By Bob Thomas
May 6, 2008
TALLAHASSEE Familiarity may have been at the root of Florida State's progress this spring, especially on offense, but the real revelation of the 15-practice session was the emergence of players who were previously inexperienced or virtually unknown.
Regardless, the Seminoles took a step toward, separating themselves from consecutive 7-6 seasons in Bobby Bowden's 33rd spring but the first with Jimbo Fisher wearing two caps offensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting.
"We're not where we want to be yet, but the direction is good," Bowden said. "The biggest difference this spring, compared to a spring ago, is the coaches knew the boys, the boys knew the coaches, and the boys knew the system. A spring ago, none of that was true. You could really tell the difference."
Gone were the staples of the 2006 spring session, when Fisher and the new offensive staff were trapped teaching a new system while trying to break bad habits and raising expectations from an underachieving bunch.
This time around, the Seminoles could focus on improving specific areas of weakness red zone and short-yardage execution while assessing and addressing position voids.
The dynamics changed even more four days into spring practice, when rising senior quarterback Drew Weatherford suffered a right knee cartilage injury that put him on the shelf following minor surgery.
With Weatherford (who has started 33 of 38 games over the past three seasons) out of the equation, rising redshirt sophomore Christian Ponder and D'Vontrey Richardson got all of the work. Ponder spent the final nine practices exclusively directing the first-team offense against the first-team defense, while Richardson earned all of the snaps with the second unit.
So what did Fisher learn after providing the youngsters with their first extensive work directing his offense? That the Seminoles will head into August practice with a full-fledged, three-man battle for the starting job.
In terms of physical gifts, Ponder and Richardson provide the Seminoles with more mobility and stronger arms compared to Weatherford. And while they lack game experience Ponder played two-plus quarters at Virginia Tech, and Richardson took one snap against Alabama they seemed to have a pretty strong handle on the offense.
"Just when I have conversations with them, I can see a difference in the 15 days of spring the reps and, as they had success, the confidence in what they're doing," Fisher said of the quarterbacks. "They're asking the right questions, and when they mess up, they understand what's going on. They took tremendous strides during this spring."
It's the kind of praise that could ignite and inspire Weatherford, who showed last season that he could avoid the bad plays but has yet to prove he can consistently deliver the big ones. Fisher said he expects Ponder to give Weatherford a run, but immediately after Richardson's strong play in the spring game, Fisher added, "I think he is making his push."
By the time the Seminoles closed camp before a curious and unusually large spring game crowd estimated at 30,000, a number of other relatively new faces materialized as potentially significant contributors.
It appears that FSU will benefit from redshirting 10 players from its 2007 recruiting class. Many of them stepped to the fore this spring, in their first taste of action in the year-old offense.
A pair of receivers, Taiwan Easterling and Bert Reed, emerged as sure-fire contributors. Like Ponder and Richardson, the duo benefited from the absence of veterans, in their case wideouts Preston Parker (groin) and Greg Carr (hamstring). That may well be a fortuitous occurrence, since Parker's future with the program is in doubt following his arrest on gun and marijuana charges.
Reed, often lining up in the slot normally occupied by Parker, was occasionally dazzling early, with his speed and elusiveness confounding the defense. Easterling starred later in the spring, flashing a knack for catching the ball in traffic to go with the ability to break tackles after the catch.
Beyond the skill positions, the concern entering the spring was developing an offensive line unit from a group that was small in numbers (eight scholarship players) and size. Line coach Rick Trickett will enter August knowing that he will be without two of those players for the first three games, when they serve NCAA-approved suspensions for their involvement in the academic misconduct scandal that rocked the athletic department.
The line earned mixed reviews, though there were some bright spots. Second-team All-ACC guard Rodney Hudson appears more than capable of filling in at left tackle entering his sophomore season. Mammoth redshirt freshman tackle Antwane Greenlee, who missed most of last fall's practice after suffering a neck injury, likely will get the nod at right tackle.
Trickett was pleased with the development of redshirt freshman right guard Will Furlong, as well as sophomore Evan Bellamy, who made his first career start at right tackle in the Music City Bowl. However, sophomore center Ryan McMahon was plagued by errant snaps and missed assignments and bore little resemblance to the guy who started every game and didn't commit a penalty last season.
Defensively, the Seminoles are going to be without at least four starters early because of the aforementioned suspensions.
A potential problem spot is the interior line, where converted senior center/guard Dumaka Atkins worked extensively at tackle, along with senior Paul Griffin and junior Emmanuel Dunbar, who have played only sparingly.
Defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews has holes to plug at linebacker, as well, and while January enrollees Nigel Bradham and Vince Williams physically look the part of early contributors, their inconsistency smacked of a pair of players overburdened by the playbook.
