TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Six months ago, when Florida State held its first full-pads practice of spring camp, senior running back Jacques Patrick said it was time to separate the pretenders from the contenders.
The Seminoles on Saturday donned full pads for the first time this fall and, judging from coach Willie Taggart’s reaction, seem to have plenty of contenders up and down the depth chart.
“Whenever we go live and go ‘team’ (drills), these kids love playing football,” Taggart said. “They show it. That’s what I love about them: Whenever you go 11 on 11, they’re going to play.”
And, for maybe the first time this fall, Taggart saw a pretty even affair as both the offense and defense took turns making plays at the other’s expense.
The defense started to tighten up toward the end of Saturday’s session – still a normal development at this phase of camp – but by then Taggart had seen enough to feel encouraged about both of his units.
“Both sides were having some success, especially early on in practice,” he said. “You know you’ve got something good if it’s back and forth.
“The tendency in practice, usually, is that the defense gets it first. But it was good to see both sides.”
That was especially true during an intense round of goal-line drills. With the ball placed on the 3-yard line, the Seminoles’ offenses and defenses engaged in a battle that was equal parts physical and mental.
See the way the defense stuffed a handful of runs up the middle before the offense mixed things up and found its way into the end zone.
Or the way safety A.J. Westbrook surprised his head coach by darting through the line and delivering a punishing blow to a running back that resulted in a tackle for loss.
Or the way Khalan Laborn ran into trouble, hit the brakes and changed directions before weaving his way into the end zone – all while the offensive line held their blocks long enough to make it happen.
That last point had Taggart particularly pleased.
“I was really impressed,” he said of Florida State’s offensive line. “They wanted it. They said, ‘Coach, let’s just stay in goal line.’ That was a good sign.”
Road trip: For maybe the first time ever, Florida State’s football practice fields will be quiet for five days in mid-August.
That’s because, come Sunday, the Seminoles will load up the busses and head south down Interstate-75 for a week of practices at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
A week away from home, Taggart said, will allow the Seminoles to push the boundaries of their comfort zones, narrow their focus and develop deeper roots as teammates.
“It’s a chance to bond, going somewhere where it’s just us,” Taggart said. “That’s all we have. So that’s going to be cool. We’ve got a nice, four-hour trip with each other, so it will be nice on the bus.
“We want to get better. We want to practice like we’re here.”
And, as the result of a multi-year agreement between FSU and IMG Academy, practices will be publicized and open to media in the same fashion as they are in Tallahassee.
Which means Florida State fans will be plenty up to date with all the comings and goings from the second week of fall camp.
“Our fan base wants to know what’s going on,” Taggart said. “They get it every day here (in Tallahassee), so I think it’s only right that they’re able to hear from our football team.”
IMG Academy sits about eight miles south of Taggart’s hometown of Palmetto, Fla., and is the alma mater of current Seminoles Deondre Francois, Ricky Aguayo, Tre McKitty and Joshua Kaindoh.
Other highlights: Continuing a policy established in spring, every player attending practice wore full pads, regardless of their injury status. … Count defensive back Asante Samuel Jr. as the latest freshman to impress. The son of former All-Pro and Patriots star Asante Samuel, Samuel Jr. had a pair of interceptions on Saturday, including one he grabbed after Dontavious Jackson tipped a pass over the middle. And he also did a nice job breaking up a deep pass in the end zone that at first seemed to be a sure TD. … Junior receiver Keith Gavin drew one of the day’s loudest cheers with a diving catch down the left sideline. Gavin separated himself from tight coverage, kept his feet inbounds and secured the ball on his way to the ground. … Jacques Patrick showed off his specialty late in practice, taking a handoff up the middle on third-and-short, then fighting off a pair of defenders to move the chains. … Finally, with practice coming to a close and a swarm of screaming teammates and coaches gathered around, Ricky Aguayo calmly connected on a 47-yard field goal that put an exclamation point on the day.