March 19, 2010
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – For the first time in weeks, it felt like Florida outside.
As the mercury rose into the mid-70s Friday, Jimbo Fisher’s Florida State football team got the first taste of what the future looks like, meteorologically, and otherwise.
On the third day of spring practice, Fisher made it clear that his expectations won’t rise and fall with the temperature. He pushed, prodded and cajoled the `Noles through the two hour-plus practice session, then made it very clear his expectations were not met.
“In the first day of pads there was some banging and clanging,” Fisher said afterward. “The enthusiasm was good in the beginning, but it was a little hot; the first hot day we had. I thought in the end we got a little lackadaisical. We pushed through, but we didn’t push through with enough execution. We’ll see what we do tomorrow.”
The Seminoles worked in shells – shoulder pads and helmets – for the first time, signaling the end of the two-day acclimatization period mandated by the NCAA. Mix in the welcome arrival of board drills, the man-on-man collision matchups the signal the official start of contact football season, created a different practice atmosphere.
Of course, with five new assistants and an entirely new defense being installed, the players are anxious to make good impressions. Offensively, one of the most competitive positions is tailback, where rising junior incumbent starter Debrale Smiley, a big back from the junior college ranks who brings a different dynamic to the equation.
“There’s a little competition and there better be,” said Fisher. “They’ve got to keep grinding. … They’ve got to keep learning, plus they’ve got a new coach. They’ve got to get used to a new way of doing things and demeanor and I’d say lifestyle, as far as the way coach (Eddie) Gran wants things done.”
Thompson, who like Pryor turned heads in the fall as true freshman, welcomes the competition that comes with greater familiarity with the offense.
“There’s a huge difference,” said Thompson. “Now that I know what’s going on and why it’s going on with different plays, it’s a lot easier now.”
And Thompson has embraced the competition.
“I like that,” he said. “It’s all fun. It keeps me going and makes me work harder every single day. I just do everything full speed, whether I mess up or not. I do everything full speed and try to have fun with my other running backs.”
It’s a bit different for the offensive line, which has four of five starters back from the fall for spring practice, but is getting acclimated to blocking an entirely new defensive scheme on a day-to-day basis.
“It’s still the same players were going against,” said starting left tackle Andrew Datko. “But before you could just line up and know where everyone is going. Now you’ve got to line up and look to see what gaps their filling and what their assignments are. I think it’s coming along good.”
That is as it should be, given the experience at hand. The Seminoles will return a group that has combined 142 career starts, including 25 from Datko, who is right at home alongside All-American left guard and rising senior Rodney Hudson.
“My freshman and sophomore years I was still learning,” said Datko. “Now it’s just fine-tuning things with my technique. Playing alongside (guard Rodney Hudson), it’s our third year. We already know each other real well. He’s just an extra mind with me. He’ll tell me things I don’t see and I’ll tell him things he doesn’t see. It just works real good.”
Still, it will take some time for the veteran line and host of ball carriers to sync up against the new defense. So far, they’ve noticed dramatic changes.
“Holes open up in different spots and it’s hard to read,” Thompson said. “Most of the time the linebackers are just sitting and not really moving too much. It’s difficult now but we’re getting it.”
That’s the message – “getting it” – that Fisher hopes will begin to sink in beginning Saturday at 12 noon when the `Noles begin practicing for a third consecutive day with the temperatures once again expected to climb into the mid 70s.