TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – As is often the case this time of year, Florida State’s defense spent the first week of spring practice a few steps ahead of the offense.
That’s pretty typical across the country, as defenses can read, react and rely more on athleticism while offenses sometimes take a few days to get their details nailed down and their rhythm up to speed.
On Monday, though, the Seminoles offense started to fight back.
After seeing the defense get the better of the first half of practice, James Blackman and company roared back in the second with a series of positive plays and a few sustained drives that had coach Willie Taggart feeling encouraged with the give-and-take between the two sides.
“I thought our offense really got after our defense today,” he said. “Especially at the end of practice. And they did some really good things. It’s good because you go back and forth and every day is a teachable moment for our guys, how to fight through certain things.”
Both Taggart and virtually every player to meet with reporters – whether on offense or defense – has been asked about how this year’s offensive production compares to that of last spring. Or even last fall.
And, to a man, they’ve all answered in nearly identical fashion:
Last year was fast. This year is even faster.
“It’s like we can’t stop it,” senior linebacker Dontavious Jackson said. “Last year, we would slow it down by subbing. With (offensive coordinator Kendal) Briles, it’s moving. It’s super fast and gets the defense fatigued.”
“The tempo is much faster,” receiver Tamorrion Terry added. “It’s a lot different.”
So were the results on Monday morning.
Near the end of a few “live” periods, the Seminoles’ offense effectively ended practice with a three-play scoring drive that seemed to take only seconds.
Back-to-back passes to Matthews – a quick strike over the middle, then a toe-tapper on the right sideline – followed by an exclamation point from Blackman to sophomore Keyshawn Helton in the middle of the end zone.
Ricky Aguayo tacked on the extra point right in time for Taggart to call it a day.
“It’s a huge difference when you’re going fast,” Taggart said. “I thought our defense took a step back today when it came to the tempo. It made a huge difference for our offense today.
Now we’re going to see, on Wednesday, if our guys bounce back on the defensive side of the ball.”
Young receivers emerging
While Tamorrion Terry and D.J. Matthews have the stats and accolades that come with experience, Florida State this fall is likely to feature a trio of redshirt freshmen receivers.
Warren Thompson, D’Marcus Adams and Jordan Young were all among the most sought-after prospects in FSU’s signing class of 2018, and all three spent their first year in Tallahassee learning the ins and outs of Taggart’s offense while working with the scout team.
It’s not how most blue-chip freshmen envision their first seasons. But Taggart believes that redshirting has already paid off in a big way for all three.
“That redshirt year did those guys really well,” he said. “When you watch them in spring ball now, they’re confident and know what they’re doing.”
That’s been apparent a few times this spring. Like on Monday, when Thompson used a nifty move to shake a defensive back at the line, then raced downfield and made a nice, over-the-shoulder catch near the goal line.
Or on Saturday, when both Adams and Young made acrobatic grabs despite lining up across more experienced defenders.
“You watch them this spring, they’re very confident in what they’re doing and they’re making plays,” Taggart said. “Whenever you’re making plays, that helps with your confidence.”
Taggart on Monday said that FSU is “loaded” at receiver, and a glance at the depth chart suggests that he’s right. Terry is an All-America candidate, Matthews is one of the more elusive players in the program’s recent history and Helton has shown plenty of promise, too.
And that’s just three of 10 scholarship players in the receivers room. If a receiver wants to see the field, he’s going to have to stand out in practice.
“A lot of guys are going to play,” Taggart said. “But we’re going to play all of our guys this spring. We’ve got to find out who ‘the guys’ are.”
Raymond Woodie III has quietly impressed from his safety spot over the past few days. On Monday, the early-enrollee went one-on-one with a more experienced tight end and made a leaping break-up of what looked to be a completion. … While the offense made up for it at the end, the defense had the upper hand in goal-line drills. Harlon Barnett’s group combined for a sack, two pass break-ups and a tackle for loss on four consecutive plays near the end zone. (Helton salvaged something for the offense with a weaving TD run up the middle.) … More leadership from Blackman – after a particularly successful stretch for the offense, Blackman made his way up and down the sideline, shaking hands with and offering a word of encouragement for each of his offensive linemen. … For maybe the first time this spring, the Nolan McDonald-led offense coaxed the defense offside with a hard count, then took advantage of a “free play” with a deep touchdown pass from McDonald to sophomore receiver Tre’Shaun Harrison. … FSU men’s basketball coach Leonard Hamilton stopped by the early portion of practice. Hamilton’s team begins play at the ACC tournament later this week.