TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After three weeks of fall camp that even Jimbo Fisher admitted were tougher than usual, game week is here at Florida State. The No. 4 Seminoles meet No. 11 Mississippi one week from today, and Fisher met with the media on Monday afternoon to look ahead to the matchup as well as wrap up fall camp. Here are highlights from that conversation.
1) Clarity within special teams
While FSU’s Week 1 depth chart included lots of “ors” at various positions (for example, either Ryan Green or Jacques Patrick or Johnathan Vickers or Amir Rasul will be Dalvin Cook’s top backup on Monday), Fisher seems to have settled on starters in at least one position group. He announced Monday that freshman Ricky Aguayo will handle field goals and extra points, while freshman Logan Tyler will punt and kick off.
“We put them under a lot of stress, a lot of pressure,” Fisher said. “We tried to block everything humanly possible coming at them. … Ricky was just a little more consistent with all the things he did.”
Aguayo’s place at the top of the depth chart means that there will be an Aguayo kicking at Florida State for the fourth straight season. Aguayo’s older brother, Roberto Aguayo, was an All-American at FSU from 2013-15.
Fisher also allowed that, if the team needed to attempt an extra-long field goal, the big-legged Tyler could be asked to try.
“That’s nothing against Ricky – Logan can really kick it,” Fisher said. “Logan’s been really kicking seriously for just five years. So he’s really going to continue to emerge and grow.”
2) As usual, there’s versatility in the secondary
While there’s still some wiggle room, FSU’s depth chart suggests that the secondary will look like this: Marquez White and Tarvarus McFadden at cornerback, Derwin James and Trey Marshall at safety and Marcus Lewis at “star.”
That combo lines up with what defensive coordinator Charles Kelly had often fielded near the end of fall camp, and it also provides a satisfying outcome to the the competition between McFadden and Lewis.
But, as has become the norm at FSU in recent years, the Seminoles will likely use a variety of different lineups in the defensive backfield. Which means that the likes of senior Nate Andrews (whose calf injury might also have had a say in the depth chart), freshman Levonta Taylor and camp standout A.J. Westbrook will all have parts to play this season.
“They’ll all be moved in depending on (opposing) personnel and how we want to play them,” Fisher said. “They all can play those positions. … We cross-train those guys all the way across the board.”
Fisher said that the group’s versatility is one of the aspects he’s proudest of. It’s one thing, he said, to have physically ability. It’s something else to learn the mental side of each different role in the secondary.
“It takes a lot of intelligence. There’s a lot of learning that goes on,” he said. “…They’ve done a great job of studying the game.”
3) Francois takes center stage
Deondre Francois on Monday will become the fourth quarterback to make his debut as the starter since Fisher took over as head coach in 2011 (Clint Trickett, 2011; Jameis Winston, 2013; Sean Maguire, 2014).
Given that experience, as well as the perspective that comes from several more years as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Fisher has a good idea of what he’ll be looking for from Francois once he finally takes the field.
“Just body language, just communications,” Fisher said. “You can see it in his eyes, how he responds to you, what he saw, what goes on, the team out there on the field – if they’re getting into the formation right. You can just see from a management process.”
Incidentally, FSU’s quarterbacks are 3-1 when making their starting debut under Fisher, with Trickett’s loss in a surprise start at Clemson in 2011 the only blemish.
4) Plenty of respect for Ole Miss
The Rebels enter the season needing to replace three first-round draft picks (offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil, defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche and receiver Laquon Treadwell) but, thanks to high-level recruiting under coach Hugh Freeze, Fisher expects they’ll still have plenty of talent at their disposal on Monday.
That starts with quarterback Chad Kelly, the fifth-year senior who last season led the Southeastern Conference in passing with 4,042 yards and 31 touchdowns.
Fisher knows Kelly well, having recruited him for the class of 2012, and he even compared Kelly to his uncle, Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly.
“Of the quarterbacks and the passing games we’re going to face all year, this one right here is as good as any,” Fisher said. “… You’re talking about a guy (Kelly) who is a heck of a football player.”
Fisher also praised Ole Miss defensive end Marquis Haynes, who had 10 sacks a year ago and has appeared on a few preseason All-America lists this year.
“Oh, he can rush and run and come off the edge, now,” Fisher said. “He’s fast and athletic.”
5) Pros, cons to opening at a neutral site
Florida State began the 2014 season with a high-profile, neutral-site game, and will do it again Monday and again to begin the 2017 season. So, clearly, FSU feels the positives of opening that way outweigh the negatives. Fisher said as much on Monday, but he also noted that there are some challenges that come with leaving home to face a difficult opponent.
“The advantage is it puts your team in an atmosphere that, if you’re fortunate enough to get in a bowl game or a playoff game, things like that, you get that atmosphere and environment,” Fisher said. “I think it’s great national exposure, I think you get to play an opponent you don’t usually play, a top-notch opponent in a big situation like that on national TV. And you get to find out where your team is at before you go in to your conference schedule.”
But on the other side …
“You’re not in your home bed, you’re not in your home stadium,” Fisher said. “You don’t get to grow into the season. But that’s part of it. You have some give, you have some take.”