TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After going through their usual routine of warm-ups and stretches, the Florida State Seminoles headed outside for their first full-pads practice of the spring.
An FSU staffer then pushed play on his tablet and Crime Mob’s rap anthem “Knuck if you Buck” blared across the Dunlap Practice Fields, letting everyone in attendance know that it was time to get physical.
That sparked a spirited round of the famed “Oklahoma drills,” in which a blocker goes one-on-one with a defender while a ball-carrier attempts to navigate his way through them.
It’s perhaps the oldest of old-school football drills, and FSU coach Willie Taggart figured it was the perfect way to set the tone for a physical Saturday afternoon.
“Those guys got after it,” Taggart said.
It had been nearly four months since the Seminoles had worked in such a drill, but they wasted no time shaking off any rust.
Baveon Johnson, Chaz Neal and Tre’ McKitty all had good reps during the drill while blocking for the likes of Cam Akers, Anthony Grant and Deont Sheffield.
And a heavy, winning rep from junior left tackle Jauan Williams drew one of the biggest cheers of the day, as coaches and teammates mobbed the veteran lineman after he got the better of his opposition.
“I thought, offensively, they came ready to play, starting in that drill,” Taggart said. “The competition is good, and guys are trying to win.
“But I was more impressed with the finish. Guys finishing plays and not getting stuck on blocks and giving up. That was good to see.”
That’s not to say the defense didn’t have its moments, too.
Defensive end Dennis Briggs Jr. drew praise for the way he shook his block and forced the ball-carrier out of bounds. And, as usual, Marvin Wilson proved a difficult test for anyone in his way.
After an emphatic victory in one rep, Wilson jumped into the arms of the visiting Derrick Nnadi – the way smaller running backs and receivers do with linemen after scoring touchdowns – to celebrate. Wilson and Nnadi, a former All-ACC defensive tackle at FSU, weigh in at a combined 627 pounds.
All told, Taggart left Saturday’s session pleased with the way his Seminoles handled the demands of full pads and the increased intensity that comes along with them.
“We had high energy,” he said. “I thought that at the end of practice we started to taper off a little bit, our energy started to taper off. But it’s good to be back in full pads and be able to practice in it, so our guys can execute in it, perform in it and get some conditioning in it.”
With FSU’s first week of spring practices in the books, Taggart has noticed plenty of encouraging signs – especially compared to a year or even six months ago – but is also looking forward to seeing what strides his group can make between now and the Garnet and Gold Spring Game on April 6.
“I’m excited about our team,” he said. “I see a football team that’s eager to learn. They’re eager to please their coaches. And they want to get better.
“We’re not having to tell them to do things. You hear players telling each other to do them now. So I think it’s night and day compared to where we were.”
Opportunity awaits sophomore Grant
Anthony Grant arrived at Florida State as a relatively under-the-radar prospect fighting for his place in a crowded running backs room.
Twelve months later, one running back has graduated, another has left the program and one more will be limited this spring while recovering from an injury.
Even if veteran Cam Akers receives a heavy workload this spring – which seems unlikely, given his track record, as well as the fact that he nursed an ankle injury for much of last season – Grant ought to be in for plenty of touches over the next few weeks.
“Anthony is a great player,” Taggart said. “I think we all knew that, we were just loaded in the backfield.”
The 5-11, 194-pound Georgia native has been a regular standout throughout the last week, spending most of his time with the second-team offense but also logging some first-team snaps as well.
Grant, who worked as FSU’s primary kick returner a year ago, has strength to match his speed and seems to have found a good niche for himself in the underneath passing game.
He showed off his catch-and-run ability with a long, weaving gain during Friday’s practice, and he followed that up with a series of solid pick-ups on Saturday afternoon.
“He’s so patient and has really good vision,” Taggart said. “He had a really good day today in the scrimmage part of it.”
LB Jackson: ‘I want to go out better than that’
As one of the top linebacker prospects in his signing class, Dontavious Jackson, like hundreds of young football players, planned to spend three years at the collegiate level before leaving school early to pursue millions in the pros.
And, after a junior year in which he started 10 games and recorded 75 tackles (seven for loss), an interception and a forced fumble, Jackson likely could’ve been a player of interest for NFL general managers.
Jackson’s goal, however, isn’t just to make a roster. He wants to be drafted with a high pick and be a difference-maker at the next level. And, after weeks of careful consideration, the Texas native concluded that the best way to do that was with one more year at Florida State.
“I feel like I could raise my stock and build myself as a player and get better,” Jackson said. “There was a lot of things that I need to get better at technique-wise – staying square, false steps and stuff like that.”
But Jackson isn’t singularly focused, either.
Jackson was a veteran leader on an FSU team that finished sub-.500 and missed out on the postseason for the first time in more than 30 years. To go through a season like that and then bail without first making things right wouldn’t have sat well with him.
“I want to go out better than that,” he said. “I’m a better leader than that. And I wanted to help contribute to a better season and get Florida State back to where it’s supposed to be.”
Extra highlights …
Tamorrion Terry seems to be good for at least one or two deep touchdowns in every practice, but his most impressive effort on Saturday ended short of the end zone. Terry caught a short pass across the middle of the field, juked past a linebacker and then made his way down the left sideline for a big gain. Then, for good measure, Terry passed up a chance to go out of bounds and lowered his shoulder into an incoming safety while fighting for extra yardage. … Nice work by redshirt freshman receiver Jordan Young to find a ball near the sideline, go up between two defenders and catch it at its highest point. … Another redshirt freshman, D’Marcus Adams, went up and over two defenders at the goal line for a 35-yard touchdown catch. … Akeem Dent continues to show he belongs. The early-enrollee freshman drew praise for fighting through the end of a play and breaking up what at first looked like an easy completion. … Kyle Meyers is making a consistent impact. Already one of the team’s biggest hitters of the last few days, Meyers went toe-to-toe with Terry on Saturday and made a diving break-up of what would have been a deep completion. … In addition to Nnadi, former FSU receiver Kenny Shaw (2010-13) and longtime defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews attended Saturday’s practice.