TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher met with the media Tuesday to preview fall camp, which began later in the afternoon at the Albert J. Dunlap practice fields. Here are highlights from that conversation.
Perhaps the best possible news at this time of year, Fisher announced that, save for one freshman offensive lineman, the Seminoles are all fully healthy at the outset of practice.
That means that offensive linemen Alec Eberle (hip) and Landon Dickerson (knee) are both expected to be full participants after recovering from surgeries. And, in a pleasant surprise, the same goes for receiver George Campbell, the redshirt sophomore who missed all of last season with a core muscle injury.
Fisher had said recently that Campbell’s status was uncertain, but that he had made “a lot of progress” lately and would be a full participant in camp.
“Everybody will practice and go today,” Fisher said.
Fisher did confirm that Brady Scott, a freshman center, is out after being involved in a scooter accident. Otherwise, the Seminoles are beginning their season as healthy as possible.
Regarding Campbell, Fisher said that the former five-star prospect has a nice blend of size, speed and athleticism that ought to be a welcome addition to a receiving corps looking to replace its top three targets from a year ago.
“Very driven, very good young man,” Fisher said. “Does everything you ever asked of him, you know what I’m saying? The things that have happened to him, you know, sometimes guys get hurt, sometimes injuries happen. That’s ball. That’s not his fault, there’s nothing he’s done. So he’s getting healthy.”
Florida State’s offensive line may be intact, but that doesn’t mean the Seminoles haven’t had any shakeups up front. Fisher announced that Rick Leonard, who started six games last season at right tackle, would begin fall camp at the left tackle spot vacated by All-American Roderick Johnson.
Brock Ruble will be the first-string right tackle to start camp. Ruble started seven games at the position last year.
Leonard’s move quickly solves what would have been two of the top position battles of camp, as not only were he and Ruble expected to compete for the right tackle job, but redshirt freshmen Josh Ball and Jauan Williams were believed to be the frontrunners at left tackle during the spring.
Both Ball and Williams will remain in the mix.
“We can try anybody over there,” Fisher said. “But we’re going to start Ricky over there at the beginning and have Brock at right tackle along with Derrick Kelly and Ball and Jauan.”
Although Leonard hasn’t lined up on the left side during a game, Fisher said he’s worked there some in practice and is confident about making the switch.
“He feels very comfortable over there,” Fisher said. “…He’s so much bigger and stronger now. He’s really strong in the weight right now, very powerful.”
Citing his strong performances in limited work as a starter, Fisher said that junior Jacques Patrick will begin the season as the team’s No. 1 running back and that the job is his as long as he holds on to it.
“He’s earned that right,” Fisher said.
Replacing star running back Dalvin Cook is one of FSU’s top priorities this fall, and the Seminoles have seven scholarship running backs to help ease that burden.
Freshman Cam Akers, a prep All-American and an early-enrollee, figures to factor in at some point, especially after an impressive spring. But on Tuesday, Fisher preferred to talk about Patrick, himself a former five-star prospect who has averaged more than five yards per carry during his first two seasons at FSU.
“He looks great,” Fisher said. “His body looks great. He can catch, he can run, he has proven he can do it at the level we’ve got to have.
“Then we’ve got to find out which young guys are going to step up and prove they can do it. If they do it better, they’ll play. If they don’t, they don’t play. It’s that simple. But I’m very excited about watching Jacques.”
The NCAA this spring adopted a number of new practice rules, the biggest of which is the elimination of two-a-day practices. Teams are still allowed to hold the standard number of practices, but they can no longer hold two contact sessions during the same day.
As a result, several teams across the country are starting fall camp earlier in order to get their full allotment of practices in before the season begins later this month.
Fisher is happy to see more being done to advance player safety and welfare, but he’s also concerned about the ever-expanding college football calendar.
If the Seminoles reach the College Football Playoff championship game, their season will stretch from Aug. 1 to Jan. 8, 2018.
“We adapt and adjust,” Fisher said. “(But we’ve) got to make sure you don’t put this thing so far back in July (because) you have school. … They’ve got to loosen the rules up in the summer to be able to teach them.”
The NCAA has also mandated that players receive at least one day off each week. Players can participate in team meals or receive medical treatment, but other team-related activities are not allowed.
For Florida State, those off days during camp are scheduled for Mondays. When the season begins, that will shift to Sundays.
Asking for outlooks and prognostications on the freshman class is an annual tradition at Fisher’s preseason press conference, especially given how well Florida State has recruited in recent years.
That was once again the case on Tuesday and, once again, Fisher declined to make any bold predictions.
“I’ve learned not to do that,” he said when asked to name which freshmen will make an impact this fall. “Hopefully we’re going to try all of them, give them all an opportunity.”
With that in mind, Fisher also said that having freshmen ready to contribute is more important than ever in today’s college football climate, when players are often on the move to the NFL or to another school.
One of Fisher’s favorite maxims since taking over as head coach is that the best players will play, regardless of age, and he reiterated it again on Tuesday. And Florida State has a healthy track record of allowing freshmen to claim significant roles – see Dalvin Cook and Jalen Ramsey as two recent examples – as soon as they’re ready.
“We’ve played a tremendous amount of freshmen, tons of freshmen,” Fisher said. “And we’ve had great success with that. Our coaches do a great job. We’ll push as many as we can, but we won’t put them in a situation before they’re ready for it.”