Aug. 21, 2010
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Capping a week of progress with an improved performance in Saturday's scrimmage, the Florida State football team officially closed the book on the preseason inside Doak Campbell Stadium.
"I think there was progress on both sides," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said, after the `Noles finished off a three-hour scrimmage. "There was just good defense, it was good offense; a lot more consistency (instead of) a lot of busted assignments. We're getting better, but we're a long ways off."
With two weeks separating the Seminoles from their Sept. 4 season opener against Samford, Fisher left no stone unturned in what amounted to as a full-scale, full-contact, dress rehearsal. The `Noles went through their normal pre-game routine, returned to the locker room, then hit the field just as they will for the 12 noon kickoff against the Bulldogs.
Fisher stationed offensive coordinator James Coley and quarterbacks coach Dameyune Craig in the press box, along with defensive ends coach D.J. Eliot and a graduate assistant. They helped call the game the plays on headphones.
Given the heat of the day and the newness of the pre-game routine, Fisher was generally pleased with how the players and the operation functioned.
"We handled it real good," Fisher said. "We had no problems; no cramps. They handled a lot of reps out there... They were running a lot. We're in condition at handling the heat. That's why I like practicing in it."
In terms of game management, there weren't any issues with personnel of clock management.
"Everything was smooth," said Fisher. "(The coaches) seemed to do a good job of getting their people in and out (of the game) and got their information (transmitted). That's a real big deal."
As far as the performance on the field, the offense made significant progress from a week ago, when they were troubled by turnovers.
"We definitely looked better," said quarterback Christian Ponder. "Not a lot of turnovers; I can only think of one in my head. Not really any dumb mistakes. We've still got a lot of room to go before this first game; we need to see a lot more improvement."
While Fisher put a lot of stock in using the scrimmage as a barometer for a number of personnel decisions, he opted to withhold any individual proclamations until he had reviewed the film.
What he liked best was that "both sides won part of the scrimmage" and that there was improved consistency from down to down. Still, he seems several areas where players need to step out and become more assertive.
"We're still a little sloppy at times," he said. "I think we have to clean up some things. Some guys that we're counting on pretty good have to realize how important it is (to step up their play).
"When you become the guy and you're playing every down, you can't take a couple of plays off because it can cost you a drive and against good teams it can cost you a ballgame."
Defense continues to make strides
Sophomore cornerback Greg Reid enjoyed another outstanding afternoon, but was most impressed by the continued development of the completely re-tooled defensive unit.
"There's a lot of focus on bringing the defense together," Reid said. "We came together as a unit and we're fighting for each other and being aggressive. We're a lot more aggressive now. We were kind of shook last year about getting beat. ... We're having fun (now) making plays."
Fisher did praise junior college transfer cornerback Mike Harris, who was in on a handful of plays Saturday and appears to have made a significant jump since the opening scrimmage.
"Mike's a good player; he's a real good player," said Fisher. "He breaks on the ball. He's almost like a quiet assassin. You never hear him out there but he's always in the right place. Ball makes a lot of sense to him."
Sophomore defensive end Brandon Jenkins and redshirt freshman defensive end Dan Hicks consistently applied pressure on the quarterbacks. The linebackers were active and the secondary provided sticky coverage for the most part.
"There was a lot of three and outs," Jenkins said. "A lot of players made plays and we came together as a defense."
Ponder has certainly noticed a difference in attitude and aptitude on the opposite side of the football.
"They've improved a lot," Ponder said. "Ever since spring ball the guys have really done a good job of picking up the defense and understanding what they are doing. A lot of guys made plays. (There were) a lot of pass break-ups; a lot of pressure in my face, which was good to see."
Hudson showing the way on OL
With offensive line starters Andrew Datko and David Spurlock on the shelf until the team returns to practice Tuesday, a handful of inexperienced players have been seeing extensive time with the first unit, including tackles Garrett Faircloth and Henry Orelus and guard Bryan Stork.
In their absence, soft-spoken, All-American senior guard Rodney Hudson has stepped up his role by providing more vocal leadership.
"It's been different (with the injuries)," said Hudson. "We have to communicate more. A lot of guys are playing that aren't used to playing with the (starters). You just have to communicate and help each other out more. Certain calls need to be made that they don't know, or haven't picked up as fast, looking at the defense and stuff. I have to make more calls and help out a lot more.
"They're learning and they'll get better. It's just an a matter of time (before) they'll pick up the whole play book."
Forced to dig deeper into the reserves could pay dividends as the Seminoles build depth behind a returning starting five that has combined for 144 career starts.
"That could win us some games down the road," Fisher said.
The Seminoles will earn two days off as the team transitions from preseason to regular season mode. Classes begin Monday and the team won't be back on the field until 3 p.m. Tuesday. Fisher said the Seminoles will begin work against the scout teams and start focusing on Samford this coming week. Sophomore wide receiver Willie Haulstead had an outstanding scrimmage. "He had a great week of practice," Ponder said of Haulstead. "He's gained a lot of confidence and I think he's realizing his potential. ... I'm glad he stepped up. He looks good and will be a guy I look for in crucial situations because he's got great hands and finds ways to get open." While much of Saturday's offensive plan featured the pass, tailbacks Jermaine Thomas, Ty Jones and Chris Thompson shared the ball-handling duties. "I don't know why you have to have a dominant one," Fisher said. "If you've got two or three of them you're good. You play them all." Fifth-year senior Ochuko Jenije started at safety and has already earned the respect of his teammates. "I think safety is a great spot for Ochuko because he understands the game. He's been here five years. He's kind of like a quarterback back there. He's old school, kind of like Rod Owens last year." The three-hour practice in the mid-day heat was grueling, but served its purpose. "There were a lot of situations (coach Fisher) put us in, but hey, I guess we'll be ready for everything when it happens," junior linebacker Nigel Bradham said.