TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Through the first two days of Florida State’s spring camp, there have been dozens of articles, photos and videos illustrating just how different things are under coach Willie Taggart.
And perhaps the signature image of those changes has come during mid-practice water breaks, when the Seminoles – an awful lot of them, anyway – gathered for impromptu dance parties.
— FSU Football (@FSUFootball) March 23, 2018
But that all changed on Saturday. There was still plenty of thumping music echoing across the Albert J. Dunlap Practice Fields, but when the Seminoles stopped for water, there wasn’t much dancing.
Not after nearly 90 minutes in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts on a surprisingly warm Tallahassee afternoon. The first day in shells, as the gear configuration is known, is one of the dividing lines in any spring or fall camp.
It’s the first day that players can hit each other – they “thud,” rather than tackle – and it typically means a step up in intensity during other drills, too.
No surprise, then, that with 13 periods complete and another 14 to go, most of the players simply made their way to the water station and took advantage of a brief opportunity to hydrate and regain some strength.
Putting on pads means it’s time to hit. Or thud, rather. pic.twitter.com/qlgfRizbrk
— Tim Linafelt / FSU (@Tim_Linafelt) March 24, 2018
The Seminoles are off Sunday but will reach their next milestone Monday morning when they don full pads for the first time.
Here are the highlights from Saturday’s practice:
As pads come on, defense inches ahead: Most coaches expect their defense to be a step in front of their offense at this time of year, and Taggart is no exception. With Florida State’s offense still learning new schemes and philosophies, coordinator Harlon Barnett’s defense took the opportunity Saturday to throw its weight around and flex its muscles a bit.
With some exceptions, FSU’s defenders typically got the better of their offensive counterparts for much of Saturday afternoon, with Brian Burns, Janarius Robinson and Amari Gainer being particularly disruptive.
While the Seminoles’ secondary was rarely beat deep, the offense did have its moments: Tamorrion Terry did a fine job tracking a deep pass over his shoulder and hauling it in for a long gain; D.J. Matthews continued his hot start to spring by snagging a quick screen pass and weaving through the defense for a 30-yard score; and Jacques Patrick delivered a thundering reminder to a would-be tackler that, if he was going to challenge the 6-3, 235-pound Patrick one-on-one, he’d best get his pads low.
Coaches active, demanding: Florida State’s players, to a man, have said this spring (and on social media) how much they’re enjoying their new practices under their new staff. But don’t get the wrong idea – there’s still plenty of barking across the practice fields, with coaches who seemingly are not shy about letting a player have it if he’s not meeting expectations. Offensive line coach Greg Frey in particular will have players repeat a drill two, three or four times if he’s not happy. What is apparent, though, is how quickly corrections are made in the heat of a drill. Each period is only five minutes long, and Taggart said earlier this week that he doesn’t want practice bogged down by instruction that could be taught in the film room. To that end, when a player does make a mistake during a drill, he’s briefly told what he did wrong and then told to try it again.
O-line getting low. pic.twitter.com/uxaXNuk2SI
— Tim Linafelt / FSU (@Tim_Linafelt) March 24, 2018
More emphasis on special teams: Special teams coordinator Alonzo Hampton had a busy afternoon. Early in practice, Hampton ran a drill geared toward punt blocking, in which players lined up one-on-one, battled at the line of scrimmage and then changed direction and sprinted downfield in anticipation of a would-be return. Not surprisingly, a group of linebackers stood out during the drill, including Josh Brown, Adonis Thomas and DeCalon Brooks. One particularly physical matchup led the fiery Hampton to bellow “Good work!” across the practice fields. Later, the full team lined up for field goal drills for the first time this spring, which allowed for junior Ricky Aguayo to get his first live action since the end of last season.
Starter returns to first-team line: Bolstered by a pair of solid performances earlier this week, Landon Dickerson, a two-year starter at guard, spent Saturday working with the first-team offensive line after lining up with the “2s” on Wednesday and Friday. In addition to suggesting positive things about Dickerson’s progress in the new scheme, it’s also a good sign that Dickerson has recovered from the ankle injury that cost him most of last season.
Francois takes mental reps up a notch: While he’s not a full participant in practice, Deondre Francois is making the most of his time outside. During 7 on 7 drills, Francois lined up behind whichever of James Blackman or Bailey Hockman was the active quarterback and, with a ball in his hand, would simulate receiving the snap, dropping back and going through his reads before making a throwing motion.
‘Tee-Time’ and J.J. stop by: Former Seminoles Tarvarus McFadden and J.J. Cosentino visited practice Saturday, continuing the train of former players – both recent and not-so-recent – to check out Taggart’s practices. Taggart even asked McFadden, who participated in last month’s NFL Scouting Combine last month and FSU’s Pro Day earlier this week, to share a few brief words with the team and then break down the huddle once things concluded.