By Steve Ellis
Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat
April 25, 2005 TALLAHASSEE Offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden spread out his offense and put in more motion and formations. At the suggestion of new assistant coach Mark McHale, the line abandoned its tight side/strong side designation, which had provided defenses with too many clues as to what may be coming next. Freshman quarterbacks Xavier Lee and Drew Weatherford showed enough flashes of good decision-making to extend the battle with Wyatt Sexton for the starting quarterback position into two-a-days. And despite playing much of the spring with only a fifth-team walk-on at center, and with a number of key players (including veteran guard Matt Meinrod and receiver Willie Reid) out with injuries, the offense displayed big-play potential in the air and on the ground. But for many Florida State fans, none of that mattered. Jeff Bowden was still the coordinator, and that was the one change they had clamored for in the offseason. Instead, coach Bobby Bowden's only staff move was to replace much-maligned line coach Jimmy Heggins, who stepped down after the Gator Bowl, with McHale. The former Marshall offensive coordinator quickly made an impact, especially as a teacher to a group of blockers that had lost two key starters. McHale also has proved to be a boost for Jeff Bowden, as another sounding board, advisor and expert in the spread offense. To that end, if FSU's offense shines in 2005, some fans will say it's because of McHale. If the offense sputters, they'll be convinced more than ever that it's time to fire Jeff. That, of course, is something that won't happen as long as Bobby Bowden is running the show. That message already has been delivered loudly and clearly during the early stages of the coach's annual boosters tour. "Blood is thicker than water," said the older Bowden, in his 30th year at FSU. In other words, Jeff is not only his son but his pick to turn around an offensive unit that was mostly to blame for FSU's three losses last season. The Seminoles rarely dominated up front, and poor production on first and second down led to the nation's worst third-down conversion rate (24 percent). With four-year starter Chris Rix and Sexton sharing the starting duties at quarterback, FSU committed 22 turnovers, including seven interceptions by Rix in eight games. But even with so many injuries this spring, and facing a dominating defense that should be the ACC's best this fall, FSU's offense made improvement. That was the most important news to come out of the Seminoles' practice sessions. "I think we're doing some real good things," Bowden said. "I know we are." Sexton likely will be the starter against Miami this fall because of his experience, but the FSU coaches want Lee (who has a phenomenally strong arm) and Weatherford to keep pushing. Meanwhile, Sexton and receiver Lorne Sam applauded the offense for being less predictable by using more formations and putting more players in motion. "I think we're going to be more dynamic and flexible," Sexton said. "We're going to do a lot of different things from a lot of different sets." Jeff Bowden, who has bristled at the predictability label, conceded that FSU should be more difficult to defend in 2005. "If you said we were predictable based on run-pass, I would say statistically you don't know because we are balanced," Bowden said. "Formation-wise, we were as vanilla as we could get. Even though we had four, it's nothing. Now we got so many more formations than we've had. The diversity. We're able (in spring practice) to do so much, in talking to our defense, that causes them problems and makes them have to think a little bit more on their side of the ball. It just makes it tougher on them to put players in the right gaps. "That's what's encouraging to me. There are moves we're making with some of the motion and things. We did that some last year, and as the year went on we did less and less. We're fully into it now. I never thought that was a big deal. But I'm seeing how that affects the defense and makes them think a little bit more then just line up, get after it. The fact we're left and right (rather than strongside or weakside) allows us to do that, because players are interchangeable. That can all help us." FSU's offense still had its share of miscues, including bobbled snaps and dropped passes. Up front, Bowden feels better about tackle, especially with improvements from Mario Henderson and David Overmyer. "I think we're better prepared right now to put ourselves in position to stay out of some of those long-yardage deals," Bowden said. "We just didn't have a lot of players up there (on the line) to make that happen. It's still going to come down to execution. Our execution, I can't even say is 50 percent. I do see linemen going to the right defender to block. We've had some big plays." The most impressive of the playmakers was DeCody Fagg, at least until he suffered a high ankle sprain. But it wasn't just Fagg who shined for a receiving corps that was one of the big disappointments last season. Freshman Kenny O'Neal, who spent part of his spring running the dash for FSU's track team, offers great speed. Another freshman, 6-6 Greg Carr, provides a player with jump-ball
