Thoughts On The Florida State Spring Game

I'm not sure how much one can learn from watching a Spring game.  There are matchups that would not occur in a normal game (namely starters v. walk-ons).  It's important not to draw conclusions from a single scrimmage.  And the defense had only had 12 practices in pads.  But nonetheless, here are my thoughts...

Quarterback  Christian Ponder.  Wow.  Ponder's arm strength looked tremendous.  If he's really not yet full strength as Fisher said, then look out because his arm is already excellent.  The ball that he overthrew Fortson on (I think Jarmon lost it in the sun or just couldn't see it) was enormous.  Ponder was victimized by 2 or 3 drops (at least 2 by walk-ons)  I was very impressed by Will Secord.  I hadn't seen him throw the ball since his senior year of high school, and thought he played well.  I'd even say that if Ponder and Manuel both went down, FSU would be OK with Secord.  Clint Trickett was impressive as well, showing nice mobility and a surprising command of the offense considering he's only been on campus for 3 months.  I would have liked to see more pass protection for the Garnet team, but the lack of protection allowed both to showcase their mobility and improvisation skills.

Running Back  I've been hesitant to say this, but I think Chris Thompson has a chance to start for the 'Noles this year.  He's clearly changed his body, runs low to the ground and is difficult to tackle due to his compact frame.  Thompson won't play much, however, if he fumbles as he did in the 4th quarter.  Debrale Smiley did a nice job on his long run, though to be honest that was created by a defender being in the wrong gap.  It was a nice gesture for Ponder to throw Smiley a pass (dropped), but he doesn't seem like the type of back who will be getting many passes in this offense.  I didn't think Jermaine Thomas played particularly well and Fisher was all over him.  In general the backs seemed much more hyped up to run than they did to pass protect. 

It was clear that the Garnet team's backs were at a disadvantage due to the offensive line.  Lonnie Pryor's numbers were poor, but I did not think his play was poor.  He does many things that aren't credited to him in the scorebook.  Tavares Pressley had a nice 35-yard run which showed good explosiveness, but he only got 3 carries.  Ty Jones was the most impressive back in my eyes.  He consistently hit the right hole and did it with energy.  He's had a very up-and-down career so far but perhaps he could get more carries in the fall.  

Wide Receiver  Rodney Smith, FSU fans.  FSU fans, Rodney Smith.  Everyone notices when 6'6" plays well, and the Sophomore from Miami had himself a day.  Smith caught 3 balls for 69, 41, and 14 yards.  Like many young players, he was somewhat boom or bust and I believe he did have one drop, but he also made several plays when he was well covered.   Jarmon Fortson made 3 very difficult catches, and then dropped a ball as well.  At least he's improving his ratio of highlight catches to drops.  A.J. Alexander showed really nice speed and made a nice catch on the sideline.  Not bad for a guy who just switched positions.

On the Garnet side, Bert Reed continues to step up.  Fisher talked last week about him becoming a leader, but Reed caught everything and looked explosive.  Even putting aside the 70-yard torching of the walk-on corner, Reed stil had 9 catches for 93 yards.  Willie Haulstead is a favorite of the coaches, but he did not look good to me.  Haulstead dropped a few balls and really didn't stand out.  Considering his play throughout the Spring, however,  I'll chalk that up to nerves or something other than ability.

I also thought the receivers blocked quite well, especially considering that FSU's corners are bigger now than they were in the past.

Tight End Beau Reliford ran way too far down the field on a late deep pass (towards the north endzone), drawing Fisher's ire.  I am a Reliford fan but he did not play well, with only a single catch.  The walk on tight end dropped at least two passes and I don't consider walk on performance relevant.  Kudos to Ponder and others for throwing the walk-ons a few balls. Matt Dunham looked better than I thought he would, but I don't typically have any expectations for him.  Ja'baris Little didn't catch my eye. 

Offensive Line  I'm not going to evaluate these guys until I can watch the replay.

 

Defense

Competence.  The defense I saw out there would be in the top half of college football.  Perhaps the most important part of what I saw was the lack of coverage busts.  Yes, there were some big plays allowed.  But most of the big passing plays were contested.  The wide receivers weren't running wide open with no defender around them.  Plus, consider the frequency.  That is,  FSU went deep very often and many of those passes were well defended.  The best example of this was probably the bomb to Rodney Smith.  Dionte Allen was in his pocket the whole time and the 6'6" Smith just made a really nice catch, using his large frame.  I believe they went deep so often to entertain the crowd.  There are very few teams who have the receivers and the quarterback Florida State has.  Many of the big passing plays were great plays by talented wideouts and tremendous throws by a 1st round NFL draft choice.  With only three weeks (12 practices in pads), FSU's defense looked quite competent.  The defense surpassed my expectations for the Spring.

Florida State played cover 3 on the vast majority of snaps.  This is the coverage I had figured they would run.  Nick Moody is a really nice player for the run support in that scheme.  I have to compliment them on their timing.  One of my biggest gripes about the old defense was that it would tip its hand long before the ball was snapped.  The 'Noles defense did a great job (considering how new this defense is) of showing one look and then quickly changing into another right before the snap.  That's known as "stemming."  That is attention to detail that FSU fans should expect from a defense coached by guys making a quarter million per.  I also some some cover 2 and perhaps a bit of cover 4 as well.  But mostly I saw FSU timely stem from a cover 2 look into a cover 3 look.  Also, a big thanks to SWFLNole and his buddy, as they watched coverage when I watched the defensive line. 

Much like the coverage switches, the blitzes were similarly much better timed.  FSU blitzed corners, safeties, and linebackers.  The 'Noles dropped defensive ends and defensive tackles into coverage.

