TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Willie Taggart said in his press conference Thursday that he was, “really excited about the 2019 Florida State Seminoles football team, baby.”
If FSU’s first practice of preseason camp is any indication, he’s far from the only one.
Taggart and the Seminoles – along with about 120 fans and supporters – took to the Dunlap Practice Fields on Friday morning for 24 periods that marked the official start of the 2019 campaign.
And, by then, the freshmen had already been through a full practice.
As he did a year ago, Taggart placed his freshmen – as well as a handful of returning players – into an earlier practice session that took place about two hours before the veterans arrived.
The Seminoles will practice the same way on Saturday before coming all together on Sunday.
“Great first day,” Taggart said with a smile after practice concluded.
WATCH: Nole Insiders Layne Herdt and Tim Linafelt recap Day 1 of fall camp
The second-year coach went on to describe it as a “typical first day,” complete with all the caveats about learning curves and acclimation periods.
But it didn’t take long for Taggart to spot a few things that he really liked, too.
Especially in the way that his new-look coaching staff works with its players.
The Seminoles have three new coaches for 2019, as well as some familiar faces in new roles. And although they all worked together in spring camp a few months ago, Taggart feels that the staff has come together quite nicely – and that the players are responding.
Kendal Briles and Ron Dugans working with the QBs and receivers. (James Blackman throws first, then Alex Hornibrook. Jordan Travis threw right after the clip ended.) pic.twitter.com/zrsjVbtDSR
— Tim Linafelt / FSU (@Tim_Linafelt) August 2, 2019
“The little details that our coaches are coaching our guys on are really good,” he said. “As I stand out there and listen to them coach guys, and seeing guys pick up on it, I thought that was really good today. Our guys taking coaching and applying it to the field.”
Indeed, whether it was receivers coach Ron Dugans teaching a young receiver how to best use his eyes on a downfield route, or offensive line coach Randy Clements honing the details of footwork and positioning, or offensive coordinator Kendal Briles barking instructions at his quarterbacks, seemingly everyone across the roster was in for an intensive few hours – both mentally and physically.
Even better, Taggart sometimes spotted immediate results.
‘Seeing a kid mess up, hearing his coach correct him, and then he’s back in there on the next play and he’s corrected it, it’s really good,” he said. “They’re eager to learn.”
Which isn’t to say there weren’t a few miscues, too. After all, it was a typical first day.
But the goal, Taggart said, is for there to be fewer mistakes on Saturday than there were on Friday. And then do that again and again, all the way until the Seminoles open their season against Boise State on August 31.
“We’re going to go grade this film,” Taggart said, “and count the mistakes that we had and try to see, in the days ahead, that we’re getting better.”
‘Dudes’ among the freshmen: For weeks, Taggart has heard from his veterans that Florida State’s freshman class has the makings of something special.
On Friday, he saw for himself.
“We’ve got some dudes back there that are good football players,” Taggart said. “It’s going to strengthen our football team and make us a lot more competitive.”
The Seminoles have newcomers across the roster, but, more importantly, they seem to have them at positions of need.
Maybe make that former positions of need.
Linebackers Jaleel McRae and Kalen DeLoach were among Taggart’s early standouts, as were offensive lineman Maurice Smith and defensive back Jarvis Brownlee.
Linebacker and offensive line were both sore spots for the Seminoles a year ago, and there probably isn’t a defensive coordinator in America who doesn’t want as many talented defensive backs as he can get his hands on.
About Brownlee, Taggart said, “Love his attitude. He feels like he’s going to win on every play. He’s one of those guys.”
Taggart wasn’t the only interested observer, either.
A handful of FSU’s veterans, including quarterback James Blackman, running back Cam Akers and cornerback Stanford Samuels III all made their way out early to catch a glimpse of their new teammates.
“I love the young guys,” Samuels said. “Those guys already have the dog mentality. They came in hungry. They didn’t come in with a big head or anything like that. They come in working and they’re making plays.”
Taylor expects to do everything: Levonta Taylor doesn’t yet know where he’ll line up from play to play. But he knows he’s going to have an impact.
Florida State’s senior cornerback-turned-safety-turned-nickel corner believes he’ll do a little bit of everything in the secondary this season – whatever defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett believes will be most effective.
“I really don’t know, depending on which game, personnel, players on opposite teams,” Taylor said. “I’m just everywhere right now.”
Taylor spent much of the spring working at safety but can also work in the nickel spot that former Seminole Lamarcus Joyner thrived in a few years ago.
In fact, Taylor is looking to Joyner for inspiration. He said he’s studied players like Joyner and former LSU star Tyrann Mathieu – players with similar builds to Taylor’s – to learn how to maximize his versatility.
“I look at how they play the ball, take on blocks, IQ,” Taylor said. “Are they running to the ball? Are they taking plays off? Little things like that can enhance my game and make me a better player.”
More than anything, though, Taylor is just looking forward to playing at all.
After a promising first two years, Taylor labored through a challenging junior season and missed FSU’s last four games due to a stress fracture in his back.
With that painful injury behind him, Taylor is looking forward to making the most of his final year in Tallahassee. No matter where or how he does it.
“It’s my last season,” he said. “Got to go out there and get it. No excuses.”
Extra highlights and observations: Continuing a trend from the spring, FSU’s defense operated primarily out of a 3-4 front on Friday, with Marvin Wilson, Cory Durden and Robert Cooper serving as the first-team down linemen, and defensive ends Janarius Robinson and Joshua Kaindoh essentially playing outside linebacker. Taggart has previously said that the Seminoles will use multiple fronts this season. … After flipping positions in the spring, Jaiden Lars-Woodbey and Hamsah Nasirildeen seem to have flipped back. Lars-Woodbey was back in the linebacker/safety hybrid role that he played last fall, while Nasirildeen was working as a more traditional safety, same as he has for the past few years. … With Tamorrion Terry out, several young receivers took turns making plays. Warren Thompson made some beautiful catches over the middle of the field, while D’Marcus Adams had a pair of highlight-reel catches in the back corner of the end zone. … Offensive lineman Ryan Roberts, a senior graduate transfer from Northern Illinois, seems to have made a quick impact: He began his first practice at Florida State as the team’s first-choice right tackle.