TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – For only the third time in 42 years, a new Florida State football coach met with the media on the eve of the Seminoles’ fall camp.
And, for the first time in a while, FSU’s offensive and defensive coordinators did, too.
Coaches Willie Taggart, Harlon Barnett and Walt Bell each previewed the start of practice during a Sunday afternoon press conference that spanned more than an hour. Topics included roster updates, offensive and defensive philosophies and a few stops around the roster as position races begin.
Taggart’s Seminoles open the season in just 29 days – at home against Virginia Tech on Sept. 3. Here are the highlights from Sunday’s press conference:
QB Race ‘starts now’: For as many changes Taggart has implemented over the last few months, here’s one thing that Florida State fans are plenty familiar with: The head coach doesn’t plan to name a starting quarterback any time soon.
Asked for a timeline to determine which of Deondre Francois, James Blackman or Bailey Hockman will start under center this year, Taggart said only that he hoped to have a final decision by Labor Day – the date of FSU’s season opener.
Beyond that, he insisted that each of the three candidates had earned the right to take part in a legitimate competition, and that he intends to let them see it through.
“They’re all going to have an opportunity. They all understand that,” Taggart said. “That starts now. … They know they’ve got to separate themselves.”
And, for the first time, Florida State’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach offered his thoughts on where things stand, too.
No surprise that his priorities align pretty heavily with those of his boss.
Specifically, Bell prioritizes leadership skills above sheer physical ability.
“The ultimate job description of a quarterback is as follows: Make the other 10 guys better,” Bell said. “To me, the guy that can do that at a higher rate, that’s going to be the guy that you entrust to be the quarterback.”
Noles healthy, save for a few ‘limited’ starters: Receiver Nyqwan Murray (knee), defensive tackle Marvin Wilson (knee) and offensive lineman Derrick Kelly (undisclosed) will all be limited at the start of practice, Taggart announced on Sunday. Save for that, though, the Seminoles are in good shape as they begin camp.
Murray and Wilson are both recovering from surgeries to repair injuries suffered during the spring. Taggart didn’t specify the nature or timing of Kelly’s injury, but didn’t indicate that it was anything serious.
“Those guys will be limited,” Taggart said when asked about Murray and Wilson. “You won’t see them the first part of training camp, but I think as we get towards the end in training camp, you’ll see those guys out there practicing with us.”
Murray (40 catches, 604 yards, 4 TDs) was the Seminoles’ top receiver a year ago, while Wilson, one of the top members of FSU’s recruiting class of 2017, is expected to contend for a starting job alongside fifth-year senior Demarcus Christmas.
Kelly, meanwhile, is among the most experienced and versatile members of what will be a new-look offensive line under new coach Greg Frey.
In his absence, the Seminoles will be trying out combinations made up of linemen who missed the spring – that includes centers Alec Eberle and Baveon Johnson, tackle Jauan Williams and guard Cole Minshew.
Freshman class reports, final two members will be in this week: Every member of Taggart’s first signing class, finalized in February and rated near the top of the country by every major recruiting service, is either on campus or will be shortly, the head coach confirmed Sunday.
Two players – receiver Tre’Shaun Harrison and defensive back Xavier Peters – will join the team this week.
“We have everybody,” Taggart said.
That’s welcome news for a program that lost key players on both offense and defense from a year ago. And, based on Bell’s comments Sunday, several of those newcomers should expect to play.
Answering a question about his new receivers – FSU signed four – Bell smiled and said, “They are not going to have a choice” but to play.
“We will lead the horse to water and we will make him drink,” he said with a laugh. “Those young guys, they are not going to have a choice.”
Barnett sees ‘some dudes’ on FSU’s defense: Harlon Barnett wouldn’t leave Michigan State for just any job. He starred in the Spartans’ secondary in the late 1980s and later returned to serve as co-defensive coordinator for a program that is known for having one of the toughest defenses in the country on an annual basis.
Listen to him talk about the talent available at Florida State, though, and it’s a little easier to see why Barnett was tempted away from his alma mater.
“As we went through spring, I’m like, ‘Man, there’s some dudes here.’ No disrespect to Michigan State, not at all. Obviously, it’s my alma mater. But there’s some dudes down here, man.
“Guys that jumped out at you and had really good springs: Brian Burns, that’s a dude, man, that’s a dude. Still haven’t seen Josh Kaindoh yet (because) he didn’t go through spring, but I’m hearing how much of a dude he is and that’s just one guy — I mean, there’s multiple guys. …
“Kyle Meyers, good player. A.J. Westbrook, I mean, I could go on and on. ‘D-Jack’(Dontavious Jackson), good players. A lot of good players that really bought into what we were asking them to do, and I think they appreciate the simplicity of our defense.”
Welcome back, Mickey: During his eight months on the job, Taggart has made no secret of his affection for Florida State football and its history. Last week, he showed that affection in a practical, tangible way when he announced that Mickey Andrews, Florida State’s legendary defensive coordinator from 1984-2009, would be joining his staff as a special assistant to the head coach.
“It’s great to have someone like that, that’s been here,” Taggart said. “He’s seen it all and has a lot of knowledge of the game. He has a lot of knowledge of Florida State. I think he’s someone that not only myself, but our entire staff, can learn something from while he’s here.”
That goes for the guy manning Andrews’ old post, too.
“I love it, man,” Barnett said. “The first time he came by here … I said, ‘Coach, give us some wisdom.’ … There’s nothing like getting that wisdom.
“I’m always trying to pull wisdom from older people that have experienced things that I have not, because you can learn from their mistakes and their successes. So, I think it’s big time. I’m fired up about it. I really am.”