In a week in which Florida State boasts three No. 1 ranked teams – beach volleyball, men’s golf and soccer – and swept arch-rivals Florida and Miami in baseball, we continue to bring you weekly updates from the practice fields of the Florida State football team.
The Seminoles continue to show progress in the second week (sixth practice session) on both sides of the ball. Here are our observations on all things football.
You’ll get to make your own observations, and see if you agree with ours, as Florida State’s spring football game will be broadcast on the ACC Network on Saturday, April 10 at 5 p.m.
If you can come to the Garnet & Gold Game, come on! Tickets are now on sale for $10 in the grandstand and $40 in the Dunlap Champions Club (club seats are reserved for club ticket holders only). Call 850-644-1830 to purchase or visit Seminoles.com.
If you want to scout next year’s competition, the ACC Network will televise eight ACC spring football games in March and April. They are on March 27 — Duke, 10 a.m., April 3 — Clemson, 1 p.m., April 10 — NC State, 1 p.m., April 17 — Miami, 11 a.m., April 17 — Pittsburgh, 1 p.m., April 23 — Georgia Tech, 6 p.m., April 24 — North Carolina, 3 p.m., April 24 — Boston College, TBA.
Bad news before the good news
In what has been a relatively injury-free spring (knock on wood), Quarterback Chubba Purdy was sidelined last Thursday to give the redshirt freshman more time to concentrate on rehabbing his left shoulder/collarbone, head coach Mike Norvell said.
“With Chubba, we’ve made a decision as he’s been going through his rehabilitation process coming off the fall, he’s had a really good first four practices,” Norvell said. “We’re going to focus the rest of this spring with him on his rehab process, getting back to 100 percent as we get into the summer program. The growth and development that he’s had mentally, getting the chance to see him go through the first four practices, he’s done some good things. We just want to make sure that in all aspects he’s going to be 100 percent. His focus for the rest of this spring is going to be on his rehabilitation program.”
True freshman center Thomas Shrader went down with what looked to be a lower leg/knee injury early in practice but Norvell was not sure what the extent of the injury was immediately after practice. If the injury is significant, and we don’t know that it is, it could make FSU razor-thin for the rest of spring with Devontay Love-Taylor and Baveon Johnson not yet participating in contact work. Redshirt freshman Zane Herring split time at guard and center once Shrader left practice. Ira Henry III got more reps with the second team at right guard with Herring moving over to take Shrader’s reps.
Now the good news
Former defensive ends coach Jim Gladden and former linebacker Kirk Carruthers, who visited practice in week two, echoed this observer’s opinion about the improved organization and tempo of Mike Norvell’s practices.
“The Oklahoma drill was spirited and competitive,” Gladden said. “A lot of enthusiasm throughout the afternoon.”
Gladden was very impressed with Georgia transfer defensive end Jermaine Johnson, who he said reminded him of Peter Boulware (one of Gladden’s former All Americans). He was also impressed with McKenzie Milton and in the improvement of Jordan Travis.
Carruthers was impressed with Norvell’s physicality during practice, sprinting between segments, stopping to coach players up along the way. He believes Norvell’s energy fuels the enthusiasm and tempo, which have returned to the practice fields since Norvell’s arrival. After a series of offensive-minded head coaches, including his own Bobby Bowden, Carruthers was also impressed by how much time Norvell spends on the defensive practice field. A frequent practice visitor, he notes the players have bought into what the coaching staff is asking and believes that will ultimately lead to improved team performance on game day.
The pace and competition of spring practices this year is better than in Norvell’s abbreviated first spring (three practices before being shut down due to Covid) when players were still learning a new routine. The players know the drills now and you see the veterans of last spring pushing the pace with the younger players who are currently in learning mode.
Now for some details: the secondary
Norvell spoke after Tuesday’s practice about a variety of topics, including impressions on the back half of the defense, which struggled last year. He’s been impressed with a deep and talented segment he expects to show improvement in the fall. Here’s his comments on individuals who have stood out thus far.
Cornerback, Jarvis Brownlee: “Jarvis is a talented young man. He is probably one of our more athletic guys on this football team because of the change of direction and positions he can get himself in and recover from,” he said. “I really like the steps I’ve seen from him going out there last year as a redshirt freshman, getting thrown into some challenging situations, but I thought he got better. Whether it was a good or bad [play], for the most part he responded in a really good way. He’s a guy that’s going to be a top performer for us. There’s a lot of competition in the defensive backfield with guys who are all looking to out themselves in that prime position. Jarvis is pushing, but he’s also being pushed. We’ve got big expectations.”
