Protecting the ball a major key for QB Weatherford

Editor's note: Florida State was the third stop of a four-campus college football preview being made by Todd McShay and Mobile ESPN. The final destination will be Miami (Fla.). To see exclusive videos from Todd's college football tour, go to ESPN Motion or get Mobile ESPN.

Compared to a year ago, quarterback Drew Weatherford looks like a completely different player on the field, and he carries himself like a completely different person off the field. In watching just one practice, it's easy to tell that Weatherford has emerged as the leader at the quarterback position that this Florida State team has missed for several years. It's obvious that the redshirt sophomore has a greater understanding of the offensive scheme, and the coaching staff is able to take off the training wheels as a result. In my conversation with him, Weatherford made no excuses for the number of interceptions he threw in his first season at the helm. He also realizes that improving ball security is his No. 1 priority.

With an improved offensive line, a talented trio of receivers (Chris Davis, Greg Carr and De' Cody Fagg) and a versatile fifth-year senior running back in Lorenzo Booker, Weatherford has the weapons around him to emerge as one of college football's premier quarterbacks this season.

Weatherford's competition for the starting job last season was Xavier Lee, who was widely considered the better recruit coming out of the high school ranks. Lee continued to see spot time even after losing the job, but his erratic arm and poor decision-making became increasingly frustrating for the Seminoles coaching staff. A shoulder injury that limited Lee in the spring did not help matters. However, he showed no signs of lingering effects in practice, and he seems to be progressing as a passer. While he still has trouble with his accuracy and touch on intermediate to deep throws, Lee is an effective weapon as a scrambling quarterback who can break contain and force the run/pass option on the perimeter. Lee is unlikely to unseat Weatherford as the starter, but he does provide good depth at the position. It wouldn't be surprising to see offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden use Lee as a change-of-pace option in certain short-yardage and goal-line situations this season.

Florida State's offensive line has a lot of work to do after last season's abysmal performance, but at least the group is healthy and seems to be jelling during training camp. By the looks of it, the starting lineup should include Mario Henderson (left tackle), Jacky Claude (left guard), John Frady (center), David Overmyer (right guard) and Shannon Boatman (right tackle). Cory Niblock is still in competition for playing time at guard, while freshman Brandon Davis has been surprisingly effective at center. They give this unit much more depth than a year ago, especially with Overmyer's ability to play tackle as well.

The emphasis of the O-line throughout the entire spring and summer has been to improve its aggressiveness and physical nature. If the Noles are to have any chance of competing for a national title this season, they'll need to nearly double their average of 94 rushing yards per game from a year ago.

Antone Smith is an impressively quick sophomore running back and the Seminoles will look to get him involved this season. However, there's a clear sense among players and coaches alike that Booker is expected to carry at least 60 percent of the rushing load in 2006. Booker is in peak physical condition and he looks more explosive in his cuts than ever before. Booker, who has excellent hands and open-field elusiveness, is also urging Jeff Bowden to get him more involved as a receiver.

Florida State's defense returns just four starters from a unit that was occasionally dominant but ultimately disappointing a year ago. That group saw four members selected in the first round of the 2006 draft, including the up-front tandem of DE Kamerion Wimbley and DT Brodrick Bunkley, which combined for 36 tackles for loss last season. This year's front line won't be as talented, but it does have enough depth to run eight deep at four positions. DT Andre Fluellen should be the playmaker along the interior, while junior Alex Boston and senior Darrell Burston have shown the most promise at end thus far.

True freshman Myron Rolle is all he was cracked up to be as the top overall high school recruit from this year's class. He is fluid and fast enough to play cornerback, yet his frame looks big enough for him to eventually bulk up and grow into the weakside linebacker position. Versatility will come with experience. For now, the coaching staff is trying to get the youngster up to speed at one of the safety positions.

There's no question that Rolle still has much to learn in terms of technique and assignments, but he is intelligent enough to learn on the job. It will be a major surprise to me if Rolle is not in the starting lineup as the Seminoles' rover when they open the season at Miami.

Todd McShay is director of college scouting for Scouts Inc. Numerous NFL teams have relied on his independent draft prospect evaluations since 1998. Listen to Todd break down the biggest games and give you all the scores on College GameDay on ESPN Radio every Saturday from noon to 7 p.m. ET. He is also a frequent contributor to ESPNU.