TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After a lengthy offseason that might have felt even longer than it was, Florida State football is back and Year 2 of the Willie Taggart era is here.
Taggart’s Seminoles officially reported for fall camp on Thursday, and they’ll hold their first practice on Friday morning – a freshmen-only session first, followed by the veterans a little later.
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Taggart met with the media on Thursday afternoon to preview the upcoming season, provide updates across the roster and around the program, and even crack a joke or two.
Here are highlights from Taggart’s 30-minute Q&A:
Offseason conditioning pays off: How does Taggart know that FSU’s strength and conditioning program is taking hold? He’s seen more and more Seminoles showing off the results of their labor.
“We’ve got guys from Robert Cooper (a 6-2, 346-pound defensive tackle) to James Blackman (a 6-5, 195-pound quarterback) walking around with their shirts off now,” Taggart said with a smile.
“Guys worked really hard,” he went on. “And this started back in January. It wasn’t just a summer thing. It started back in January, our players being committed to getting better.”
Indeed, there are several examples across the roster of players either gaining or losing significant weight since last season, with Cooper perhaps being the best – and biggest – example.
The second-year defensive tackle went from 380 pounds upon arrival last year to 346 over the summer, and he intends to drop even more before the season opener on August 31.
Trio of veterans to miss start of camp: Taggart announced that receiver Tamorrion Terry, offensive lineman Cole Minshew and defensive tackle Ja’len Parks will all miss the beginning of camp with undisclosed injuries.
Terry’s absence will likely grab the most headlines, but Taggart’s tone suggested that he wasn’t too concerned about Terry’s long-term status.
That said, Taggart also declined to project when the redshirt sophomore All-America candidate would be available.
“We don’t necessarily have a set date when he’ll get back into training camp and get to work again,” Taggart said, “but he won’t start with us.”
Minshew, a fifth-year senior with 23 games of starting experience, missed the last three games of the 2018 season and all of spring camp.
Taggart said that Minshew is “still not ready yet,” and, when asked if he might make it back during preseason camp, said, “I just don’t know.”
If Terry’s absence turns out to be a short one, it could end up as blessing in disguise for the Seminoles. For one thing, it’s not like Taggart and his staff don’t know what Terry can do – he had 35 catches, 744 yards and eight touchdowns a year ago.
And, with Terry out, FSU’s deep stable of young receivers will have an opportunity to take advantage of a few extra reps in practice.
The Seminoles have second-year receivers on the roster, and Taggart is interested to see which of them take a step forward over the next few weeks.
“I was looking forward to that anyway,” he said. “… Excited to see those guys. They’ve had a great off-season as well. I think they’re fired up just to go out. They were fired up anyways, but I think they’ll be more fired up to go out there and compete and show what they can do and show that they can get the job done as well.”
Freshmen all here – and off to a strong start: In reality, Thursday’s report date was for veterans. The freshmen have been on campus a little while longer, and Taggart already likes what he’s seeing and hearing from them.
First and foremost, every member of FSU’s signing class of 2019 is qualified and with the team – ask some other major programs around the country how good of a feeling that is – and Taggart said that all the newcomers have made themselves right at home in their new home.
“I’ve been getting a lot of rave reviews (about the freshmen) from our older guys – ‘Coach,’ this freshman class is pretty good,’” Taggart said. “They’ve been here and going to class. They’re working out with ‘Coach O’ (strength coach Irele Oderinde). I see them together all the time. They’re all here, ready to roll. Really excited to watch them tomorrow.”
Year 2 jump starts in the classroom: Engineering turnarounds seems to be something of a specialty for Taggart. His second team at Western Kentucky made a five-win improvement, while his second squad at South Florida added two wins to its ledger.
This trend, of course, is of particular interest to Florida State fans who are anxious to rejoin the national landscape after watching the Seminoles go a combined 12-13 in the last two seasons.
Asked about it, Taggart quickly pointed out that none of his previous stops (he also coached at Oregon in 2017) were exactly the same, but there are some common signs that things are moving in the right direction.
And they aren’t first seen on the football field.
“To me, it starts academically,” he said. “When that gets right – academically and socially – when you don’t have a lot of outside distractions and you start doing the things you said you were going to do when you came here. And the kids are not being distracted by off-the-field stuff and not being distracted by not doing well in class – ‘I’ve got to get this grade, I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do that.’
“They don’t have that distraction, so you start to see everything else start to work out for them. A lot of it is just maturity.”
Welcome back Stanford: Stanford Samuels (1998-2003) made 113 career tackles and six interceptions at Florida State, won a national championship with the Seminoles in 1999 and, perhaps most importantly, can lay claim to one of the most famous tackles in the program’s history.
All of which is why Taggart thinks that Samuels will make a fine addition to his support staff. Taggart confirmed Thursday that Samuels, a Miami native and the father of current FSU defensive back Stanford Samuels III, is joining the football staff as a defensive analyst.
“Stanford is a smart football coach. He understands the game,” Taggart said. “If you’re ever around him, if you ever get a chance to talk football, you’ll see that.”
Samuels served as the head coach at Flanagan High in Pembroke Pines in 2016, leading that program to a 9-3 record and an appearance in the state regional semifinals.
Even better, as Taggart noted, Samuels “bleeds garnet and gold.”
“He sat in that seat where a lot of those (current players) are sitting at, and he won a lot of ball games around here. He knows what it takes to win. I think he’s a good fit for our defensive staff as well, and will add to that chemistry.”