TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida State’s first practice of fall camp left coach Willie Taggart wanting more energy and intensity – more “juice,” to borrow one of Taggart’s favorite buzzwords.
On Tuesday, the Seminoles delivered.
With the sun blistering down onto the Albert J. Dunlap Practice Fields, Florida State’s offense and defense took part in several spirited competitions threaded with plenty of celebrations, trash talk and a hint of chippiness.
It was exactly what the head coach likes to see at this time of year.
Particularly lively were 1-on-1 drills between the receivers and defensive backs. With quarterbacks Deondre Francois, James Blackman and Bailey Hockman alternating throws, the likes of Keith Gavin, Ontaria Wilson and Deonte Sheffield found themselves lined up across from players such as Levonta Taylor, Stanford Samuels III and Kyle Meyers.
To say that each group took it seriously would be an understatement. Pass break-ups – and there were several, as Florida State’s defense appears to have a leg up on the offense at this point – were met with loud cheers, as well as a smile and a handshake from defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett.
The same went for when a receiver made a play on the ball – he’d turn around to see all three quarterbacks, as well as Taggart more often than not, sprinting down field to offer their congratulations.
That attitude transferred over to 11-on-11 drills at the end of practice where, despite having yet to put on pads, the Seminoles didn’t exactly shy away from contact when the opportunity presented itself.
Samuels on the move: If Samuels wasn’t Florida State’s best cornerback during the spring – Taylor might have something to say about it – he was awfully close.
So eyebrows were raised both Monday and Tuesday when Samuels, a former five-star prospect and the son of FSU cornerback Stanford Samuels Jr., lined up at safety.
The move appears to be permanent, a result of Taggart’s commitment to getting the best players on the field as often as possible regardless of position or scheme.
“Stanford is a hell of a player,” Taggart said. “We feel that he can play both safety and corner for us, but, right now, we’re trying to put guys in the best position for us and continue to create depth for us.”
Besides, playing safety in Barnett’s scheme isn’t too different from what Samuels is used to.
Samuels said Tuesday that his new position is “pretty much like another corner spot” with “a lot of man-to-man coverage” and an emphasis on good tackling.
That said, as the last line of defense, Samuels’ mental acumen will be put to the test. He’ll need to make sure both he and his teammates are properly aligned, and the ability to quickly diagnose an opponent’s play call is a must.
It’s a big job, but Barnett obviously feels he’s found the right man for it.
“He is definitely giving me more responsibility and putting more on my plate,” said Samuels, who grabbed an interception from his new spot during 7-on-7 drills Tuesday.
“(It’s good) just knowing that he has faith in me and knowing he sees the potential in me to actually make plays and go out there and contribute.”
Fast first impression for a pair of freshmen: Taggart said Monday that any freshmen who exceeded expectations during their separate, early-morning practices could be “called up” to work with the veterans the next day.
He wasn’t kidding.
A.J. Lytton, a first-year defensive back from Upper Marlboro, Md., joined the “varsity” group Tuesday morning and wasted no time making an impact as a second-team cornerback.
And, in perhaps an even bigger surprise, Lytton was joined by freshman receiver Tre’Shaun Harrison, who made his practice debut with the veterans after arriving in Tallahassee this morning from his home in Seattle, Wash.
Harrison proved a handful for opposing DBs — his diving, falling-out-of-bounds catch near the end zone in 1-on-1 drills was one of the day’s highlights, and he later showed nice awareness to split a double-team and give himself a chance to catch an errant deep ball.
Lytton, meanwhile, announced his presence during 7-on-7 drills, when he broke up a pass intended for Keith Gavin after it initially looked like he’d been beaten.
The grin on Barnett’s face after the play suggested that he’s more than pleased with the rookie’s progress, and Taggart later said that he “loves” what Lytton has brought to the first two days of camp.
And as for Harrison, Taggart said that he was impressed at the way he showed up to practice fully prepared and ready to compete despite being a little behind schedule.
OL moving in right direction: Florida State’s first-team offensive line appeared unchanged from Monday, which is in itself a big development for a group beset by injuries over the last 12 months.
And if the current combination stays together, the Seminoles will have two new tackles this fall: Jauan Williams on the left side and Landon Dickerson on the right.
Williams, a redshirt sophomore from Washington, D.C., was thought to be a strong candidate for the left tackle job both last fall and in the spring. He was derailed by injuries both times, but Taggart said he’s once again off to a strong start.
“I was really, really impressed with Jauan,” he said. “I thought he had an outstanding practice (Monday). Just for a guy that didn’t practice much in the spring to come out … The way he runs around, he’s really athletic. The kid can run.”
And although Dickerson spent much of his first two seasons at guard, he’s cross-trained on the outside before and played the position in high school.
Asked if the transition from guard to tackle would be challenging, Taggart said, “Not for Landon.”
“He’s a smart kid,” Taggart added. “He’s strong, tough and he’s a big, athletic guy. I don’t think that’s going to be as tough as you’d think.
“And he’s a kid that just loves playing. Those guys find ways to make plays.”
Coach Campbell? Fourth-year junior receiver George Campbell continues to work his way back from a core muscle injury and, in an encouraging sign, seemed to get a little bit more involved in Tuesday’s practice. While he’s no doubt anxious to get back on the field, Campbell has shown lately that the time away has paid big dividends in his understanding of the game. He’s often been seen coaching up receivers over the last few days, and on Tuesday gave the freshman Harrison some pointers on how to carry the ball after making a catch. Placing the ball on his outside arm, Campbell said, would allow Harrison to get low on the inside and make sharper, smoother cuts.
As for Campbell himself, Taggart said the training staff is trying to remain cautious, but that Campbell is showing signs of progress.
“We’re just bringing him along slowly,” Taggart said. “In the individual drills, it’s pretty exciting seeing some of the things he’s doing.”
Extra highlights: Brian Burns seems primed for a special season. The junior defensive end had multiple “sacks” during 11-on-11 drills, including one that nullified what would have been a long touchdown. Beyond that, Burns just has a different look about him. He stands out physically from just about everyone else on the team, and wears an intense glare on his face throughout all of practice. …Don’t sleep on redshirt freshman defensive tackle Cory Durden. He had a nice sequence Tuesday during 11-on-11 drills during which he easily shed a block and made his way to running back Amir Rasul for what would’ve been a tackle for loss. That prompted position coach Odell Haggins to shout, “There you go, Cory!” And on Monday, Haggins singled out Durden to demonstrate a drill for the rest of the defensive linemen. … Khalan Laborn is still dangerous – and still has his personality. After a few plays of the defense getting the better of the offense, Laborn slipped out of the backfield and went unguarded over the middle of the field, where he caught a deep touchdown pass from Blackman. Laborn then spiked the ball so hard it might have bounced all the way back to midfield. … Nyqwan Murray was more involved on Tuesday. He ran routes during offense drills and caught a few passes downfield. … Tamorrion Terry missed Tuesday’s practice with a calf strain, but Taggart indicated he would be back soon. … The in-practice playlist continued to revolve around rap and hip-hop, but the team changed it up Tuesday by beginning with the FSU Fight Song, followed by the War Chant.