TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – When Willie Taggart says he wants his team to connect with the Florida State greats of the past, he really means it.
Just 24 hours after hosting Peter Warrick at Friday’s practice, Taggart on Saturday called upon one of the best linebackers to ever play the game – at Florida State or otherwise – to speak to the Seminoles at the conclusion of Saturday’s situational scrimmage.
“’Hey D.B.,’” Taggart said with smile after practice, “come share some wise words.”
“Wise words” might be Taggart’s favorite part of practice, a brief time during which he’ll call on a player, coach or guest to share a positive message with the team.
And the “D.B.” in question would be Derrick Brooks, the Pro Football Hall of Famer who earned two consensus All-America designations at FSU and helped lead the Seminoles to the 1993 national championship.
Surrounded by his son, redshirt freshman linebacker DeCalon Brooks, and the rest of the current team, Brooks encouraged the Seminoles to challenge each other, hold each other accountable and carry themselves with a confidence that’s built on a strong work ethic.
Brooks told the Seminoles to make every rep count, and that when they faced adversity later in the season, it would be the foundation laid here on the practice fields that carried them through.
Finally, Brooks encouraged the Seminoles to work toward a philosophy like the one the FSU teams had in the early 90s: To go into each game knowing that they had already competed against and beaten the best of the best during practice.
The Seminoles took another step toward becoming their best Saturday, during a situational scrimmage designed to have the players take what they’ve learned over the last week and a half and apply it to various in-game scenarios.
Taggart left mostly pleased with the early returns, albeit frustrated by some sloppiness that he hopes to have cleaned up quickly.
That, however, is pretty typical at the midway point of spring camp, especially for players learning an entirely new way of doing things.
Here are the highlights from the scrimmage.
A thorough simulation: While Saturday’s scrimmage wasn’t a full-on simulated game, it might have looked like that to an outside observer. The Seminoles worked on just about everything that fans will see on Saturdays, including long-field, short-yardage, red-zone and goal-to-go situations, complete with field-goal kicking and punting.
Taggart matched personnel combinations throughout the day, too. With each first- and second-team unit getting ample time against both the “1s” and “2s” from the other side.
Defense stays a step ahead: While the scrimmage was a mostly back-and-forth affair, Taggart eventually gave the decision to his defense thanks in large part to a series of penalties and turnovers on the offensive side of the ball.
And, no surprise, it was the usual suspects making things happen for the defense. Brian Burns was disruptive for much of the morning, posting back-to-back sacks at one point and using his oversized wingspan to knock down passes at the line of scrimmage.
And FSU’s secondary, led by Levonta Taylor and Stanford Samuels III, did a fine job keeping the downfield passing game in check.
Offense shows quick strike ability: While the offense didn’t have much in the way of sustained drives, both James Blackman and Bailey Hockman struck for a handful of big plays that put points on the board. More often than not, the quarterbacks found success by finding a playmaker in space, getting him the ball and then letting the ball-carrier do the rest. That strategy led to a catch-and-run of about 30 yards that ended in a score for D.J. Matthews.
And Hockman later did the same by stepping up in the face of a heavy pass rush and connecting with Khalan Laborn near the sideline. Forty-eight yards later, the speedy Laborn was in the end zone.
(While FSU’s two healthy quarterbacks led their offenses, Deondre Francois observed from the coaches’ tower alongside offensive coordinator Walt Bell.)
Big days for ‘Pop,’ Nabers: With FSU needing to replace both Ryan Izzo and Mavin Saunders at the tight end position, two new contenders gave coach Telly Lockette something to think about on Saturday morning. Naseir Upshur, a junior nicknamed “Pop,” made a big impact with a handful of long gains, the most impressive of which was a 31-yard completion that started at the offense’s 1-yard line and ended with Upshur holding off a defender with a stiff arm and gaining an extra 10 yards.
And each quarterback seems to have found something he likes in fullback-turned-tight end Gabe Nabers, who twice slipped out across the middle of the field from the H-back position and caught passes for easy scores.
Williams channels his inner McDaniel: At 6-foot-4, 316 pounds, fifth-year senior defensive tackle Arthur Williams isn’t known for his quickness or agility. But Williams on Saturday defied that notion – and drew perhaps the biggest cheer of the day – by diving to intercept a pass that was first deflected at the line of scrimmage and then tipped between multiple defenders.
The play was reminiscent of the diving interception that Jacobbi McDaniel had against Wake Forest in 2010:
Teaching in two-point drills: Taggart was perhaps at his most fiery when a two-point attempt was stuffed behind the line of scrimmage. Rather than move on to the next series, as had been the case all morning, Taggart rushed to the line, barked out instructions to virtually every member of the offense and had them run it again.
This time, the play was blocked right and Laborn went straight up the middle for a conversion.
Battles Joins Brooks: Brooks wasn’t the only 1993 champion in attendance Saturday. Joining him was former defensive back Harold Battles (1992-95), who had 84 career tackles and one sack.