Defensive End  Perhaps no position has benefited more from the position changes than the defensive ends.  I watched the defensive line pretty closely.  The defensive ends did a much better job playing the run.  As a unit, they didn't over pursue nearly as often as they did last year.  Brandon Jenkins is still a bit undersized but he absolutely made plays.  He destroyed Rhonne Sanderson a few times, and Sanderson is not a bad player in his own right.  Jenkins is absolutely benefiting from the new coaching but he also has a lot of natural ability.  Markus White is pretty much the definition of solid.  His work in the weight room is paying off and I think he is primed for a nice senior season.  He is probably going to be the strong-side end FSU has been looking for for a long time.  I was also impressed with Dan Hicks.  Hicks has come a long way and he looks to have some instincts I did not realize he had.  Toshmon Stevens looked a good bit larger and I'm glad that he is getting some more playing time now that coach Allen is gone. 

Defense Tackle  This is a position to which I paid particular attention.  First and foremost, McDaniel was pretty sick and still elected to play.  Knowing that, I'll pass on evaluating him.  The guy who really stood out to me was Amp McCloud.  #92 hasn't played football in 2 years and while he was clearly rusty and a bit inconsistent, he showed some really great flashes.  If McCloud can give 15-20 quality snaps per game this season, that would be a huge boon for the defense.  While Demonte McAllister was frequently going against a walk-on, he was very impressive.  FSU fans should be very happy that the coaches did not give in to McAllister's whining to move to defensive end.  He's a natural 3-technique tackle.  #93 Everette Dawkins also looked really good.  He is a natural with using his hands and playing with leverage.  If Moses McCray comes back healthy, FSU should be in decent shape this year at the defensive tackle position.  I also noticed all the defensive linemen getting their hands up in the passing lanes. 

Linebackers I thought the linebackers were objectively average, but considering how far they have come since last year, I was pretty pleased.  They tackled well and for the most part didn't miss their assignments.  I didn't see any one linebacker stand out from the others.  That's not to say they played poorly, but that they pretty much played their responsibilities.  I have no doubt that the linebackers will be a strength of this team.  The backers were laying some serious hits.  They were sometimes late getting to the receiver in coverage, but it looked to me like they were usually dropping into the correct zone.  It was pretty much what I expected.

The defensive line and linebackers still need a lot of work with their run fits.  Each player is responsible for a specific gap, and some of the better running plays came not because the offense made a great play, but because a defender was not correctly in his gap responsibility. I'll stress that they were plugging the right gaps much more frequently than they used to.  When they did blitz, they did very well, and Nigel Carr stood out on at least one blitz.  Part of the run fits problem is the lack of emphasis it got last year.  It's quite new for the players even if it shouldn't be.

Cornerbacks  FSU has a lot more talent at this position than most realize.  Greg Reid won the defensive player of the Spring award.  I thought Xavier Rhodes had the best Spring game.  Jenije had two pass interference penalties, but they were for being very aggressive and recognizing the underneath pass plays..  Obviously I want the corner to play the ball better than that, but I watched those two plays and he was just very aggressive and got there a hair early.  Allen didn't really stand out to me.  My guess is that when the coaches evaluate the film, they will find that most of these guys were pretty even.  Jenijie had the error that most everyone noticed (due to the flag), but every guy got beat and every guy made good pass breakups.  At this point, I would not be surprised by any of these 4 corners starting and am confident that any of the 4 can do a good job.

Safety I expected this position to improve a lot and I was happy with the effort here too.  I saw guys communicating and though it wasn't smooth, they picked up receivers coming into their zones better than I had expected.  Stoops is an excellent defensive back coach and he's already doing well with the safeties.  Terrance Parks showed some range.  He was almost always the deep safety in the cover 3 look, but he also came down into the box at least 2 times.  Parks had an interception, but the play was not impressive as it was a desperation heave before the half.  The best thing Parks did was get appropriate depth.  There were no instances of guys running wide open down the field past him as FSU fans saw over and over again last year with a different safety on the field.

I'm excited about both Nick Moody and Gerald Demps.  Moody has a chance to be an excellent strong safety in this cover-3 scheme, coming down as the force player and looked good blitzing as well.  Moody had 4 solo tackles on the day and a sack coming through the A gap (I believe).  I've always been a big Gerald Demps fan and some people from Valdosta who know their football say he is one of the most instinctual football players they have been around.  Demps was credited with just a single tackle, but I thought he looked pretty good and did have a pass breakup. 

 

I think you have to be very pleased by the defensive effort.  The defenses combined to allow less than 5.6 yards per play against a very good offense.  Mark Stoops seems to be earning his money, and considering his qualifications there was little doubt that he would.  I really liked how our linebackers were splitting the difference between the open tackle and the receiver (helps to discourage bubble screens).

 

Special Teams

Hopkins is one of the best young kickers in the nation and he looked very good.  I was impressed by Powell's punting.  There was one punt that was poor, but I am not even sure if he hit that one (could have been the backup).

 

The best thing about the last month is that there were no major injuries throughout the entire spring.  Not allowing players to cheap shot each other was a great idea. 

FSU did a tremendous job with the game.  The crowd was great.  The atmosphere was similar to the Bama game a few years ago when the Tide fans had 92,000.  Many of the people around me were my parents age and they all spoke well of the production as well. 

The broadcast was both good and bad.  But the Deckerhoff/ Floyd combo is pretty poor.  Not only did Deckerhoff reveal that FSU was using Greg Reid in the Wildcat in practice, but the announcers didn't know who several returning players were.  Perhaps now that FSU got rid of the guy who wanted PT Willis out the 'Noles can bring back Willis.

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