Safety, Brendan Gant: “Our safety depth was limited this past season and Brendan actually had a non-football related injury that forced him to miss a majority of the summer training,” Norvell said of what was a challenging year. “He was playing early off no training, lost a lot of body weight, but just continued to focus on his growth. Plays extremely hard. Starting to gain more and more confidence. He is a totally different person right now. You look at body weight, he’s up over 205 pounds. I think he played last year in the low 180s. He’s taken a lot of ownership. He’s passionate to improve. I love his energy. Just continuing to grow and making sure that in the moment he trusts what he sees and is able to react. But he definitely has the talent and I’m excited about his continued growth.”
Safety, Sidney Williams: “Sidney is a guy that’s really, I think the offseason was huge for him,” Norvell said of Williams, who played as a true freshman. “His senior year of high school he suffered a shoulder injury that kind of limited him and in some aspects affected his (recruitment). We were excited to be able to get him here.”
Norvell is pleased with Williams’ physicality. “He’s a big defensive back with really good change of direction, runs well, but has found a way to get himself to the ball. He’s done a good job taking ownership with what we’re asking him to do, communication. He brings the right mindset and the right approach. I’m so excited about what Sidney is going to do.”
Thrust into action as a true freshman, Williams performed.
“The experience he got there towards the back half of the year, I think was so very valuable to his future,” Norvell said. “He’s probably one of the top performers here early in spring ball.”
Three transfers looking good in secondary: “I think Bam (Moore) has looked really good,” Norvell said of the UCF transfer, who sat last year out while rehabilitating a knee injury. “There’s not been anything that I’ve seen where he’s been held back from a physical aspect. He’s excited to be back on the field and makes some really good tackles the first few days. And on the flip side, doing a nice job in coverage and continuing to build in the confidence that we’re asking him to do.”
Norvell likes the looks of all three transfers. The veteran transfers include Moore, Jarques McClellion, an Arkansas transfer, and Jammie Robinson, a South Carolina transfer.
“They have shown well throughout their first four practices,” Norvell said. “I think each of those guys have unique and different skill sets that can help us. We’ve been able to look at Pac (McClellion) a little bit at safety as well and, I’ll tell you, he’s done a nice job there in a short period of time.”
First scrimmage was competitive
Florida State held its first scrimmage of the spring under cloudy and cool conditions earlier Saturday inside Doak Campbell Stadium. The controlled or situational scrimmage lasted two hours and was attended by several hundred fans.
Coach Mike Norvell was pleased when his offense started well and impressed when the defense responded.
“I thought the first offense really started well, we were able to kind of mix the rotation there at quarterback,” said Norvell. “I think they scored on, might have been the first four drives and then I thought the defense did a remarkable job in their response. Came back and was able to finish the scrimmage well on the back end.”
Norvell was pleased with quarterbacks Jordan Travis, McKenzie Milton and Tate Rodemaker.
“I thought they did a really nice job,” said Norvell. “Just being out there, that’s part of the reasons why during scrimmages I stand out (behind the offense), I want to hear the communication. All three (quarterbacks) had plays where they’re going to have to learn from in managing situations, but I thought all three did a really good job. Probably as far along as we’ve been collectively as a group in being able to get out there and execute. Made some great throws down the field, extended plays. I thought it was a good day for the quarterbacks.”
Norvell said the scrimmage also provided him with film on situations needing clean up.
“We took a couple negatives, but I was pleased with that position,” Norvell said.
Milton noted last week that he was still learning Norvell’s system and lingo while un-learning aspects of the UCF offense and showed progress in Saturday’s scrimmage.
“I think he’s taken giant steps,” said Norvell. “Really the last two days you’ve seen him, you see the confidence with where his eyes need to be and really going through that progression, understanding that language. He also made a couple really nice checks today as well that put us in good situations.”
Norvell is impressed with the quarterback room as a whole.
“McKenzie, Jordan, even Tate today showed some good things,” said Norvell. “They’re helping each other, they’re growing together and that’s something that I’m excited about because you see the relationships in that room, we’re all competing. We know every rep matters. You see the confidence hey’re showing. Even between the series, kind of watching them communicate between each other and helping each other with what they’re seeing. I’m really pleased with how much McKenzie has grown through the first six practices. We’ve got to have the same type of growth with those guys as we move forward.”
While the offense had success in open-field situations, the defense showed its backbone during the goal-line portion of the scrimmage.
