March 28, 2018 - by
Practice Report: ‘Nole Drill’ Highlights Day 5

Football Sights And Sounds, March 28

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Another day in full pads meant another physical start to practice for the Florida State football team, although this time it came with a twist.

After beginning Monday’s session with the classic Oklahoma drills, the Seminoles started on Wednesday with the “Nole Drill” – a souped-up version of the Oklahoma in which a ball-carrier must navigate a three-level gauntlet that includes an offensive lineman versus a defensive lineman, a tight end against a linebacker, and a receiver blocking a defensive back.

It looked like this:

The drill is something that coach Willie Taggart picked up during his time at Stanford, when he was the running backs coach under Jim Harbaugh.

Making it through successfully requires everything that Taggart wants from his ball-carriers – speed, agility, vision and toughness. It also requires blockers to keep their defenders engaged for extended lengths of time, while asking defenders to shed those blocks then make a tackle in open space.

Incidentally, it can also lead to some eye-popping highlights, like this one produced by redshirt freshman Zaquandre White and sophomore safety Hamsah Nasirildeen.

Here are more highlights from Wednesday’s practice.

‘Work to do’ after putting on pads:  After watching his team’s first full week of practice, Taggart believes that the Seminoles are right on schedule. He also believes that they have work to do, particularly after evaluating FSU’s first practice in full pads earlier this week.

Learning new schemes and concepts is difficult enough as it is, but it’s even more difficult for players when they’re getting hit every time out.

“Fundamentally, we’re not where we want to be,” Taggart said. “We’ve got to continue to work on those things, especially once we put on pads. … Guys know how to play, but there’s a lot of learning going on right now.”

Turnovers a double-edged sword: Taggart wants his defenders forcing turnovers, and he wants them to celebrate when they do. To that end, he’s started a tradition in practice that calls for every member of the defense, coaches included, to call out the day’s turnover count every time a there’s an interception or fumble recovery. So it’s become common to hear a loud, “One,” “Two,” or “Three” echoing throughout the practice fields, with the appropriate number of fingers raised toward the sky.

Be that as it may, that number got a little too high for Taggart’s liking on Wednesday afternoon, which led to the head coach praising his defense after practice and then, with his next breath, admonishing his offense.

The Seminoles, he said rhetorically, can’t score points if they don’t have the ball. And too many of Wednesday’s turnovers were the result of missed assignments or missed communications, rather than great plays made by the defense.

Indeed, a look at FSU’s social media channels suggests an increased emphasis on ball security.

Freshman defenders make fast first impression: Seeing freshmen Amari Gainer and Jaiden Woodbey is one thing. Hearing them is something else. Ever since the Seminoles donned shoulder pads on Saturday, the crunching sound of a big hit has been a regular occurrence in practice. And it’s usually a good bet that either Gainer, a linebacker from Tallahassee, or Woodbey, a safety from Fontana, Calif., was the one delivering it.

“Those two guys are out there tackling, every opportunity they get,” Taggart said.

Gainer has wasted no time asserting his presence in the middle of the defense – and at a position that must replace three senior starters – while Woodbey is looking to carve his place in a secondary that is a little crowded, but that must replace star safety Derwin James.

Each freshman has spent time with the first-team defense, and about the only concern Taggart has so far is that they might be a little too aggressive. Not exactly a major complaint for a pair of defensive players.

“We’ve still got to teach the young lads that just because we have on full pads doesn’t mean we tackle,” Taggart said. “… It’s good to see, but you don’t want them doing it when you’re not tackling (in practice). But it’s good to see those kids are not afraid. They love contact.”

And besides, as far as Taggart is concerned, this beats the alternative.

“I’d rather have to tell them to slow down than speed up,” he said. “They just have it in them, and we don’t want to take that away.”

Blank slate across the roster: Junior guard Landon Dickerson met with reporters before practice and said that with a new coaching staff comes new opportunities for virtually everyone on the team. Players are used to hearing that no job is safe during practice, but, in reality, they tend to know that returning starters have a leg up on their competition.

But new position coaches at all but one spot, combined with new playbooks across the board, means that previous experience only counts for so much.

“There’s been a lot of competition, just between everybody. Because, new staff, nobody’s name is set in stone, really,” Dickerson said. “Everybody’s out here competing for a position.”

Perhaps nobody is happier to be on the practice fields than Dickerson, a two-year starter who has seen each of his first two years at FSU cut short by injuries.

“Everything’s good,” he said. “I feel great. It kind of stinks not being able to play football. Now I’m back out here, and it’s always great to be playing.”

Extra highlights: Ricky Aguayo took an early turn in the spotlight, connecting on all six kicks he attempted from about 30 yards out during field-goal block drills. … James Blackman did a nice job extending the play and finding D.J. Matthews across the back of the end zone in a short-yardage situation. … Khalan Laborn reminded that Cam Akers isn’t the only talented second-year back on the roster with a 60-yard touchdown run that went straight up the middle. … Tamorrion Terry continued to shine, this time with a deep touchdown from Blackman that had the entire offense celebrating in the end zone. Even Deondre Francois, a limited participant while recovering from knee surgery, got in on it, rushing downfield with a big smile and telling Terry, “That’s how you find it and go get it!” … Naseir Upshur threw his hat in the tight end ring by making an impressive catch over the middle, then breaking two tackles, turning the corner and making his way down the sideline before finally being brought down. … Adonis Thomas scored one for the defense, with an interception return for a touchdown – the defense’s third forced turnover of the day. … Walk-on Kameron House showed some quickness with an unexpected blitz off the edge that resulted in a sack.

Andrews, Gladden highlight visitors: Mickey Andrews and Jim Gladden, two cornerstone assistants during FSU’s dynasty era, stopped by the practice fields on Wednesday morning. Andrews, the legendary defensive coordinator, has been a regular around the football facilities since his retirement in 2009, but this was his first visit to see the new staff at practice. Andrews and Gladden were joined by former defensive back Lavon Brown (1991-92), kicker Roberto Aguayo (2012-15) and linebacker Ro’Derrick Hoskins (2013-17). Restaurateur Bob Basham, who co-founded Outback Steakhouse, was in attendance as well. His son, Andrew Basham, is a walk-on lineman.

Wrapping up: As usual, the team finished practice with a handshake line, and then Taggart asked QB Bailey Hockman to deliver a brief message to the huddle. (Don’t read too much into that – Taggart calls on a different player every day.) Finally, in yet another sign that things are different around here, the players ran a few post-practice gassers, complete with Taggart and their assistant coaches by their sides.

The Seminoles are off Thursday, will practice in shells on Friday and then hold their first situational scrimmage on Saturday.