TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The fine-tuning will come in the days ahead.
For now, though, coach Willie Taggart is happy with the way his Florida State football team hustled and competed through Day 1 of spring camp.
The Seminoles took to the Dunlap Practice Fields in shorts and helmets on a chilly Monday morning, then went through 26 periods of position and team drills.
There were a few differences from last year – some players at new positions and coaches in new roles – as well some things that stayed the same. The format of practice, for example, seems mostly unchanged: Position drills, followed by 1-on-1 matchups, and then full-team work at the end.
Willie Taggart makes his way out to the practice fields for the first day of his second spring at Florida State. Says that the improvements he saw in “The Chase” have him feeling optimistic about the next few weeks. pic.twitter.com/oaK5j52rpJ
— Tim Linafelt / FSU (@Tim_Linafelt) March 4, 2019
“I thought it was good,” Taggart said. “Like all first days, you get a lot of energy, a lot of competitiveness.”
Particularly – and predictably – among the receivers and defensive backs.
With every key member from last year’s secondary back in the fold, it’s no wonder that Florida State’s defensive backs projected a wave of confidence on Monday morning.
Senior Levonta Taylor, who took a few reps at safety, has never been shy with opposing receivers. And sophomore Asante Samuel Jr. seemed to be developing a nice little rivalry with redshirt sophomore Tamorrion Terry.
Each made plays at the other’s expense throughout the day and, more often than not, was sure to let the other hear about it before the next snap.
“That’s part of it,” Taggart said. “Those guys know every day they’ve got to come ready to play. They’re going to earn it and they’re going to make each other better.”
“Better” seems to be a common theme for the Seminoles this spring.
Taggart last week said that Florida State’s focus this spring is just to get better overall, and both quarterback James Blackman and defensive tackle Marvin Wilson echoed that sentiment during pre-practice interviews.
Asked about his goals for the next month, Blackman said:
“Just become better as a leader, become better as a teammate and become better in all aspects of the game – throwing, coaching up on plays, just getting better in all aspects of the game.”
Wilson, meanwhile, said the word “better” nine times during his session, and applied it across all areas of the team.
“Get better,” he said when asked about FSU’s defensive priorities. “All of this is practice to get better and improve what you were last year.”
— Tim Linafelt / FSU (@Tim_Linafelt) March 4, 2019
It may sound simple enough, but given what they went through a year ago, as well as the goals that they have for 2019, “better” might cover it for now.
Taggart, in an upbeat mood as he met with reporters before practice, is optimistic.
“We’ve got a chance to practice and get better,” he said. “Our guys have been working really hard. And seeing improvement in ‘The Chase’ (offseason conditioning program) really has me excited about today and seeing our guys translate that onto the football field.”
As usual, the first day of practice brings about a number of housekeeping items around the program. Here are the latest details surrounding the staff and personnel:
Haggins to coach DL, Snyder special teams; Kelly moves to recruiting coordinator: Taggart’s staff for the 2019 season appears to be set.
He revealed Monday that Odell Haggins, a former FSU defensive lineman and the program’s defensive tackles coach since 1996, has now assumed responsibility for the entire defensive line.
Mark Snyder, who coached defensive ends a year ago, is moving to special teams coordinator and will “help out” with linebackers.
And David Kelly, FSU’s receivers coach last year, is now the program’s recruiting coordinator, which clears the way for the newly-hired Ron Dugans to take over the receivers.
Of note, Kelly will still count toward the limit of 10 full-time assistants due to an NCAA rule intending to discourage college programs from the hiring of high school coaches in an effort to sway recruits.
The rule essentially states that coaches who have had access to prospective student-athletes cannot be hired to an off-field position at a new school for a period of two years.
Kelly served in an off-field role under Taggart at both South Florida and Oregon. Were he to move to an off-field role in 2019, a handful of current Seminoles who Kelly helped recruit while at Oregon would become ineligible.
Taggart said that Florida State requested an exception for Kelly, given that the two have worked together for several years and that Kelly’s case is not one of hiring a high-school coach in order to gain influence with a prospect.
But the NCAA denied that request, as well as a subsequent appeal.
“That’s one of those unintended consequences (of the rule),” Taggart said. “We thought we’d get the waiver, considering the fact that Coach Kelly has been with me at two other spots, not just out of high school.”
As for the defensive changes, Taggart said he likes having the entire defensive line working together, and that Haggins is the perfect choice to unite that unit.
“It’s just hearing one voice,” he said. “He just has so much experience coaching the D-line. That helps as well.”
