TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – On the eve of his first spring practice as Florida State’s football coach, Willie Taggart met with the media to preview the next few weeks. Taggart touched on a variety of topics around the program, including both new players and veterans, his coaching staff, and what he hopes to achieve between now and the Garnet and Gold spring game on April 14.
Here are highlights from that conversation.
Francois still recovering, Blackman and Hockman to compete: Deondre Francois’ left knee, injured during FSU’s season opener last September, is still on the mend and will keep him from being a full participant in practices.
Taggart said that Francois will be counted on to encourage his teammates, be a good leader and take as many mental reps as possible, but that, otherwise, he won’t be very active until the fall.
“I don’t see him doing a lot this spring,” Taggart said.
As for rising sophomore James Blackman, Taggart said he’s pleased to see that Blackman has put on about 12 pounds of muscle, and that he’s looking for Blackman to be a player that the whole team – not just the offense – can rally around.
“I think that comes with time,” Taggart said. “I think that comes with relationship building. And he’s been doing a good job with that.”
It’s important, Taggart said, to foster competition within his quarterbacks, and he made sure to bring up redshirt freshman Bailey Hockman in the discussion.
Hockman will be expected to push Blackman and compete for the starting job this spring, just as Francois will be expected to do the same when he returns.
“I’m sure Bailey’s not going to make it easy on him,” Taggart said. “And when Deondre gets back out there, he’s not going to make it easy as well. We want them all to be that way.”
Taggart to call plays, with input from Bell, staff: Taggart twice said that would call plays, albeit with plenty of collaboration from offensive coordinator Walt Bell and the rest of the offensive staff.
Bell, Taggart said, has been on his radar since D.J. Durkin, Taggart’s former colleague at Stanford, hired Bell at Maryland.
The two will meet together during the week, develop a specific game plan for a given week’s opponent together, and make in-game adjustments together.
And while Taggart will be choosing the plays himself, he said that Bell will have plenty of say in that regard, too.
“He’ll shoot me some advice on game days,” Taggart said. “I’m going to call the plays. If I get stuck, I’ll say, ‘Hey Walt.’ He’ll have his finger on a play, ready to roll.”
Taggart involved with defense, pleased with Barnett’s direction: Since Day 1, Taggart’s directive for Florida State’s defense has been simple: He wants the defense to look like it did in the late 1980s and 1990s, when the likes of Deion Sanders and Derrick Brooks racked up interceptions, sacks and All-America honors.
Those Seminoles were fast, physical and, to put it mildly, confident. And in new coordinator Harlon Barnett, Taggart believes he has the right man to restore that standard at FSU.
“He’s been great, great in meetings,” Taggart said. “Defensive staff has been doing a great job working together.
“Watching him with our players has been fun. I’ve been, (while) sitting in on defensive meetings, impressed at what they’ve been doing. Expectations, like I said from Day 1, we want to get back to Florida State defense. Being dominant. That’s what we expect to do, and there’s a process of doing that.”
‘Prototype’ Akers is part of deep, dynamic group of RBs: As a former running backs coach, it’s no surprise that a look at FSU’s depth chart at the position had Taggart feeling like a kid on Christmas morning.
The Seminoles boast a 1,000-yard rusher (Cam Akers), an experienced senior (Jacques Patrick) and a host of versatile backs who can provide a little something different when they step on to the field.
“Any one of them can get the job done,” Taggart said. “But that’s the beauty, again, of our offense. It’s that we have got a lot different personnel (packages) where we can get those guys on the field and allow them to play. And I don’t think you can ever have enough running backs. This game is a physical ballgame.”
Taggart was asked specifically about Akers, and his eyes lit up when discussing the rising sophomore.
“Cam, he’s kind of like a prototype,” Taggart said. “He’s the right height, right speed, strength. Then when you need to talk to the kid, it’s just like, ‘Man, why can’t all of them be like this?’”
Morning practices here to stay: Florida State will hit the practice fields at 9 a.m. Wednesday, and that routine will hold through the Garnet and Gold spring game next month and carry over into the fall.
Taggart developed an affinity for morning practices during his first spring as the coach at Western Kentucky. He did it only during the spring at WKU, but then expanded to mornings in both the spring and fall at South Florida after finding Tampa’s regular thunderstorms disruptive to the team’s routine.
While the switch was football-focused, Taggart found an unexpected benefit, too.
“Ever since we’ve been doing morning practices, academically we’ve been so much better, for whatever reason,” he said. “But I personally think that has a lot to do with it, just the way the day is planned out for our guys, being able to get up, go to practice and have the rest of the day to do their academic stuff and not have to worry about coming back and forth.”
The new schedule will be a big change for the Seminoles, all of whom were used to practicing in the afternoon and early evening under the previous staff.
“It’s been great for us everywhere we’ve been,” Taggart said. “And I can’t see myself going back the other way.”