April 19, 2006
TALLAHASSEE -- Virtually flawless in spring practice, Florida State quarterback Drew Weatherford appears poised to take the next step after a record-setting freshman campaign.
Weatherford, who threw just one interception in spring scrimmages, received the lion's share of repetitions as Xavier Lee was limited largely to ball-handling drills following offseason right (passing) shoulder surgery.
It was a time for the rising redshirt sophomore to show how far he's come in the area of decision-making, after offsetting 18 touchdown passes last season with 18 interceptions. Those picks left a blemish on Weatherford's ACC freshman-record 3,208 passing yards, which broke the mark previously held by N.C. State's Philip Rivers and led all first-year quarterbacks nationally in 2005.
"That was on top of the list -- protecting the ball," Weatherford said, prioritizing his spring focus. "We have such a good defense, and punting the ball is not a bad thing here at Florida State. We have one of the best defenses in the country year-in and year-out."
FSU coach Bobby Bowden is confident that Weatherford's make-up will allow him to move on with incremental improvement, rather than back-tracking, a problem former quarterback Chris Rix never shook after his record-setting freshman year.
Bowden didn't have any trouble pin-pointing the reason for his confidence that Weatherford will advance his game and the Seminoles' prospects for improving on their 8-5 finish last fall.
"It would have to be poise," Bowden said. "Is he as poised as he'll ever be? No, no, no. But he showed a lot of poise for a freshman. He didn't get rattled easily."
Bowden went on to call Weatherford a "natural leader." Reminded that he had used the same phrase to describe Rix prior to his sophomore season, Bowden came clean on what easily could be perceived as admitting he made a mistake by sticking with the four-year starter. Rix suffered more defeats than the previous four FSU quarterbacks combined.
"I would say (Weatherford) is more instinctive," Bowden said. "If I had Chris again, he would be a strong safety, or a tight end or a linebacker. He had a linebacker's mentality, and I don't know if that's good for a quarterback. This kid seems to have a little more instinct."
For his part, Weatherford is far more humble than the quarterback he succeeded. That could have something to do with the fact that he's been competing with Lee for playing time since they arrived prior to the 2004 season.
"I've got to maintain my (starting) spot," Weatherford said. "Xavier is going to get healthy, and we're going to battle it out again. This competition isn't over by a longshot."
By genuinely carrying that attitude into the offseason, Weatherford left no stone unturned in his preparation for the spring and beyond, dedicating himself to countless hours in the film and weight rooms.
"I don't necessarily feel I'm secure in my job, and I don't know if I want to be," Weatherford said. "Having a guy like (Lee) behind me, pushing me, will only make me better. I'd do the same for him."
Perhaps most importantly, the competition between Weatherford and Lee has not divided the team, despite the fact that fans long have clamored for the more heralded Lee to get a chance.
"It's been healthy, and it's a situation that could be divided for several reasons," Bowden said. "Those kids have melded good. It goes back to unselfishness. In football, if you've got a selfish player, you've got a problem. We see that in pro ball all the time. ... Those two kids have done a great job of just being together."
BOWDEN (JEFF) CRITICISM CONTINUES
As if offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden's many critics needed more ammunition, FSU's puny run-game production in the spring game prompted rampant rants and raves on various message boards. Despite an emphasis on the run throughout the spring, the Seminoles netted one yard on 30 carries.
"The dadgum defense shut that thing down," said Bobby Bowden, who wasn't entirely upset with the inability to get the ground game going. "The spring game you can't win, because it's your team on either side of the ball."
Of course, if you're Jeff Bowden, you can't win short of calling plays for the nation's top-rated offense on the way to a national championship. And even that might not do the trick, given the tenor of recent barbs aimed in his direction.
Instead of reveling in the distinct possibility that FSU will have four players selected in the first round of the April 29 NFL draft -- that would tie the school and ACC records -- critics have been quick to point out that all four are defensive players.
Should the draft go as predicted, defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley, linebacker Ernie Sims, defensive end Kamerion Wimbley and cornerback Antonio Cromartie will join FSU's 1997 draft of four first-round picks. That 1997 draft class was comprised of defensive end Peter Boulware, offensive tackle Walter Jones, tailback Warrick Dunn and defensive end Reinard Wilson.
ESPN national mid-day radio host Colin Cowherd stirred up the anti-JB crowd recently by espousing the virtues of FSU defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews, crediting the long-time mentor for developing top-flight NFL talent. That sparked a life-of-its-own message board string, hammering Bowden -- FSU's coordinator since 2001 -- for failing to develop talent on that side of the football.
While attempting to apply logic usually fails miserably before mobs anxious to see a lynching (err, firing), it's only fair to point out that FSU's long-standing philosophy has been to designate its best players for the defensive side of the ball. It also should be noted that the Seminoles' strongest recruiters since joining the ACC -- Chuck Amato and Kevin Steele -- have been defensive assistants who have successfully swayed top defenders.
FSU's draft history since joining the ACC bears that out. Since the 1993 NFL draft, the Seminoles have turned out 19 first-round picks: 11 defensive players, seven offensive players and one kicker. Since Bowden took over the offense, FSU has produced only three first-round choices. Two of those, tackle Alex Barron and receiver Javon Walker, were offensive players.
Of course, the draft runs deeper than one round, and the Seminoles have had more than their share of productive picks after the first round. That group includes Jaguars tailback Greg Jones (second, 2004), Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin (second, 2002) and Saints guard Montrae Holland (fourth, 2003).
That trend likely will continue in this year's draft, with tailback Leon Washington and receiver/return specialist Willie Reid also projected to be selected on the first day.
JOHNSON TESTING NBA DRAFT
To the surprise of nobody associated with the FSU basketball program, junior center/forward Alexander Johnson made himself eligible for the 2006 NBA draft.
Johnson, 23, told coach Leonard Hamilton that he will not hire an agent or otherwise jeopardize his amateur status, thus clearing the way for a possible return for his senior season. Johnson has until June 18 to withdraw his name from the draft pool.
Hamilton was not caught off guard by Johnson's decision. A 6-9, 235-pounder, Johnson is coming off his most productive college campaign, averaging career highs in points (13.2) and rebounds (7.4) and helping the Seminoles to a 20-10 record and a second-round appearance in the National Invitation Tournament.
Johnson, whose entry into college was delayed by a one-year detour to prep school for academic reasons, indicated following the team's NIT loss to South Carolina that he was leaning toward entering the draft. He said his age -- he will turn 24 during the 2006-07 season -- was something he factored into his decision.