March 11, 2005
Although it has been just over two months since Florida State defeated West Virginia in the Gator Bowl, the team has already started to prepare for the 2005 season. The Seminoles completed morning offseason conditioning before taking spring break and the first day of spring practice is set for March 18th. The spring concludes 15 practices later on April 16th with the Garnet & Gold game, which will be held on Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium this year.
“The main thing I look for in the spring is trying to see improvement out of each player,” said head coach Bobby Bowden. “I don’t care who wins the spring game. When we scrimmage, I don’t care whether the defense wins it or the offense wins it. I really prefer the defense win it because it is a bad sign if the offense can run up and down the field. If I had the choice, I’d rather the defense get the best of it. The big thing I want is the improvement in each player. Be a better blocker or a better tackler. If you can go out there and block and tackle, you can put in whatever you want.”
The offense got a big boost when Gator Bowl MVP Leon Washington decided to return for his senior season. Washington, who led the ACC in rushing yards per game last season at 95.1, is one of five starters returning on offense and will be backed up by Lorenzo Booker to give the Seminoles one of the top tailback duos in the country. Lamar Lewis and Jamaal Edwards, who saw action last year as true freshmen, will back up Washington and Booker at tailback. The return of James Coleman and B.J. Dean at fullback should make a very good running game even better in 2005.
“We are in good shape in our backfield in regard to running backs,” said Bowden. “You’ve got two veteran fullbacks coming back and you’ve got two veteran tailbacks coming back. We’re in good shape there if they all can stay healthy. I feel like Leon is one of the real leaders on our football team. He’s going into his senior year after three good years here. I think he was wise to come back because he can increase his value as far as the NFL is concerned if he can stay healthy.”
The quarterback competition will be watched closely during the spring as Wyatt Sexton battles Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee for starting honors. Sexton started seven games a year ago and has the only significant game experience of the three. Weatherford and Lee, both redshirt freshmen, will look to take advantage their reps in the spring to show the coaching staff they are ready for game action.
“We will go in there with three quarterbacks on scholarship plus a walk-on,” said Bowden. “We’ll try to get the first three equal reps because we really have to do a lot evaluating there. Wyatt will go in as No. 1 and No. 2, you could flip a coin between Weatherford and Lee.
“We have to do our best to get them equal reps unless one of them begins to fall way behind. I think you’ve got to do that because you cannot get the same reading on the quarterback playing between the second offensive line as the one playing behind the first offensive line. We’ll kind of balance that out also. You hope that at the end of spring number one jumps out. If it’s all tied up you go back into fall practice all jumbled up again. I would love to see it sort itself out in the spring. However, it might not. I hope it is competitive. I want one of them to be out front but I want all three of them to make it competitive just to show you’ve got a little depth. That makes number one work harder whoever that is. Right now that’s Wyatt.”
The spring will also be key for the wide receivers as Jeff Bowden must replace starters Craphonso Thorpe and Chauncey Stovall, as well as Dominic Robinson in the slot. Willie Reid and Chris Davis will likely open spring drills as the starters at wideout, but will be pushed by Lorne Sam, De’Cody Fagg, Robert Hallback, Joslin Shaw and Kenny O’Neal. Greg Carr, a 6-6 freshman who enrolled in January, will get his first opportunity to earn playing time in the receiver rotation when drills begin.
“We lost some good receivers but Florida State will always have some good young ones coming up,” said Bowden. “I think Chris Davis is ready to live up to his potential. Willie Reid is as good as any of them if we can just keep him healthy. You’ve also got Sam, Fagg, Hallback, O’Neal and Shaw who will push for time there along with Carr, who is a true freshman. We’ve got some dangerous receivers coming up.”
The competition may be the fiercest along the offensive line as three starting spots are open under new line coach Mark McHale. Lost to graduation are tackles Ray Willis and Alex Barron along with guard Bobby Meeks. Barron, a two-time consensus All-American, is expected to be the first offensive lineman taken in this year’s NFL Draft. Mario Henderson is penciled in as the starter at left tackle for Barron and he has seen significant playing time in his first two years at FSU, including a start against Miami in the Orange Bowl two years ago. Cory Niblock, who started last year at guard, will move to left tackle as well and push Henderson once he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery. John Frady and Cornelius Lewis will battle for the starting job at left guard with Frady penciled in with the first unit to open the spring. Two-year starter David Castillo will be limited in the spring due to injury and that will allow impressive redshirt freshman Dumaka Atkins to work with the first team offense. Matt Meinrod, who was lost for the 2004 season with a knee injury in the opener at Miami, will also be held out of spring drills. Jacky Claude will run with the first team at right guard until Meinrod returns. At right tackle, David Overmyer used an impressive performance in his first career start in the Gator Bowl to go into the spring atop the depth chart.
“It’s a shame the way our offensive line got destroyed last year,” said Bowden. “We go into the first ball game with two starters out and then another starter goes down on the first play of the third quarter. All year long, Bobby Meeks and David Castillo are playing hurt. Matt Meinrod was lost for the year in that first game and Cory Niblock took his place. He (Niblock) had a shoulder that kept coming out and he couldn’t do anything during the week. If our offensive line this year can stay healthy it will probably be more productive than last year’s just because they are healthy. Overmyer got to start the bowl game and played better than I expected. Henderson has gotten a lot of work over the years and he is a very good prospect. Now he’s just got to take it over. That’s going to be an exciting area in the spring. I’m anxious to see with a new offensive line coach in there how they do.”
At tight end, senior Matt Henshaw will open as the starter in place of the graduated Paul Irons and will be backed up by Matt Root. Donnie Carter, another who was lost for the 2004 season with a knee injury, will push for starting honors when he gets back to 100 percent.
