TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The first day in full pads is, as senior running back Jacques Patrick put it, a day to separate the contenders from the pretenders.
Coach Willie Taggart wasted no time putting his would-be contenders in the ring.
Florida State on Monday deviated from its usual practice script by beginning with “Oklahoma” drills – one of the sport’s infamous trials in which one defender lines up across from a blocker and a ball-carrier and must shed his block to make a tackle.
The drill takes place at high speed and in a tight space and tends to dial up intensity in a hurry. So what better way to get things going on an overcast, windy morning at the Albert J. Dunlap Practice Fields.
“Everybody,” Patrick said, “is going to see who is who they really say they are.”
It started with a pleased-to-meet-you rep from senior defensive tackle Demarcus Christmas, who tossed aside his blocker with ease.
A few moments later, Patrick delivered yet another reminder of exactly what he brings to the table – a big, physical running back who thrives on punishing opposing tacklers.
Like most college football teams, the Seminoles won’t go to the ground much when tackling. But Taggart said there will still be plenty of shoulder pads crunching on the practice fields.
“It’s going to be physical, and our guys understand that,” Taggart said. “It’s going to hurt a little bit, but you’ve got to embrace that and love it. And I think they all do. That’s why they’re here.”
As for other signs of progress, Taggart said that he’s pleased at how quickly the team is picking up its news schemes and philosophies – not just what they’re doing, but why they’re doing it.
While there are still some miscues here and there – the Seminoles have been practicing for less than a week, after all – Taggart believes that the players are ahead of where he thought they would be by now.
“I just treat them all like they don’t know anything and try to teach it the best way we can,” he said.
FSU will practice again on Wednesday and Friday, and then hold its first of two scrimmages on Saturday. Taggart referred to that session as a “situational scrimmage,” to be followed by a full scrimmage the next week.
Here are more highlights from Monday’s practice.
Patrick asserts himself: As he did so effectively last season, Patrick seems once again determined to show that he has a big say in Florida State’s backfield. Maybe the biggest. The 6-3, 235-pounder set the tone with his big hit in Oklahoma drills, then carried that momentum over to the practice fields where he ran primarily with the first-team offense and spent the morning chewing up yardage and finding ways to initiate contact with defenders.
Big days for Gavin, Terry: While D.J. Matthews has emerged as one of the early stars of spring, Monday served as a good reminder that the Seminoles should have some pretty exciting options out wide, too. Both Keith Gavin and Tamorrion Terry took turns taking the top off the defense, with each catching deep balls for touchdowns. Terry in particular did a nice job going over the middle and wrestling the ball free in traffic before taking off downfield. Later, Terry made a falling, one-handed grab down the right sideline that had both coaches and teammates mobbing him with praise.
(And that’s not to say Matthews didn’t once again make his mark. This time, he turned heads with a twisting, one-handed catch on a ball that appeared to be thrown well behind him.)
QBs work running, footwork: Designed quarterback runs will be a big part of Taggart’s offense, and the QBs spent time working on those runs during a few different periods of practice. James Blackman, working with the first team, drew praise for the way he managed his option reads, and the 6-5 quarterback looked surprisingly natural while darting through the offensive and defensive lines.
More QB work: pic.twitter.com/hrFW8SZbTQ
— Tim Linafelt / FSU (@Tim_Linafelt) March 26, 2018
Later, QBs coach Walt Bell had his group shuffling back and forth through a line of tackling dummies between fields, with each blow of his whistle signaling a change of direction.
New regimen for non-participants: Under FSU’s previous staff, injured Seminoles would typically spend practice in a separate corner, where they’d ride a stationary bike or do any individual drills that they could. Under Taggart, however, the non-participants seem to be much more active and engaged. Whichever the team is dressed in a given practice – shorts, shells or full pads – the non-participants are dressed to match. And while they still occupy the same corner of the practice fields, they’re now overseen by a member of the FSU strength staff, who leads various cooperative exercises throughout the day.
Burns heating up: Given his pedigree and production, it should probably come as no surprise that Brian Burns has been one of the team’s most effective defenders through the first week. With much of the offense at this stage centered around quick passes and screens, the 6-5, 231-pound Burns has often used his lengthy wingspan to either alter passes or knock them down outright. And Burns was a fingertip away from back-to-back sacks during Monday’s team drills – it stands to reason that were it a live game with full contact, he’d have been credited with both.
Other highlights: Cam Akers showed off his speed by taking a handoff around left end, beating his defender to the sideline and racing the rest of the way, untouched for a score. … Linebacker Dontavious Jackson appears to be getting the hang of the new offense. He diagnosed a screen pass perfectly, delayed his motion for a brief moment and then stepped in front of the throw for an easy pick-six. … Walk-on linebacker Joseph Garcia had an interception return for a touchdown of his own. … Sophomore DB Cyrus Fagan got the memo for the day, lowering his shoulder and delivering a booming hit to a crossing tight end.
James, Nnadi share words of wisdom: Former Seminoles and current NFL draft hopefuls Derrick Nnadi and Derwin James visited practice on Monday, and Taggart asked each to speak to the team in the post-practice huddle. James was especially insightful, imploring the Seminoles to take every rep of practice seriously. Because, as James learned at the NFL Scouting Combine a few weeks ago, pro teams often have access to practice film, and if a player looks like he’s not giving proper effort, he’ll have to answer for it down the road.
James then broke down the huddle, leading the Seminoles in their daily chant of “1-2-3, family!” before they made their way to locker room.