he's already years ahead.
“He’s further along than any redshirt freshman [I've seen]," said WR Rashad Greene. "And that’s good for a guy like Jameis, he’s got a lot of humor about him, always excited, get you going. And that’s what you need out of a quarterback, someone who can get you excited.”
“For younger guys you really don’t see that much," added Jones. "It usually takes them awhile to catch on a bit, especially at the QB spot you’ve got to be able to be confident, to take control of the offense so he’s done a great job of doing that this Spring.”
Winston may have done a good enough job this Spring to win himself the job as the starting QB. Seminoles fans would love to see that, but Jimbo Fisher has a quick word of caution before anyone runs out and gets a Jameis Winston tattoo.
"Let’s let the guy play," said Fisher. "What I fear about all that stuff is it’s great to write but you build a guy up to be so great he can’t live up to it and then all you do is build disappointment for the guy. It’s unfair to the player, but just be careful and let him play.”
Fisher is trying to protect Winston from reading his own press clippings or buying into his own hype. But sometimes that's easier said than done in the digital age of social media.
“You just keep him realistic and tell him what’s real and what’s not real," said Fisher. "Let everyone else be legends and hype."
Fisher is more interested in a hunting dog than a show dog. That's something he repeated over and over last year.
So far Winston looks like he can hunt.
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(Photo courtesy of Ryan Syrkus)