March 21, 2018 - by
Practice Report: Speed, Fun Rule Day 1

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Willie Taggart might not be a devout student of transcendentalism, but the man nevertheless loves a good one-liner.

So perhaps it should come as no surprise that, right before jogging out onto the field for his first practice as Florida State’s football coach, Taggart was paraphrasing Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“Nothing great,” Taggart said via Emerson, “ever happens without enthusiasm.”

If enthusiasm is any indicator, then Taggart and the Florida State football team got off to a great start Wednesday morning at the Albert J. Dunlap Practice Fields.

 PHOTO GALLERY: Spring Practice Day 1

For nearly three hours, the Seminoles tore through individual and team workouts, 7-on-7 drills and a variety of other routines at a blistering pace. All while backed by a thumping soundtrack that featured everything from AC/DC to DMX, and Kodak Black to Luke Bryan.

It didn’t take long for the players to notice a difference in the way Taggart does things, and not just because of the early-morning wakeup call for 6 a.m. breakfast.

“It’s a different atmosphere,” sophomore defensive tackle Marvin Wilson said. “It doesn’t feel like a job anymore. It feels like something we love. You loved football in high school, now you love it again in college.”

For the 100 or so fans who attended the open session, there was a lot to love. And at least one moment that had everyone holding their breath. Here are the highlights:

Speed, speed and more speed: This has been a theme since Taggart took over, but it bears repeating. The Seminoles are going to move as quickly as possible.

It was apparent from the very first team drills, when quarterback James Blackman rushed to the line, ran a quick screen play to tight end Tre’ McKitty and, just seconds later, had guided the offense back to the line and had it ready for the next play. This process repeated itself all the way down the field, time and again.

The pace didn’t just apply to what happened when the ball was in play, either. The Seminoles ran through 26 five-minute periods, and players were expected to move between stations as quickly as possible, too. No wonder there’s a makeshift road sign that reads “Speed Limit: Fast” that’s now a mainstay on the practice fields.

“No more huddling,” Blackman said. “We’re going to be moving quick.”

Football is fun again: As Wilson referenced above, there was a genuine sense of enjoyment throughout the session. There were smiles, high-fives and chest bumps, and, during a water break, something of an impromptu dance party between fields.


That’s not to say that the team didn’t get down to business at the appropriate times. There was plenty of emphasis on instruction and technique, and there were a few signs of frustration at dropped passes or missed assignments.

But, overall, Wednesday’s practice served as a reminder that football is still a game. And the head coach believes that players perform better when they’re enjoying it.

“That’s just me,” Taggart said. “That’s who I am and what I’m about.”


Out with the depth chart, in with the “organizational chart”: Taggart doesn’t see much value in adhering to a strict, traditional depth chart at this stage of his team’s development. He prefers to divide his roster into an “organizational chart” with players splitting reps to eventually determine who will become starters.

Still, there are only 11 players allowed on the field at a time, and some of them had to get on the field before others. With the understanding that everything is fluid and bound to change countless times between now and September, here’s a look at the offenses and defenses that we saw:

Offense 1
QB: James Blackman
RB: Cam Akers
WR: Nyqwan Murray, Tamorrion Terry, Keith Gavin
TE: Tre’ McKitty
OL (L to R): Jauan Williams, Derrick Kelly, Brady Scott, Cole Minshew, Josh Ball

Defense 1
DL: Janarius Robinson, Cedric Wood, Demarcus Christmas, Brian Burns
LB: Leonard Warner, Josh Brown
DB: Levonta Taylor, A.J. Westbrook, Hamsah Nasirildeen, Kyle Meyers, Stanford Samuels III

Consider these just a snapshot, as there were several combinations used at every position group, and that figures to remain the case throughout the next few weeks and beyond.

“It’s fluid,” Taggart said. “It can move daily. I think we’ll start out with guys with experience, that have played, and gone through ‘The Chase’ (conditioning program) and done everything the way we’ve needed them to do. And from that point on, it’s just competing.”

Eberle, others out nursing injuries: Fifth-year senior center Alec Eberle headlined a group of players to miss practice with apparent injuries. Receiver George Campbell, defensive end Joshua Kaindoh, lineman Adam Torres, defensive back Carlos Becker III and linebacker Emmett Rice were the others.

Speaking of injuries, there was at least one pleasant surprise …

Francois throws, looks sharp: Deondre Francois is still wearing a brace on his left knee, and, per Taggart, won’t be a full participant in spring drills. But Francois was in attendance and dressed out for practice and, in good news for FSU’s quarterback race, appears to have lost none of his arm strength or accuracy.

The fourth-year junior was crisp and decisive in his throws on Wednesday. He at one point connected with D.J. Matthews for a deep completion over the middle of the field, and then later hit Tamorrion Terry for a long touchdown in what might have been the top highlight of the day.

And Francois seemed to be in good spirits, even when he left team drills to work out by himself (as injured players often do). With DMX’s “Party Up” blaring over a pair of loudspeakers, Francois bobbed his head between throwing reps and at one point did a little shuffle with his feet, too. 

‘Noonie’ goes down, will be evaluated: Taggart got his first “hold-your-breath” moment as FSU’s head coach when senior Nyqwan Murray, FSU’s top returning receiver, suffered an apparent left leg injury during a drill.

Murray was helped off the field and received an ice wrap, but by the end of the session was up and walking – albeit a little gingerly – without any aid. He’ll be further evaluated, but neither Taggart nor Murray seemed especially concerned.

Fresh face on offense and defense: New systems on each side of the ball means new opportunities for players buried on the depth chart under the previous staff to make a new first impression. So far, tight end McKitty and defensive end Janarius Robinson seem to be making the most of their fresh starts. McKitty, a sophomore who caught one pass a year ago, was heavily involved in the offense as Blackman got him involved with a series of short, quick passes.

Same goes for Robinson. A third-year sophomore with three career tackles, Robinson on Wednesday found himself lining up alongside the likes of Demarcus Christmas and Brian Burns. And after practice, Taggart called on Robinson to briefly address the team and then break down the huddle. (The new breakdown, by the way, now goes: “Family on three!”)

Former players take in the sights: Taggart has placed an emphasis on getting former Seminoles involved, and a handful took him up on that Wednesday. Safety Derwin James, tight end Ryan Izzo, in town for Monday’s Pro Day, were joined in attendance by defensive tackle Travis Johnson, fullback James Coleman and receivers Kez McCorvey and Craphonso Thorpe.

Ending with a handshake: In what will likely be an everyday tradition, Taggart ended practice by splitting the team into offense and defense then having them walk through a handshake line – the type you’d see after a youth league baseball game or hockey playoff series.

Taggart came away pleased with Wednesday’s effort and encouraged his players to get 1 percent better their next time out – which will occur Friday at 9 a.m.

Cam Akers: 

James Blackman:

Bailey Hockman: 

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