- Jared Shanker, ESPN Staff Writer
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With spring practices around the corner, Jimbo Fisher used Thursday to test his team’s temperament. Has this 2014 team -- replete with several new starters -- successfully fought off complacency this winter, or will a championship hangover loom over a team talented enough to repeat?
It is still early March, but following the completion of winter conditioning, Fisher liked his team’s makeup despite losing key contributors and leaders on offense and defense. He saw the same insatiable appetite among a squad coming off a national title as he did last season, when Florida State entered an offseason having left a championship bid in Raleigh, N.C.
“What I’m looking for is another group of hungry guys who are willing to pay the same price as last year when they didn’t know they were really good,” Fisher said. “I’ve been pleased with our demeanor, work ethic and consistency. ... We’re not defending anything.”
While the Seminoles return a significant portion of their title team, a majority of their most vocal leaders will leave Tallahassee after the Seminoles' pro day on March 18 -- one day before the outset of spring practice. Even Jameis Winston (baseball) and Jalen Ramsey (track), two of Florida State’s most influential locker room presences, have missed nearly all offseason workouts.
With a roster rivaled by maybe the likes of only Alabama, leadership could be one of the few pitfalls of a team that will be preseason No. 1. But Fisher offered individual plaudits for Karlos Williams, Rashad Greene, Tyler Hunter, Terrance Smith and Ukeme Eligwe as emerging leaders.
Spring practices will help establish new starters, but winter workouts allowed a few already to break away and earn the praise of coaches and teammates.
At running back, Mario Pender is back with the team after missing 2013 for academic reasons, and top 2014 signee Dalvin Cook is enrolled in classes and eligible to participate in spring drills. FSU must replace leading rushers Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr.
“Pender’s fast and he’s working his tail off, doing so well in school,” Fisher said. “Ryan Green jumps out at you. Cook can flat fly, change of direction, he’s up over 200 pounds.”
“Those two young guys are going to be the young guys that we are going to depend on this year,” Smith said. “This offseason they’ve just been working on getting bigger, stronger and faster and they’ve really been dedicated to the program.”
Greene is the only returning receiver to produce at a consistent level for the Noles, who will be left to rely on a mixture of seniors who patiently waited for their turn and freshmen and sophomores with high school All-America credentials. Isaiah Jones, Levonte Whitfield and Jesus Wilson will be sophomores, and Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph -- Nos. 2 and 6 among Class of 2014 receivers, respectively -- enroll this summer.
“Those younger guys I feel like they are my responsibility,” Greene said, “so anything that goes wrong with them I take all fault for it because I’m the leader.”
2dAndrea Adelson and Matt Fortuna