March 23, 2018 - by
Football Practice Report: Noles Make Strides In Day 2

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A pre-dawn wakeup call in advance of Friday’s practice, combined with a 10 p.m. tip-off time, meant that Willie Taggart couldn’t catch all of the Florida State men’s basketball team’s Sweet-16 matchup against Gonzaga on Thursday night.

But when he woke up in the middle of the night, Taggart checked his phone and saw the score: The Seminoles had won, 75-60, to clinch their first trip to an NCAA tournament regional final since 1993.

Several hours later, following his second spring practice at FSU, Taggart shared with his own team some lessons they could take from their counterparts on the hardwood.

“When you watch our men’s basketball team,” he said, “you can see that they have fun playing together. They play for each other.”

Photo Gallery: Spring Practice, Day 2

And not just the starters, as Taggart noted. Florida State has built a reputation as perhaps the deepest team remaining in the NCAA tournament field, and it used that depth to great success in upset victories over Missouri, Xavier and Gonzaga.

Each player knows and understands his role, and is supported in it by each of his teammates.

“That,” Taggart said, “is how this team is going to be.”

Taggart’s message concluded a spirited day on the Albert J. Dunlap Practice Fields, in which the Seminoles again went through 26 open periods in front of gathered fans and media.

FSU on Friday continued installation of Taggart’s offense and schemes, and tomorrow will seek to combine the concepts they learned on Wednesday with what they added on Friday.

Saturday’s session will also be the team’s first in shoulder pads, which typically means ramping up physicality, as well.

Here are the news and highlights from Day 2:

Murray out for spring: Taggart confirmed Friday that senior receiver Nyqwan Murray will miss the remainder of the spring with a knee injury sustained on Wednesday. While it’s enough to sideline him for the next few weeks, Taggart seemed upbeat about Murray’s condition and said that he expects him back in relatively fast fashion.

“He won’t be practicing but he’s OK,” Taggart said. “He’ll be out the rest of spring. Had a little knee injury, a little meniscus. I think it’s a tear on the side there. He’ll be back quickly.”

Murray’s absence means the Seminoles have only three scholarship receivers available. Or, rather, they had only three scholarship receivers, because …

Wilson on the move: Ontaria Wilson, a redshirt freshman who spent last year as a defensive back, took reps Friday at wide receiver. The switch is expected to be permanent.

A 6-foot, 168-pound Georgia native, Wilson looked comfortable in his new role, and at one point near the end of practice made a falling-down catch near the sideline while keeping his feet in bounds. Wilson played some receiver in high school, where he had 648 receiving yards and six touchdowns as a senior.

Aime slides outside: Speaking of position changes, senior defensive lineman Walvenskie Aime will have a slightly different home this fall. After playing defensive tackle in his first two years at FSU, the 6-5, 295-pounder was spotted at defensive end during Wednesday’s and Friday’s practices and is expected to be used in that role going forward.

Matthews shines: Perhaps no freshman generated more buzz toward the end of last season than D.J. Matthews, who combined for 198 all-purpose yards and a touchdown over FSU’s last three games. The Jacksonville native shows no signs of slowing down, having made plays all over the field during Friday’s practice. Matthews was active in both the short and deep passing game, and proved nearly impossible to tackle during punt return drills.

First cracks at punt returner: In addition to Matthews, receiver Keith Gavin and running back Khalan Laborn also got reps as potential punt returners. Gavin has experience as a kick returner but has never returned punts, and Laborn redshirted a year ago.

Quarterback update: As Taggart promised, redshirt freshman Bailey Hockman is involved in the quarterback competition and spent much of the early portion Friday working with the first-team offense. A rare left-handed quarterback at FSU, Hockman looked sharp at times and throws a pretty ball downfield. He also displayed his accuracy by threading an intermediate pass between two defenders and connecting with a diving Naseir Upshur for a big gain.

James Blackman, of course, got plenty of work, too, and had one of the day’s best highlights when he hit a streaking Matthews in stride down the left sideline for what was one of the longest touchdowns of the morning. He also hit Gavin for a long touchdown later in the day. Deondre Francois participated in the early portion of practice before breaking away to do individual workouts.

Francois spoke to the media before practice, and said he’s focused on learning the playbook while not doing any drills that require him to react.

“It feels good to put the helmet back on,” he said. “It’s been a long time. I’ve been rehabbing a long time. …  Everything feels in place right now with the upper body. I’ve just got to get my footwork back, get some strength back in my ankles and calves and hamstrings. But everything is still there.”

Quarterbacks get a new education: In one of the biggest departures from the way things used to be, Taggart expects his quarterbacks to run and run often. Taggart’s quarterbacks at Oregon combined for 507 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground last year. And Taggart’s quarterback at South Florida, Quinton Flowers, ran for 1,530 yards and 18 TDs during his last year in Tampa.

So when FSU’s running backs ran through ball-security drills and a tackle-breaker sled, the Seminoles’ quarterbacks were right there with them.

It’s a stark difference from what they’re used to – FSU’s quarterbacks rarely went on designed runs under the previous staff and, after factoring in sack yardage, accounted for negative rushing yards in 2017.

Spring game preview, of sorts: Friday’s music playlist trended a little more toward hip-hop and rap than Wednesday’s, albeit with some 1970s funk and R&B mixed in. Three obvious artists to come over the loudspeakers, though, were the three slated to perform after the Garnet & Gold Game on April 14. Rob Base’s “It Take Two,” Vanilla Ice’s “Ice, Ice Baby” and Salt-n-Pepa’s “Push It” all blared over the practice fields on Friday, and all three are due to perform in Doak Campbell Stadium in a few weeks. The concert is free with game admission. Tickets can be purchased here.

Extra highlights: Several players made big plays Friday morning, some of the ones we saw include … a pair of one-handed grabs for Tre’ McKitty … a short TD run up the middle for Jacques Patrick … a diving pass break-up for Cyrus Fagan … back-to-back disruptive plays for DeCalon Brooks … an approximately 50-yard pick-six for Dontavious Jackson and a 75-yard INT return for Jaiden Woodbey.

More former players: Derrick Nnadi, Auden Tate, and Josh Sweat all took in Friday’s practice after participating in Pro Day earlier this week.

Next up, quick turnaround. And pads: The Seminoles will get their next test on Saturday afternoon, when they practice on consecutive days for the first time this spring. They’ll also don shells (helmets, shoulder pads and shorts), which should lead to increased intensity.

“We have a bunch of five-stars out there, until we put on pads,” Taggart said with a smile.

Taggart, like most modern coaches, doesn’t have his team tackle much in practice, but he does want to see the Seminoles “thud.” That is, deliver contact but not drive through to ground. If both offensive and defensive players are thudding with the proper energy and form, each will finish a play standing straight up and neither will be at increased risk for injury.

 

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