Aug. 13, 2009
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Cloud cover kept the temperature from climbing Thursday morning as the Florida State football team donned full pads for the first time this preseason. It didn’t take long, however, for the action to heat up as the Seminoles’ offense made the lion’s share of big plays.
Of course, a big day for the offense also comes with drawbacks.
“The hitting was pretty good, but too many big plays popped out of there,” said FSU coach Bobby Bowden. “As a head coach you don’t know who to root for, your defense or your offense. It scares me when big plays come out of there.”
Quarterback Christian Ponder connected on long passes with wideouts Jarmon Fortson, Rodney Smith and Taiwan Easterling, as well as tight end Caz Piurowski, during the first five-minute period of 11-on-11 work.
“A lot of that came against the blitz and we’ve been working on that all week,” Ponder said, offering a hint at the developing mindset on offense. “The blitz for us means big plays and that’s what we’ve been working on and things opened up.
“We definitely didn’t have enough big plays last year and stretch the field as much as we wanted to. Things are starting to open up and that’s a good thing.”
It should come as no surprise that Ponder had ample time to step up in the pocket created by the seasoned offensive line and deliver the football. Improving pass protection has been a point of emphasis since the conclusion of last season.
“Overall we felt we had a better practice today than we did the other day, but I’m sure there’s plenty of room for us to improve,” McMahon said. “Everybody’s attitude was good and it was fun.”
“It all starts with them,” Ponder said of his offensive line. “If they give me time the deep ball is there. We’re a lot further along that we were last year. … Now I can sit in the pocket and feel more comfortable.”
The running game doesn’t appear to be suffering as a result of the improved pass blocking. Tailback Jermaine Thomas scored on runs of 10 and 6 yards during 11-on-11 action. Freshman tailback Lonnie Pryor also scored on a 10-yard run.
While the defense lapsed at times, it wasn’t void of big plays. Cornerback Ochuko Jenije collected an interception and ran it back for a score; the beneficiary of a broken route by a wide receiver. Defensive end Everrett Dawkins dropped Prior for a 4-yard loss. Walk-on defensive end Craig Yarborough recovered a fumble following a bad handoff exchange. Cornerback Patrick Robinson had a pass breakup, defensive end Brandon Jenkins registered a sack and safety Jamie Robinson had a tackle-for-loss.
“We kind of came out pretty slow,” Patrick Robinson said after the first of two Thursday practice sessions. “I think we’re going to be a lot better in the second practice.”
The morning session ended with the customary goal-line drill, with the first-team offense going against the first-team defense from 3 and 1 yards out in a four-play series before turning it over to the second-team.
Senior linebacker Dekoda Watson ran Thomas out of bounds on the first play for a miniscule gain, before junior defensive end Markus White dropped him for a 1-yard loss on second down. Thomas, however, made amends, with a 3-yard touchdown run before Ponder hooked up with tight end Ja’Baris Little on a 1-yard touchdown pass play.
“It was the first day in pads, but that’s not an excuse,” said senior defensive tackle Budd Thacker. “The defense has got to go out there and fight to the end. We can’t let them get in the end zone at any time. We’ve got to stop them every time.”
The second-team offense converted just 1 of 3 opportunities – a 1-yard run by Pryor. Redshirt freshman safety EJ Manuel threw incomplete on the final play of the morning session.
FSU is scheduled to return to the practice field Thursday evening and will practice again Friday afternoon.