capability. The running back tandem of Leon Washington and Lorenzo Booker, who combined for more than 1,800 rushing yards last season, could be the nation's best. With talented backups, all FSU may be missing at that spot is a power back, although Parade All-American Antone Smith could be that guy in the fall. "I think we got quality receivers good size, quickness, physically strong and we really have quality running backs," Bowden said. "I'm going to miss having that one big back, but we still may have that. Our quarterbacks showed improvement in decision-making, but we still have to make them quicker. "My fears for next year would be if we don't get some of our (players undergoing) surgery healthy by the fall, you're not seeing anything near a quality Florida State offensive line. If Cory Niblock, Donnie Carter, David Castillo, John Frady and Dumaka Atkins are not ready to train, that will be a concern for me." On defense, coordinator Mickey Andrews doesn't have many fears. His group, full of playmakers and hitters, just puts fear into opposing offenses. Even with star linebacker Ernie Sims out for most of camp with a broken ankle, the defense dominated spring practice. The many highlights included the play of tackle Clifton Dickson, who made Andrews feel better about losing Travis Johnson to the NFL. At end, where FSU lost two starters, senior Kamerion Wimbley made life miserable for Sexton and was named the MVP of the spring. "Cliff is a lot better player now then he was against Florida and in the bowl game," Andrews said. "He was a very, very average player in those games. He's not an average player now. And when he gets more of that weight off, he's got a chance of being a dominating player. The great thing about (Wimbley), it's great to see a guy go in his senior year and work as hard as he has and get better. He's become a terrific pass rusher." Spring 2005 Overview
The PooP After 18 seasons in Blacksburg, Frank Beamer has an incredibly smooth-running operation, and now an ACC title after just one season in the league. The Hokies almost always have established stars at key positions, more big-time players on the way, very few gaping holes and an impressive amount of reliable depth. They also have an outstanding staff, a motivated fan base (35,000 at the spring game!), a low attrition rate and lots of hard-working, football-loving kids. Tech's last seven records 9-3, 11-1, 11-1, 8-4, 10-4, 8-5, 10-3 identify the program as a title contender in rare years, a reliable winner otherwise. The rock-solid formula in Blacksburg should work well again this fall, when the returning talent and the non-conference schedule (Ohio, at West Virginia, Marshall) leave another double-digit win total within reach.
Probable 2005 Starters
+ injured/missed spring drills
Coming On Strong Just eight months after entering the 2004 season with enormous question marks at tailback and wideout, the Hokies boast outstanding depth at both positions. Two seniors (Imoh, Cedric Humes) and two redshirt freshmen (George Bell, Branden Ore) form a wonderful top four at tailback, and the senior-less receiving corps offers plenty of size, speed, elusiveness, versatility and big-play capability. Rock-solid returning starters: RB Mike Imoh, WR Eddie Royal, TE Jeff King, OL Jimmy Martin, OL Will Montgomery, PK Brandon Pace, DE Darryl Tapp, DT Jonathan Lewis, DE Noland Burchette, LB Vince Hall, CB Jimmy Williams. Also looking good: LB Xavier Adibi, WR David Clowney, DE Chris Ellis, WR Justin Harper, RB Cedric Humes, DE Orion Martin, CB Roland Minor, RV Aaron Rouse, P Nic Schmitt, QB Marcus Vick.
Cause For Concern? One of the things that makes this program great is that it typically has fewer serious holes than anyone else. Nevertheless, breaking in three brand-new starters in the secondary where experience, communication and cohesion are vital to preventing big plays is almost never a seamless process. Also: fullback, offensive line depth, new quarterback, new punter, new deep snapper.
On The Sidelines The following players missed all or most of spring drills: DE Noland Burchette (triceps), OL Tripp Carroll (leg), FS Justin Hamilton (ankle), WR Eddie Royal (leg).
Spring Cleaning The following scholarship athletes left the program in the last 12 months with eligibility remaining: OL Andrew Fleck (medical), DT Carl Howard (transfer/Rutgers), TE Maurice Reevey (dismissed).