On the bright side, Andrews may have uncovered a pair of future starters at cornerback in redshirt freshman Dionte Allen and junior Korey Mangum. Newcomer Terrance Parks also flashed the kind of big-play potential that could lead to additional exposure in the Seminoles' nickel and dime packages.
The most pleasant surprise was the continued development of senior free safety Darius McClure, who appears ready to assume the three-year starting duties previously held by Roger Williams. Better still, junior Jamie Robinson's spring transition from cornerback to free safety was dramatic enough to keep McClure looking over his shoulder, as the two traded spots atop the depth chart throughout the month.
While the Seminoles have had plenty of defensive talent in recent years, Andrews has had to do much of the leading on his own. That could change this fall, based on what he saw from rising junior linebacker Dekoda Watson.
"He's probably the strongest leader on the defense," Andrews said. "That's encouraging. We need more people to step forward and help in that area. ... He's, Follow me, and I'll holler at you when you need hollering at.'"
Overall, Bowden sees a team moving in the right direction.
"I think we'll be more competitive," Bowden said. "I think we'll be a better football team."
SPRING 2008 OVERVIEW
PK Gary Cismesia, RG Jacky Claude, WR De'Cody Fagg, DT Letroy Guion (early NFL), LB Geno Hayes (early NFL), RT David Overmyer, FS Roger Williams
OL Shannon Boatman, DE Alex Boston, CB J.R. Bryant, RB Jamaal Edwards, DT Andre Fluellen, OL/TE John Frady, RV Anthony Houllis, LB Anthony Kelly, QB Xavier Lee (early NFL), P Brent Moody, DS Garrison Sanborn, WR Joslin Shaw, LB Toddrick Verdell
2008 Returning Starters^
Pos. Name Ht./Wt. Class
QB Drew Weatherford 6-3/216 Sr.
RB Antone Smith 5-9/188 Sr.
WR Richard Goodman 6-0/186 Sr.
TE Caz Piurowski 6-7/277 Jr.
LT Rodney Hudson 6-2/283 So.
OC Ryan McMahon 6-3/274 So.
RT Daron Rose 6-5/299 Jr.
DT Budd Thacker 6-2/282 Jr.
DE Everette Brown 6-4/246 Jr.
DE Neefy Moffett 6-1/255 Sr.
LB Derek Nicholson 6-2/234 Sr.
LB Dekoda Watson 6-2/222 Jr.
RV Myron Rolle 6-2/218 Jr.
CB Tony Carter 5-9/166 Sr.
CB Michael Ray Garvin 5-8/185 Sr.
Special Teams (1)
P Graham Gano 6-1/197 Sr.
- -has utilized redshirt season
^ -six/more 2007 regular-season starts
Other Tested Returnees
WR Greg Carr, TE Charlie Graham (may return), TE Jonathan Hannah (eligible transfer), FB Seddrick Holloway, WR Rod Owens, RB/WR/PR Preston Parker (if reinstated), FB Marcus Sims, FB Joe Surratt
DT Dumaka Atkins (converted OC), LB Marcus Ball, NG Paul Griffin, FS Darius McClure, DT Justin Mincey, FS Jamie Robinson, CB Patrick Robinson, DT Kendrick Stewart
Year ACC Overall Postseason
1998 7-1 (1) 11-2 Fiesta Bowl (L)
1999 8-0 (1) 12-0 Sugar Bowl (W)
2000 8-0 (1) 11-2 Orange Bowl (L)
2001 6-2 (2) 8-4 Gator Bowl (W)
2002 7-1 (1) 9-5 Sugar Bowl (L)
2003 7-1 (1) 10-3 Orange Bowl (L)
2004 6-2 (2) 9-3 Gator Bowl (W)
2005 5-3 (1A) 8-5 Orange Bowl (L)
2006 3-5 (5A) 7-6 Emerald Bowl (W)
2007 4-4 (4A) 7-6 Music City Bowl (L)
ACC: 61-19 (.763)
Overall: 92-36 (.719)
Date Opponent 2007 Record
Aug. 30 OPEN
Sept. 6 Western Carolina 1-10 (0-7)
Sept. 13 Chattanooga 2-9 (2-5)
Sept. 20 Wake Forest 9-4 (5-3)
Sept. 27 Colorado* 6-7 (4-4)
Oct. 4 at Miami 5-7 (2-6)
Oct. 11 OPEN
Oct. 16 at N.C. State 5-7 (3-5)
Oct. 25 Virginia Tech 11-3 (7-1)
Nov. 1 at Georgia Tech 7-6 (4-4)
Nov. 8 Clemson 9-4 (5-3)
Nov. 15 Boston College 11-3 (6-2)
Nov. 22 at Maryland 6-7 (3-5)
Nov. 29 Florida 9-4 (5-3)
* -_in Jacksonville
NOTE: Most game times still TBA.
ACCSPORTS.COM RE-LAUNCH COMING IN AUGUST!!