Florida State QB Francois emerging as offensive leader

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State has scratched one thing off of its usual list of things to do during its spring football game.

A quarterback competition will not be the focal point for the first time in the last three years.

Coach Jimbo Fisher has praised Deondre Francois throughout the four weeks of practices, but Saturday's Garnet and Gold game should provide some indication on the sophomore's progress.

''He is a big-time player,'' said Fisher of Francois. ''He can lead. He is tough, accurate and can throw the ball.''

Last spring, Francois was trying to show that he could challenge for the starting job during what was expected to be a preseason competition. That never materialized as Sean Maguire injured his foot the first week of practices.

Even though Francois has a lock on the starting job, he says he has not treated this spring any different from a competition standpoint.

''Every ball has to be perfect, the next play has to have no mistakes. I am just trying to compete with myself to get better,'' he said.

Francois was named the Atlantic Coast Conference's rookie of the year after helping to lead the Seminoles to a 10-3 record. He started all 13 games and led freshmen nationally in passing yards (3,350) while throwing for 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also directed fourth-quarter drives in wins over Ole Miss , Miami , North Carolina State and Michigan .

While Francois did a good job of limiting turnovers, he did struggle in two key areas - completion percentage and avoiding sacks. He completed only 59 percent of his passes and was sacked 34 times, with some attributed to holding on to the ball too long.

Even though the sacks stood out, Fisher said all the blame can't go to the quarterback and that Francois ''probably played as well as anybody last year.''

Francois said he has been using the spring to fine tune his technique and improve his footwork, which he is hoping will cut down on the number of sacks.

''I've been focusing on consistency and doing a better job of managing the game and situations,'' Francois said. ''I feel like I have gotten a lot better from experience. I made some mistakes last year and this spring I am getting the opportunity to improve.''

Francois benefited last year from experience at the other offensive skill positions, but he doesn't have that luxury this spring. Junior Jacques Patrick and freshman early enrollee Cam Akers are vying to take over at running back after Dalvin Cook declared for the NFL draft while the top three receivers have either graduated or left early. Juniors Nyquan Murry and Auden Tate emerged late last season, but combined for 52 catches.

''From last year at this time to this year, he's just so cool, calm and collected out there. Everybody just gravitates toward him. ... It's fun to see that transition,'' Patrick said.

Even though most fans are already honing in on the Sept. 2 opener against Alabama in Atlanta, Francois said there is still plenty of time before those preparations begin to ramp up.

''I feel like I have improved in every practice but the key thing is to be healthy and ready when practices begin,'' he said.

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