Each week we’ve offered our observations about Mike Norvell’s first full spring with the football team as last spring was cut short (three days) by the Covid crisis. Those stories are archived on the site. In this fourth installment, we’ll provide you with what progress we’ve seen since day 1 and what progress we are looking forward to seeing in the spring game on Saturday at 5 p.m.
Many fans wonder what you can learn by watching your team play against itself. If the offense dominates in a scrimmage, is it an indication your offense is improving? Or does it give your reason to worry about your defense?
It’s a tough question to answer exactly. Former defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said there were springs where the FSU offense struggled to score even once against his charges and, as encouraging as that was, he didn’t really know until he saw FSU’s offense score at will against an opponent in the fall.
But Andrews agrees you can still learn a lot about your team, particularly about individual players and their desire to compete and improve.
Here’s what I’ve observed over the course of the spring.
1. Mike Norvell is a very organized head coach.
2. Mike Norvell is a very enthusiastic and energetic head coach who is involved with every position group.
3. Norvell’s coaching staff is comprised of high-energy individuals who are very good teachers. There’s eye contact, instruction and positive response. It’s been interesting to watch them interact with the players in their segments.
4. FSU’s team looks in better shape than they have in years. There are very few bellies hanging over belt lines. While they will continue to work at it, I’ve seen more defensive linemen chasing the ball to the sideline with full effort than in years past. See if you agree.
5. FSU’s players have begun to set the tempo, encouraging each other, allowing the coaches to spend their time correcting technique.
6. Jermaine Johnson (No. 11) is a tenacious pass rusher. The Georgia transfer is big (6-4, 262) and quick as a cat. Former defensive ends coach Jim Gladden said he reminds him of one of his former ends, Peter Boulware, which is high praise.
7. The most likely starters on the defensive front will include Johnson and either Derrick McLendon (55) or Quashon Fuller (30) at ends. The top three guys in the interior line include Robert Cooper (91), Fabien Lovett (0) and Dennis Briggs (6). Cooper is a huge nose tackle but overall the front looks smaller than in years past, which may be of concern to you or may be a good thing as we’ve seen them have more luck chasing the quarterback and ball carriers.
7. The offensive line also looks leaner and the starting unit has come into focus. The OL showed some improvement statistically last fall in the running game and in protecting the quarterback, though Jordan Travis (13) is tough to hem up with or without blocking. Losing spring practices last year hurt the offensive line as much, or more, than any positions group as this is a position that requires choreography. With the exception of Devotay Love Taylor (58) and Thomas Shrader (67), who missed part or all of spring, the offensive line had the benefit of working together for the full 15 days. The clear starters at this point include Maurice Smith (53) at center with Dontae Lucas (55) at one guard. There are three tackles – Love-Taylor (58), Darius Washington (76) and Robert Scott (52) – who are capable of starting at the two tackle positions, with one possibly playing guard in the fall. Veteran Brady Scott (50) and Baveon Johnson (51) were working at the second guard position. Prior to sustaining a leg injury in the second week of practice, Shrader was looking like a potential starter at center or guard.
There is improvement but eight guys does not a season make on the offensive line, where injuries happen. I’m going to pay close attention to some guys ready to emerge on the second team like Jalen Goss (61), Lloyd Willis (70) and Chaz Neal (71), as well as some of the newcomers, true freshman Bryson Estes (77), Ira Henry III (78) and Zane Herring (56).
8. I know you are coming to check out the Jordan Travis/McKenzie Milton battle for the quarterback position. Milton (10) has demonstrated a full recovery from a horrific leg injury two years ago and has shown steady improvement this spring “unlearning” the nuances of the UCF offense and learning FSU nomenclature, routes and reads. Meanwhile, with two seasons now under his belt, Travis (13) appears to have an improved command of the passing game and continues to impress with his feet. FSU appears to be better at this position with Tate Rodemaker (18) making normal progress for a freshman. Chubba Purdy practiced the first week but not again as Norvell said he is taking time off to allow his shoulder to heal.
9. The spring game could help us separate the receiver logjam. At least nine receivers have split playing time this spring — with flashes of excellence and with occasional cases of butter fingers — so the coaches will use these game-like conditions — with the band and the crowd — to see if someone(s) will step out to separate themselves from the pack. The veterans — Ontaria Wilson (80) and Keyshawn Helton (6) — have been the most consistent. Byron Robinson (3) has caught my eye as well as Malik McClain (12), Ja’Khi Douglass (22), Kentron Poitier (88), Darion Williamson (21) and Josh Burrell (81). Don’t sleep on walk on Parker Self (86).
10. The tight end position, which Norvell features, has three players with playing experience — Camran McDonald (87), Preston Daniel (45) and Wyatt Rector (19) and several newcomers to watch including Jackson West (48) The player we’re all anxious to see, Jordan Wilson (4), returned to practice last week after rehabilitating a knee injury sustained in the fall. If he does play Saturday, you’ll notice him.
11. The tailback position has some experienced talent with Jashaun Corbin (0) and Lawrance Toafili (9) but there are other talented players to watch on Saturday. Which do you like?
12. The most-experienced linebacker, Emmett Rice, whose stock had been rising, went down with an injury this spring so all eyes will be on Amari Gainer (33), Stephen Dix Jr (32), D.J. Lundy (46) and others, who can use this game to emerge.
13. The secondary is competitive with at least nine capable of winning playing time. The starting lineup could emerge out of this game and include several transfers: Brandon Moore (13, UCF), Jarrian Jones (7, Mississippi State), Jammie Robinson (10, South Carolina) and Jarques McClellion (13, Arkansas). Travis Jay (18), Jarvis Brownlee (3), Brendan Gant (5), Sidney Williams (23) and Jadarius Green-McKnight (24) are also working with the first and second units. Freshman Kevin Knowles (26) has flashed throughout the spring, while veteran Renardo Green (18) has been out this spring but assisting teammates. Judge progress for yourself but there’s been good competition on the back end of the defense.
14. The Seminoles focused a lot of time on special teams play this spring and have a promising kicking game returning with punter Alex Mastromanno (49) and kickers Parker Grothaus (37) and Ryan Fitzgerald (88).
Take notes during the game and feel free to share your observations with us for a future story. Email your thoughts to me at [email protected]. Feel free to tell me where you agree and disagree with my observations.