TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – As far as Willie Taggart is concerned, what happened during Florida State’s first scrimmage last Saturday isn’t nearly as important as what comes next.
Like most coaches across the country, Taggart saw some things that he liked during the scrimmage – which he deemed a “situational scrimmage,” rather than a full simulated game – as well as some things that got on his nerves.
Which is to say it was a typical first scrimmage.
That’s exactly what Taggart expected, especially given that he and his staff aren’t even two weeks in to laying a foundation with a new group of players.
So rather than dwell too much on that one scrimmage, Taggart is more interested in how the Seminoles learn from it and build on it as they move on to the back half of spring practice.
“The key now is to make the improvement from the scrimmage,” Taggart said. “The thing that you hate as a coach is the false starts and not lining up right. All the things that you can control. We want our guys to be better than that.”
And, to that end, Taggart came away from Monday’s practice pleased with his team’s progress. He was particularly satisfied to see his offense take better care of the ball and cut down on penalties, two issues that had arisen over the last week.
The Seminoles donned full pads for about 25 periods, starting with another round of Oklahoma drills and then continuing through individual and team work. And they later got a reprieve from post-practice gassers when Ricky Aguayo drilled a 40-yard field goal to cap off the proceedings.
Here are highlights from Monday’s practice.
More scrimmage impressions: A look at the scrimmage film confirmed what Taggart previously thought: The defense won the day. But upon further review, Taggart noticed that, by the end of the morning, the offense was making its share of plays, too.
“Offense came around by the end,” he said. “I love the way our guys compete. Even though things weren’t necessarily going our way at times, we competed and it was a little back and forth. They made the plays that we needed to make.”
Taggart also dived a little more into the offense-defense dynamic and explained that although both sides are learning new systems, it’s natural for the defense to be a little further ahead.
Because whereas the offense is focused on several new details that go into making a play work, the defense can always go back to reading, reacting and gravitating toward the ball. (That won’t always be the case as the offense continues to improve.)
Plus, it’s easy for a defense to look good while an offense is going through growing pains.
“Those guys (on defense) do a lot more reacting than anything,” Taggart said. “And, offensively, you think about a lot of different things and execution. But that’s typical.”
The Seminoles will hold two more practices this week and then scrimmage again on Saturday, this time as a full-game simulation.
OL picking up the pace: While FSU’s running backs and receivers might have no trouble running at Taggart’s preferred tempo, the last week has been a pretty significant adjustment for the Seminoles’ linemen, who are often carrying more than 300 pounds to the line of scrimmage in a matter of seconds.
And there’s no magic formula to make that transition any easier.
“You just go fast,” Taggart said. “And they eventually learn to do it the right way.”
Fifth-year senior lineman Derrick Kelly II said that the line is still making progress toward that goal, especially as he and his teammates work their way into the conditioning required to run Taggart’s offense at the preferred pace.
But the flashes that Kelly has seen from Taggart’s offense – the damage it can do when everything is locked in rhythm – makes it that much easier to persevere.
“We definitely catch (the defense) off-guard sometimes,” he said. “Because they’ve got to look to the sideline to get calls, and we’re already going quick. Every five seconds.”
Collaboration on staff: One thing that’s particularly apparent during practice is how much Taggart’s staff works together throughout the day, offensive and defensive coaches alike.
During team drills, it’s common to see Harlon Barnett and Raymond Woodie stationed behind the back seven, with Odell Haggins and Mark Snyder positioned on the sidelines closer to the line of scrimmage.
Likewise, Taggart likes to be near the line on offense, and he’s typically surrounded by Walt Bell, Greg Frey, Donte Pimpleton, Telly Lockette and David Kelly.
Each assistant barks out orders to his segment both during a play and after, and he won’t hesitate to compare notes with one of his counterparts between snaps.
This might not be a groundbreaking observation, but it is fascinating to see how these coaches work together, especially since so many of them just met each other recently.
Opportunities abound at linebacker: There will be new faces all over the field this fall, but no more so than at linebacker, where the Seminoles lost all three starters from a year ago.
As a result, FSU has seen a near constant revolving door at the position, with Dontavious Jackson, Adonis Thomas, DeCalon Brooks, Leonard Warner III, freshman Amari Gainer and even walk-on Joseph Garcia all given ample opportunities to impress. (Two others, Josh Brown and Emmett Rice, have been limited by injuries but will certainly have a say when they return.)
“They’re learning the system,” Taggart said. “I think ‘D-Jack’ is having a really good camp so far. Same with DeCalon Brooks. … A lot of those guys haven’t played as much, but I really like where they’re at right now.”
Freshman Amari Gainer in pursuit drills. pic.twitter.com/fElNdGm6c0
— Tim Linafelt / FSU (@Tim_Linafelt) April 2, 2018
Replacing Matthew Thomas, Ro’Derrick Hoskins and Jacob Pugh is no small task, but the example they set can still prove beneficial as the newest wave of linebackers develops this spring.
“I learned a lot about instincts,” said Warner, a sophomore who appeared in all 13 games a year ago. “I got to watch (Thomas, Hoskins and Pugh) a lot. And being able to see how players like that react to different things and feel out the game, I think I learned a lot.”
Extra highlights: The Seminoles welcomed back running back Jacques Patrick and tight end Tre’ McKitty, each of whom missed parts of last week. … It was a big day for the back-right corner of the end zone. James Blackman found D.J. Matthews there with a pretty, deep touchdown pass over Matthews’ right shoulder midway through practice. Moments later, Bailey Hockman connected with Ontaria Wilson in nearly the exact same spot. Not long after that, Blackman made it a TD hat trick with a sharp pass through traffic to Gabe Nabers. … Landon Dickerson, who somehow looks even more imposing than a year ago, had a strong run through Oklahoma drills, pushing aside a defender with ease to clear a lane for a ball-carrier. … Not a huge highlight, per se, but Cam Akers made a beautiful, smooth move near the left sideline in which he planted his left foot, shifted back right, slipped past his defender and made his way down the field.
No wonder Taggart smiled when asked if Akers was a good fit for his offense:
“He can fit in any offense,” Taggart said.