TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Another day, another Heisman Trophy winner visiting the practice fields at Florida State.
Make that a Heisman winner, 2013 national champion and No. 1 overall NFL draft pick.
Jameis Winston, who accomplished all those things and more during two years as FSU’s starting quarterback, on Monday became the latest in a long line of Seminole greats to make an appearance during coach Willie Taggart’s first spring camp in Tallahassee.
In the last two weeks, Taggart has amassed a visitors list that amounts to no less than a Mount Rushmore of Florida State football: Peter Warrick, Derrick Brooks, Charlie Ward and Bobby Bowden have all shared words of wisdom with the Seminoles, and more former players are expected to show up as Saturday’s Garnet and Gold Game approaches.
When it comes to giving a speech, though, there’s no one quite like Winston.
Donning his 2013 National Championship hoodie, Winston was in vintage form on Monday, speaking with equal parts confidence, charisma and humor while encouraging the Seminoles to reclaim the standard the he and his teammates set not so long ago.
He shared moments with old teammates (Fifth-year seniors Arthur Williams, Johnathan Vickers Delvin Purifoy, Alec Eberle, Fredrick Jones, Corey Martinez, Adam Torres, Derrick Kelly IIand Demarcus Christmas were all freshmen during Winston’s last year in 2014.), had a one-on-one conversation with Taggart – with whom he developed a bond during Taggart’s time at USF – and took pictures with fans and visitors.
Winston’s best moments were reserved for the quarterbacks.
He spoke at length about the nature of the position, how great teams must follow their quarterbacks and, in turn, great quarterbacks must bear the pressure that comes with that spotlight.
(Incidentally, this echoes Taggart’s own feelings on the subject, as he said a few weeks ago that nearly every great team has had a quarterback around whom it could rally.)
At one point, he even called James Blackman, Bailey Hockman and Deondre Francoisto join him at the front of the huddle, where he implored all three to be leaders worth following, and for the remaining Seminoles to give them their full support.
Winston had kind words for all three Seminole quarterbacks – he praised Francois for how hard he worked in returning from his season-ending knee injury, Blackman for carrying the weight of the program on his shoulders as a true freshman – something Winston himself never had to do – and Hockman for his effort and commitment to the quarterbacks’ competition.
Finally, Winston told each member of the team to look down at the collar of their jerseys, to the Seminole head emblem in the center. That emblem, he said, united them all regardless of race, background or position on the team.
It was an attitude that propelled the Seminoles to great heights in 2013 and 14, and Winston believes it could do the same this year.
Here are more highlights from Monday’s practice.
Next up, ‘game week’:Or at least as close to game week as it gets in April. After Monday, only two practices remain until Saturday’s spring game, which means Taggart is hoping to dial things up a notch and finish strong before breaking for the summer.
“You’ve got an opportunity to go out there, to show up and show out, “Taggart said. “It’s another evaluation for our guys. (The spring game) is not just a game we’re not going to evaluate. It’s another opportunity for our guys to get better and get ahead and solidify some spots for them.”
The Seminoles held their draft for the Garnet and Gold Game on Saturday, and full rosters are expected to be finalized soon.
Once they are, the teams will spend portions of practice on Wednesday and Thursday practicing with their respective teams to better prepare for the game.
More scrimmage impressions: Given some time to evaluate, Taggart said that the defense started well during Saturday’s scrimmage while the offense had a stronger finish.
Which makes it rather easy to determine areas with room for improvement:
“Offensively you’d like to start faster and finish strong,” Taggart said with a smile. “Defensively, you’d like to finish strong.”
Taggart also allowed that the Seminoles had to overcome some challenges due to injuries, particularly on the offensive line.
While none of the missing players up front are expected to miss time in the fall, their absences can make evaluating the offense as a whole a little bit tougher.
“Guys are working a lot of different positions, so it wasn’t as consistent as you’d like it to be,” Taggart said. “But our guys fought through it and did some good things. It was up and down.”
Good news for Francois: While he’s still not a full participant, Francois took a step forward on Monday by participating in 7-on-7 drills with full pads for the first time this spring. Francois has been present and dressed for every practice, but until Monday had exclusively worked in position drills while simulating reps during team work.
Consider it an encouraging sign for the redshirt junior as he continues to rehabilitate the torn patellar tendon suffered against Alabama in last season’s opener.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” Francois said last week. “(The doctor) said I’m a bit ahead of schedule than what he expected. That’s a good thing.
“We’re still taking it slow.”
First look at Hokies: The regular season is still a summer away, but given that the Seminoles will begin with a crucial conference game – and in primetime on Labor Day, no less – it’s never too early to start preparations. Monday marked the first day that FSU went through drills pertaining to the Virginia Tech Hokies, complete with scout looks and play cards.
And, as if to serve as a line of demarcation, the entire team gathered for a brief huddle before those drills while the loud music, ever present during the last few weeks, was turned off.
For those keeping track, the Seminoles will meet Virginia Tech in just 147 days.
Hampton continues to make his mark: Alonzo Hampton, Florida State’s new special teams coordinator, is one of the most energetic and vocal presences on the practice fields. He’s also the author of some of the team’s most entertaining drills.
The Seminoles on Monday ran through a 1-on-1 kick/punt coverage workout that pits some of the team’s fastest and most athletic players against each other. Two contenders – one for the coverage unit and one for the return team – race from the line of scrimmage toward a tackling dummy downfield. While staying within the hashmarks, each player must race toward the dummy in hopes of either making a block or a tackle. If the blocking player forces his man outside or holds his block long enough, he wins. If the defender slips past his man and makes the tackle, he wins.
The speed and physical nature of the drills draws some of the biggest roars and celebrations of the spring, as well as some WWE-style takedowns of the poor tackling dummy.
Other highlights: Both Ricky Aguayo and Logan Tyler had solid days, but Cyrus Fagan made his mark during field-goal drills with a clean rush off the edge that resulted in a block. … A.J. Westbrook opened the defense’s turnover account with a nice interception during 7-on-7s. … It’s not often that Jacques Patrick runs untouched through the line of scrimmage, but he did just that during team drills, rumbling up the middle for a touchdown of about 60 yards. … Aguayo capped the day in fine fashion, calmly hitting a field goal of about 40 yards that spared his teammates from extra running.