Seminoles involved in 'old-fashioned' spring ball
In preparing to start his third spring football season as FSU coach, Jimbo Fisher could barely contain enthusiasm.
"I love spring ball," Fisher said. "You can experiment a lot in the spring and move some guys around and find out who the playmakers are and who can be playmakers for you."
He also set a tone in the first practice that it would be a different spring practice session.
Call it an "old-fashioned spring practice," Fisher has mandated more scrimmaging, more physical drills as the Seminoles return from a lukewarm 2011 season. They were ranked in the top 10 when it began, but suffered shocking losses to Clemson and Wake Forest in consecutive weeks, then lost to Virginia at home in a game that took them out of ACC championship contention.
"We're going to find out who wants to play and can play," Fisher said. "I don't want to go into fall guessing and hoping, find out who's tough. We're going to know. These practices have been like scrimmages or close to it, a lot more on the ground stuff, a lot more getting after it."
Practice has been ramped up, because Fisher and his staff believed a toned-down spring leads to lethargic efforts in August.
"I want to know if those other guys can hold up and we can be that same defense or offense," Fisher said. "If we lose some more linemen or whatever position it is, I want to know if these young guys are ready to play."
--The title of FSU's annual spring game on April 14 and the event-filled weekend requires a pause to catch your breath. It is now called the "SunTrust Spring Football Weekend Presented By Kia Autosport."
Following the lead of so many other schools, the Seminoles have put this event up for sponsorship and taken the best deals. In effort to attract more fans, a bulk of which need to come from outside Tallahassee, the Seminoles have organized a block party on Friday April 13, filled with a variety of concern performers and a massive fireworks show. On Saturday, a barbecue festival will take place prior to the game, which will be played at 4 p.m. and carried on ESPNU.
--The biggest news of spring has been off the field. Bobby Bowden will make a triumphant return to Doak Campbell Stadium for the season-opening game on Sept. 1. He will first participate in his FSU Hall of Fame induction the previous night in a banquet event that will include his long-time secretary Sue Hall, who is also being honored, along with one of this all-time favorite quarterbacks, Danny Kanell.
The event signifies Bowden's willingness to reconnect with FSU after pulling away from the university following his forced ouster three years ago.
SPRING MOVERS: S Karlos Williams opted against moving to running back to compete for playing time in a crowded secondary. But Williams has proven in the offseason he is ready to start fulfilling potential. He was rated as the No. 2 safety and No. 8 overall player in the nation by Rivals.com in high school, but played only sparingly on defense last season.
WR Rashad Greene -- Greene, a sophomore this year, finished the 2011 season with team-highs in receptions (38), receiving yards (596) and touchdowns (7). And this was despite missing four games with an injury. He caught five passes for 99 yards in the win against Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl. As one of the best freshmen in the ACC last year, an even bigger season is expected.
CB Greg Reid -- As a senior, he has shown the kind of maturity and leadership during spring drills that FSU coaches were hoping would come through last year. He has been encouraging and motivating during practices. Since getting suspended for a game last year, Reid has been a different person with his demeanor. His punt returning skills and cover abilities are not the issue. But it's how Reid has responded in meetings and practices that has everyone at FSU encouraged.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2012 OUTLOOK: Just as a year ago, the expectations are high for this football team. With a senior quarterback, E.J. Manuel, a bulk of receivers returning, along with most of the defense, this Year 3 in the Jimbo Fisher era has raised hopes among FSU faithful for a major breakthrough. Nothing less than winning the ACC Championship and reaching a BCS Bowl for the first time since 2005 will satisfy fans. Nor should it. The Seminoles have recruited well under Fisher and their schedule is favorable with cupcake home games to begin the year. There is pressure on Fisher to match expectations with performance.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: This is the first time QB E.J. Manuel has gone through a spring practice in three years. The Seminoles are hoping the extra work, the added reps translate into more consistent performance. In two years, Manuel has shown he can dazzle or baffle in different possessions or alternating plays. But the biggest factor will be how well this youthful offensive line develops and matures to get a better running game and more comfort for Manuel in the pocket.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: It's a stacked group of returning starters and players who split time last season. The Seminoles are strongest up front, led by rush ends Bjoern Warner and Brandon Jenkins. The secondary made drastic improvements in past two seasons with leadership of defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. After back-to-back disasters last season in losses to Clemson and Wake Forest, this defense played very well the second half of the season, including the wall they threw up against Florida in the season finale.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: The search in spring will be for a starting punter. It may have to wait until freshman Cason Beatty shows up in the fall. But the Seminoles return senior Dustin Hopkins, a finalist for the Lou Groza Award, who is one of the top field goal kickers in the country. He also shined on kickoffs, consistently putting kicks into the end zone. The Seminoles also possess a standout kick return specialist with Greg Reid.
QB Jameis Winston was the Seminoles' final signee, waiting until Feb. 3 to have a signing ceremony at a sports fitness facility near Birmingham, but he's regarded as one of the nation's best prospects. He was rated the nation's No. 1 dual threat quarterback by one recruiting service and No. 10 overall prospects.
DT Eddie Goldman, ranked No. 1 defensive tackle by ESPN, waited to announce on national signing day with ESPN cameras televising his announcement on ESPNU. His decision caused FSU coaches to go into a wild celebration inside their "war room" office that also made ESPN and YouTube video.
DE Mario Edwards Jr. was ranked the No. 1 overall player by three separate recruiting services. Edwards is viewed as a player who will be playing next season, probably in a backup role.
--DT Timmy Jernigan (MCL and a slight meniscus tear) became the first serious injury of spring practice when he went down on March 24. Jernigan, a sophomore, who became one of the team's top interior lineman last season, will be out the rest of spring. He appeared in all 13 games last season with 30 tackles and 2.5 sacks. The injury was diagnosed with a 4-6 weeks recovery.
--Six players are being withheld from the entire spring practice. They OG Jacob Fahrenkrug (left shoulder) OG Garrett Faircloth (hip), OL Daniel Foose (lower back), DT Jacobbi McDaniel (ankle), DE Bjoern Werner (right shoulder), RB Devonta Freeman (lower back).
--WR Josh Gehres (MCL) who was injured on the same day, will likely also miss the rest of spring.
--SS Nick Moody has made the biggest position change of spring, moving to the team's SAM outside linebacker spot.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"It is a perfect time for progression. You don't have a
game that Saturday. There's no rush. Although you still want to get
better each and every practice. You want to utilize these 14 practices
to get better. Having last year and then having this year will be huge
for me." -- Florida State QB E.J. Manuel on spring practice.