“You lose Paul Irons, who was the most consistent tight end last year,” said Bowden. “There’s no doubt Donnie Carter is the best prospect of all because he’s big, catches the ball well, and is a good blocker. I hope he can stay healthy.”
The defense brings back five starters from a 2004 group that ranked among the best in America. The linebackers have already been rated the best unit in the country by an early publication and it would be hard to argue otherwise. All three starters are back with A.J. Nicholson at the weakside, Buster Davis in the middle and Ernie Sims at the strongside. Sims was named a first team All-American by ESPN.com last year and should have an even better 2005 season with a year of starting experience under his belt.
“Our linebackers are the most solid group we’ve got no doubt about it,” said Bowden. “It’s not just the starters but the second-liners as well. I think Kevin (Steele) probably played about seven linebackers last year and we only lost one of them. We’ve got good experience and good depth there plus we’ve got some good rookies coming in. Buster, A.J. and Ernie give you three about as good as you’ll find in the country. I wouldn’t swap with anybody, I know that. Then we’ve got the guys behind them that are pretty good like Sam McGrew.”
Defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews lost three (cornerbacks Bryant McFadden and Leroy Smith and rover Jerome Carter) of four starters in the secondary and will use the spring to find out who will be ready take over. Antonio Cromartie, a 2004 first team All-ACC selection, will start at one of the corners and Gerard Ross will have to hold off sophomore J.R. Bryant for the starting spot at the other corner. Pat Watkins is back at free safety after an outstanding junior year in which he tied Cromartie for the team lead in interceptions with four. Kyler Hall, who has starting experience but missed most of last year with an injury, will step in for Carter at rover.
“We lost two real good corners in Bryant McFadden and Leroy Smith but we’ve get back potentially the best one in (Antonio) Cromartie,” said Bowden. “He’s big league potential if he can stay healthy. He’s a big play man and he’s very physical. On the other side we signed a lot of rookies that are going to have to get their shot now. You’ve got Gerard Ross over there who has played a good bit and then the three second year guys in (J.R.) Bryant, (Trevor), Ford and (Tony) Carter. You’ve got nearly all your safeties back. We did lose Jerome Carter and B.J. Ward, but Ward didn’t hardly play any last year since he was hurt. Jerome was one of our leaders last year. We’ve got Pat Watkins back and now you get Kyler Hall back, who has started since his freshman year off and on. I think we are solid at safety and at corner, we are inexperienced with ability. Cromartie is the only one with experience and ability.”
The defensive front will have a new look in 2005 with Travis Johnson, Chauncey Davis and Eric Moore moving on to the NFL. Clifton Dickson and Brodrick Bunkley return at noseguard after splitting starting duties last season. Bunkley will be limited in the spring due to injury so Dickson will open with the first unit. At defensive tackle, Andre Fluellen is penciled in as the starter and he will have to hold off redshirt freshman Aaron Jones. Kamerion Wimbley is the most experienced of the defensive ends and will open as the starter on the right side. At left end, Darrell Burston enters spring just ahead of Alex Boston on the depth chart. Willie Jones could push for starting honors at defensive end if he can stay healthy throughout the spring.
“I felt like Clifton Dickson was our most improved defensive player last year,” said Bowden. “Now he still has a lot of work to do, but if he’ll pay the price he can be as good as he wants to be. Bunkley stayed hurt last year and didn’t have a good year because he stayed injured. I hope he can stay healthy because the year before I thought he played as well as any of our tackles including (Darnell) Dockett. We lose Eric Moore at defensive end, but he was playing on one foot most of the year. On the other side we had Chauncey Davis, who I thought had a real good year and helped take up the slack with Moore out. Wimbley probably played as much as any of them. We get Burston back and we get D.J. Norris back. The guy I wish would get healthy is Willie Jones. He came in here with all kinds of potential and he’s been hurt ever since he’s been here. He could hardly practice any last year. We got a sixth year for him so I just wish he could stay healthy because he brings so much to the table. Then we’ve got some good players we can get in there. We’ve got a couple of good linebackers that could be top defensive ends if we move them in there.”
On special teams, Chris Hall returns at punter after a very good junior season in which he finished third in the ACC in yards per punt. Deep snapper Myles Hodish is also back and Hall will handle the holding duties again in 2005. Sophomore Gary Cismesia takes over for Xavier Beitia at kicker after making 7-of-9 field goals in his rookie year. At punt returner, Reid broke Deion Sanders’ season record for punt return yardage last season but his time as a returner may be lessened this year as he takes over as a starter at wide receiver.
“We lose Xavier at kicker but Cismesia kicked well for us last year until the Florida game,” said Bowden. “He hit seven in a row to start and then missed two key field goals in that game. That’s kind of the way our field goal kicking went last year. When you needed it, it wasn’t there. I feel very good about Cismesia and then we signed a freshman with a lot of potential but he’ll have to come in and learn to kick off the ground. At punter, Chris Hall had an excellent year last season. He’s very dependable and very effective. He’ll probably improve some this year and should be one of the top punters in the conference.”
Looking ahead at the 2005 schedule, the Seminoles will get to show the country they are one of the teams to beat with a nationally televised Labor Day opener against Miami on September 5th. The ACC schedule includes difficult road games at Boston College, Virginia and Clemson. FSU’s three non-conference games will be home games against Syracuse and The Citadel along with the season finale at Florida.
“When you’ve been at Florida State as long as I have and you’ve had some of the good years that we’ve had, our goal every year is to win a national championship,” said Bowden. “It starts right there. We do realize we have to win the conference championship to get there. Now we’ve got another burden, you have to win your division and then with the championship game. We’ll take `em step by step. Our goal will still be to win a national championship. The Miami game will be a great start. Both of us will find out pretty quickly what we’ve got. The way I’ve always looked at that is you might as well find out.”