TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – For the first time in nearly four months, the sounds of cracking shoulder pads echoed across the Dunlap Practice Fields at Florida State.
The Seminoles, holding their third practice of spring camp on Friday morning, donned “shells” – helmets, shoulder pads and shorts – for the final day of the NCAA-mandated three-day acclimation period.
Which meant plenty of “thudding” and a handful of bigger hits as the offenses and defenses went at each other over the course of 26 periods.
The intensity will increase again on Saturday, when the Seminoles wear full pads for the first time this spring, but Friday marked a good step toward the feel of football.
“You’ve got pads now. Things are different,” FSU coach Willie Taggart said. “We’ve still got to do some of the little things better from a technique standpoint, and keeping guys upright when we’re in shoulder pads and helmets. Sometimes it gets so competitive, guys want to go to the ground.
“But it was good. You saw plays on both sides of the field, which was good.”
Especially given that the Seminoles spent much of the latter part of practice working in full team drills, where the pace, combined with the new physicality, can sometimes take a toll.
The offense and defense traded a number of big plays, with sacks and interceptions often followed by touchdowns or big gains – the best of which might have been a short pass to running back Anthony Grant, who caught the ball, shook a would-be tackler to his right then cut across the field before making his way down the left sideline.
“It’s fast,” senior linebacker Dontavious Jackson said about the offense. “Last year it was fast, but now it’s really fast.”
“The tempo was starting to really help the offense,” Taggart added. “And the defense, they made some plays too. Coach (Harlon) Barnett is doing some good things over there defensively, which will cause you some problems.”
As they get set for full pads on Saturday, the Seminoles are preparing for more than one type of change.
Taggart said that practicing in pads often leads to separation on the depth chart, and to not be surprised if some players start making moves.
After all, it’s one thing to be productive in shirts and shorts. It’s something else when there’s tackling involved.
“It’s just different when you know you’ve got to get hit, or you’ve got to hit someone,” Taggart said. “That’s going to make a difference.”
Dickerson back in action
During his media session after practice, a reporter asked Taggart about the offensive line and noted that injuries played a “big” part in their troubles a year ago.
“A big part?” Taggart said. “A huge part.”
Indeed, a huge part. Injuries forced Florida State to use nine different starting offensive line combinations in 2018, with the biggest blow coming in Week 1 when veteran Landon Dickerson suffered an ankle injury.
Dickerson missed the next two games, returned in Week 4 against Louisville then didn’t play again for the rest of the season. It was the third time in as many years that the North Carolina native had his campaign ended early due to an injury.
On Friday, though, a healthy Dickerson summed up his journey with three quick sentences and a smile.
“I’m good. I’m here. And I’m practicing,” he said.
And that’s good news for a Florida State offensive line that’s learning on the fly under new position coach Randy Clements.
If losing Dickerson’s ability and leadership was a big blow for FSU in 2018 – and it most definitely was – having him back in the huddle could provide just as big of a boost in the other direction.
“The thing I’m more impressed with than anything,” Taggart said, “is just his leadership and how he’s leading the O-line group and the younger guys that have come.”
While Florida State has worked primarily with a veteran group for its first-team line, the Seminoles are still working to replace the departed Alec Eberle.
And the second-team line has at times featured three redshirt freshmen and one true freshman.
Safe to say that Dickerson’s veteran presence – to say nothing of his skillset, which is among the best on the team – is a welcome addition.
“There’s been a lot of progress,” Dickerson said. “Especially now compared to where we were last year.”
As was the case for his first few years at FSU, Dickerson has done a little bit of everything this week. He’s taken snaps at guard (where he began his career) and tackle (where he played last year) and even gotten some work at center.
Dickerson said that he doesn’t care much where he plays, so long as he’s in position to best help the team.
Given all he’s been through, simply being back out on the field is more than enough.
“It’s always great to be out here,” Dickerson said. “I love football. It’s what I live for.”
Lars-Woodbey limited, Minshew out for spring
Taggart confirmed Friday that safety Jaiden Lars-Woodbey had offseason shoulder surgery and will be limited to non-contact drills for the duration of spring practice.
Lars-Woodbey started all 12 games as a freshman and recorded 58 tackles. He recently switched from linebacker to safety.
“We’re being smart and not allowing him to go out and injure himself any worse than what he did,” Taggart said. “He’s rehabbing really well. He’s running around, doing individual drills, but we won’t allow him to be in any contact right now.”
Offensive guard Cole Minshew, meanwhile, will miss the spring after an offseason procedure for an unspecified injury. A senior with 19 career starts, Minshew has been present for the Seminoles’ practice sessions, and Taggart said that he is making progress in his rehabilitation.
Kendal Briles is relentless during 11-on-11 drills. Florida State’s new offensive coordinator isn’t typically loud during practices, but he raises both the volume and intensity when getting his players to the line between snaps. … On a related note, it was encouraging to see D.J. Matthews rush to his position in the slot, look to his right and correct a misaligned receiver to avoid a procedural penalty. … A fun moment late in practice when two of Florida State’s best players – running back Cam Akers and defensive tackle Marvin Wilson – met in a head-on collision that sent both to the ground. The two popped up quickly, patted each other on their helmets and went right back to the line for another snap. … After striking for a series of small-yardage plays, the offense connected in a big way when James Blackman threw a deep touchdown to Keith Gavin down the left sideline. … Levonta Taylor made an interception from his safety spot during 7-on-7 drills, and linebacker Amari Gainer followed up with a pick of his own in the full-team session. … Ricky Aguayo had a perfect, 5-for-5 day in field-goal drills, in which the ball was moved around various distances and hashmarks. … Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward (1989-93) attended practice, as did former defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi (2014-17) and receiver Nyqwan Murray (2015-18). Nnadi, a third-round pick who recently finished his rookie season with the Kansas City Chiefs, addressed the team in its post-practice huddle.