Familiar faces in new places: A few minor position changes were apparent – Jaiden Lars-Woodbey seems to have completed his moved from linebacker to safety (he’s listed as a defensive back on the official roster), while Hamsah Nasirildeen, a safety in each of his first two seasons at FSU, was working with the linebackers.
Elsewhere, tight end Camren McDonald spent a lot of time with the receivers and often lined up in the slot during passing drills. And receiver Deonte’ Sheffield took reps with the running backs.
Numbers game: Most jersey numbers are unchanged from last year, with one exception: Lars-Woodbey, who wore No. 20 a year ago, is now No. 6.
There are, however, numbers to report for FSU’s early-enrollee freshmen as well as one new arrival. They are:
DB Akeem Dent, No. 27
DB Raymond Woodie III, No. 31
LB Jaleel McRae, No. 42
OL Dontae Lucas, No. 55
DL Tru Thompson, No. 90
OL Jay Williams, No 74
QB Jordan Travis, No. 13
Clements makes an early impression: The first thing that stands out when looking over at the offensive line group is the sheer number of linemen in the mix. Headlined by the return of junior right tackle Landon Dickerson, there were 15 offensive linemen participating in practice on Monday – enough for a full three-deep.
The second thing that stands out, though, is the new sheriff in town.
Randy Clements, hired just a few weeks ago from Houston, has taken over up front and it’s already clear that things have changed. There’s a new blocking sled, new mobility chute and even new zones painted on the field for the linemen to do their drills.
Clements was extremely active throughout practice, constantly going over techniques and giving instruction.
Even better, the directions that the linemen receive with Clements align now align perfectly with what they’re asked to do once they move over to full-team drills. Clements worked with offensive coordinator Kendal Briles at both Baylor and Houston, and have known each other for nearly 20 years.
Safe to say that they’re in tune with the demands of the offensive line and how it fits within the offense.
“Everybody’s on the same page,” Taggart said. “You’ve got a guy with experience in this offense. That should be a seamless transition. … Those guys have worked together and I think will teach it well.”
Dugans, too: For the first time in nearly 20 years, Ron Dugans walked out on to the Florida State practice fields as a member of the Seminoles’ football program.
The fields don’t look much like the way they did when Dugans played at FSU – players no longer walk through a tunnel to access them, coach Bobby Bowden’s legendary tower and the smattering of oak trees are no longer there, and there’s a towering indoor facility taking up much of the real estate.
But that didn’t stop Dugans from making himself right at home.
Fans in attendance on Monday likely heard Dugans before they saw him. FSU’s new receivers coach is equal parts loud and enthusiastic, barking out instructions, challenges and praise all at equal volume.
At one moment, Dugans issued a laundry list of instructions to one of his proteges – to keep his elbows in, his pads low and his turns tight.
And in the next moment, he doled out some playful jawing.
When one receiver jogged down the sideline after making a catch, Dugans asked, “What is that? You’re gonna catch the ball and go chill?”
And when another missed out on a touchdown by stepping out of bounds on his way to the end zone, Dugans pulled him aside and said, “I want you scoring – inbounds.”
“I was always impressed,” Taggart said when he hired Dugans earlier this year. “And I think being here, his passion for Florida State and being the coach that he is, and the energy that he coaches with and the way that he teaches, I thought it would be great for our guys.”
Other observations …
It was good to see Khalan Laborn back in action. The redshirt sophomore wore a brace on his surgically-repaired knee, but otherwise showed no obvious effects from the season-ending injury he suffered in last year’s opener. Laborn looked sharp and quick, but during running and receiving drills. … Nolan McDonald, the presumed No. 2 on the QB depth chart, can throw a really pretty ball when given time. He had no trouble finding receivers in stride down the sideline during an early portion of practice. … Lineman Andrew Boselli is back with the program after a year away. Boselli originally signed with the Seminoles in 2016 and played two years at center. … Receiver Caleb Ward, the son of Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward, was dressed out and participating after missing last season with an injury. … The specialists spent more of their time indoors, but Logan Tyler came out to boot a few punts and was consistently putting balls from his own 30-yard line into the far end zone. … Former FSU defensive lineman Kamerion Wimbley attended Monday’s practice.
Up next: Taggart and his staff will evaluate film, issue a grade to each player and then get back at it for Day 2 on Wednesday morning.
“We’ve got to make sure we’re not doing the same mistakes on Wednesday,” Taggart said. “That’s the key to progress – that we get better than we were on Monday.”
QB James Blackman
DT Marvin Wilson