April 4, 2006
TALLAHASSEE -- Perhaps the best measure of the progress rising sophomore quarterback Drew Weatherford has made this spring is the zero in the column to the immediate right of the numbers for completions and attempts.
Heading into the final week of drills -- through two full scrimmages and a handful of half-scrimmages -- Weatherford still had not offered up an interception. While improving play along the offensive line has been a help, the QB's decision-making has been impeccable.
Where that maturity has shown up most often is in the red zone, a problem spot at times last season. In one recent scrimmage, Weatherford completed three of four attempts, including two for touchdowns.
"Right now, he's just got so much experience from last season at that, and I think he's more comfortable," offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden said. "Plus, he's in the shotgun, so he's away from the rush a little more."
Pressure or not, the "donut" in the interception column marks significant progress for the youngster, who broke the ACC freshman passing record (previously held by Philip Rivers of N.C. State) last season, while leading the Seminoles to an 8-5 campaign and a victory in the inaugural league championship game.
Weatherford passed for 3,208 yards, completing nearly 59 percent of his attempts, but he offset his league-high 18 touchdown passes (he shared that mark with Miami's Kyle Wright) with 18 interceptions. That was three more than any other ACC quarterback.
RUNNING GAME FOCUS PRODUCTIVE
Throughout the spring, the Seminoles have turned their attention to beefing up a run game that ranked last in the ACC and 109th nationally in 2005 at 94 yards per game.
That emphasis led the coaching staff to order up two running plays for every pass attempt in late March and early April. The off-shoot of that emphasis led to some considerable personnel changes.
"We finally said, Let's get the five best linemen in there at once,'" Bowden said.
When the 2006 season opens, don't be surprised if the team's two primary starting tackles from last season -- Cory Niblock and David Overmeyer -- are lining up at guard.
Niblock, who is sitting out this spring while recovering from ACL reconstruction, will push returning starter Jacky Claude at left guard upon his return. Mario Henderson, who was impressive as the starter against Virginia Tech in the ACC title game and against Penn State in the Orange Bowl, will be the starting left tackle.
Overmeyer, who started every game at right tackle in 2005, appears to have lost that spot to junior college transfer Shannon Boatman, who enrolled in January. Overmeyer spent the third week of spring drills getting considerable action at right guard.
The changes may not end there. Rising junior John Frady, who many expected would supplant graduated David Castillo at center, has been splitting time over the ball with rising sophomore Dumaka Atkins.
Of course, the real beneficiaries of the run-game emphasis have been the tailbacks. Rising sophomore Antone Smith has broken off two or three gains of 10 or more yards in each scrimmage. He likely will share the backfield duties with senior-to-be Lorenzo Booker, who is being protected from much of the live action.
"He's run the ball well," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said of Smith. "Runs are popping out of there occasionally. That's something we haven't got in a while."
Bowden even went so far as to credit what he considered the best line blocking effort he's seen in several seasons.
"When everybody gets the bonnet on the right people," he said, "these backs can make something happen."
Smith has relished the opportunity to get more carries this spring.
"It's just a mind thing," said Smith, who played sparingly last season behind Leon Washington and Booker. "Now that I have a year under my belt, everything is slowing down real good. Last year, everything was going real fast."
In addition to Smith, rising redshirt sophomore Jamaal Edwards also has had some promising scrimmage carries. So has Russell Ball, who will be a redshirt freshman in the fall, after sitting out last season to recover from knee surgery.
LINE REPLACEMENTS APPEAR STRONG
Later this month, the NFL draft likely will snap up two FSU defensive linemen, nose guard Brodrick Bunkley and end Kamerion Wimbley, in the first round. Searching for prospects to fill those sizeable voids this spring has produced some promising results.
Everette Brown, who sat out his freshman season as a redshirt, has spent almost the entire spring working with the first-team defense at right end. His burst off the line may be the best the Seminoles have seen from an end in some time.
Meanwhile, there is spirited competition up front to fill the Bunkley vacancy, alongside projected starter Andre Fluellen.
Junior college transfer Paul Griffin, who enrolled in January, has been a force at times, reminding many of his position coach, former FSU All-American Odell Haggins. Kendrick Stewart, who sat out his freshman season as a redshirt, also has been impressive.
Throw in returnees Emmanuel Dunbar and Letroy Guion, and the interior line may have more depth than any FSU unit since the 1999 national championship team.