“That was big,” said Norvell. “There was one drive where I think they had to go six plays inside the 2-yard line, which is exciting to see that response. There was a penalty that obviously we can’t have but it still gave them an opportunity to go out there and show that response.”
FSU has struggled in recent years with adversity so responding is something Norvell has preached.
“There’s many times your back is going to be against the well, but how do you respond?” Norvell asks. “There’s two situations where we’re down within the 3-yard line and one of them was able to hold the offense to a field-goal and the other we got a fourth-down stop. I thought that was one of the bright spots of the day. But offensively, we have to continue to work and make sure that when we get down there we can finish the ball in the end zone.”
This is the challenge of spring when you are playing with yourself. You get excited when your defense has a goal line stand but quickly wonder what’s wrong with your offense.
Veteran coaches know the answer lies in the effort, the physical and mental toughness developed on both sides of those challenges.
“I think our guys are embracing that expectation,” said Norvell. “We have to be physical. Everybody talks about that being part of the game, but that has to show up and be consistent whether you feel good or don’t. The mindset, the approach. And that’s the way that we’re practicing each and every day. Our guys, you could see that starting to show up.”
“There were still some plays we have to be better at but we’ll go back and watch the film and continue to hold guys to that standard,” Norvell continued.
That’s what the remaining days of spring are for and what FSU so sorely missed last year when the first-year coach had that opportunity taken away from him on day three.
“The thing I like, even with the first offense getting off to a good start, just seeing the energy our defense keeps playing with and continuing to respond. Rhere were a couple spark plays that kind of gave them a boost,” Norvell said. “It was a good sight to see and I think the physicality is definitely improving.”
Dillingham seeing improvement at skill positions
While FSU offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham would like to see more growth in situational awareness, he has seen signs of growth from his skill players ability to win one-on-one matchups, something the team has failed to do in recent years.
“I thought our guys won a few one-on-ones today,” said Dillingham. “And when you get everybody back, like we did, you should be better. I think just as much as the receivers, the communication and the timing between quarterback and receiver is getting better. We’re starting to understand each other and that’s a big piece of it when you’re throwing one-on-ones is understanding where is somebody going to be. Our wideouts did a nice job today of separating at the line of scrimmage. And that was something we showed out last year. That’s something that through six practices we have improved on.”
Special teams working every day
Norvell’s practice schedule invests an appropriate amount of time on special teams every day. On the Thursday prior to the scrimmage, FSU’s fifth practice of the spring, the Seminoles spent a good bit of time working on punt return. Receivers Keyshawn Helton, Parker Self, Ontaria Wilson and Fernando Padron all got reps returning punts, as did defensive backs Jarvis Brownlee and Travis Jay.
Once again, the team spent parts of practice doing the Oklahoma or Nole-drill.
The Oklahoma drill is a two-level where an OL/TE line up against DL/LB on the first level with RB/WR blocking LB/DB on the second level. The ball carrier is challenged to run through the gauntlet by reading the first level and the second level. While the coaches have film to watch both levels, a practice observer has to decide what to focus on, either the first level or the second level. We chose the first level today.
On offense Cam McDonald and Dontae Lucas were both impressive. Standouts on defense during this period were Jermaine Johnson, Robert Cooper, Tru Thompson and Quashon Fuller.
One drill we did see for the first time Thursday was the scramble drill, which teaches wide receivers how to adjust their routes once a quarterback is forced to out of the pocket to one side of the field or the other.
The running back went up against the linebackers in a blitz-pickup period. Jashaun Corbin, D.J. Williams and Treshaun Ward all had good days for the offense. Amari Gainer, Stephen Dix and D.J. Lundy stood out for the defense in this drill.
During the one-on-one pass-rush periods the offensive line showed vast improvement over how they performed last Friday. OT Robert Scott, C Maurice Smith and G Dontae Lucas all one the majority of their reps while Dennis Briggs Jr., Derrick McClendon and Josh Farmer stood out on the defensive front. This is a drill defensive end Jermaine Johnson has dominated.
The defense got the better of the offense once they went to stunt-pickup.
In this drill there are two rushers and the offense must decide whether or not to pass the rushers off to each other or stay with the man lined up over them. Fabien Lovett was once again impressive in this drill.
The team worked on first-and-10 and third-and-long situations at the end of practice and the offense was much more competitive than last week when the defense dominated. The offense looked much sharper and broke off several nice plays. All of the quarterbacks looked much comfortable and confident than they did just a week ago.