One of the most interesting developments every football preseason is the development and ascent of underclassmen into prominent contributors.
Six days into Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher's first preseason camp, several players have stepped to the fore in most timely fashion. Among the group are sophomore wide receivers Rodney Smith and Willie Haulstead, as well as redshirt freshman defensive tackle Demonte McAllister.
Smith and Haulstead were already on an accelerated development curve when the Seminoles learned that junior wideout Jarmon Fortson was no longer a part of the program. The same could be said for McAllister, who was competing for a spot in the rotation before Tuesday's announcement that junior Moses McCray was lost for the season with a knee injury.
Those absences create opportunities that McAllister, Smith and Haulstead hope to capitalize on.
"For me it means I have an opportunity coming in behind Everett (Dawkins) and try to work my way into the rotation," said McAllister. "Moses is a big loss for us, but we are going to continue to fight hard and make a difference.
Fisher isn't overly concerned about the Seminoles' lack of experience along the interior line, despite the fact that none of the contenders have more than one year of collegiate experience in the trenches.
"Demonte is coming on very well," said Fisher. "[Freshmen] Cam Erving and Darious Cummings - those guys are going to be good players. Darious is really physical inside. He's 290 pounds with a great body. Plus you've got the top three guys - Jacobbi (McDaniel), Amp (McCloud) and Everett (Dawkins) - and Demonte is coming on."
It helps that the entire segment ranked among the best on the team when it came to re-shaping their bodies - adding weight and improving lean muscle mass - through the rigorous offseason strength and conditioning program.
"I feel great," McAllister said. "I am up to 280 now. I am more explosive off the ball; more than I was when I weighed 258. The defensive line is looking great. We are out there hustling really hard. We are trying to compete and making a stand [so] we are a great defense. ...
"This past summer we have been eating right, working hard in the weight room. We have seen a tremendous jump in weight and getting stronger. We are ready to take it on."
It doesn't hurt that the group of young defensive linemen square off against one of the nation's most talented and experienced offensive lines on a day-to-day basis.
"It helps tremendously," he added. "They are playing all five starters from last year, so going against them helps a ton."
The youth movement is alive and well at wide receiver as well, where only juniors Bert Reed and Taiwan Easterlingare proven veterans in a sea of talented youngsters. Smith and Haulstead played sparingly as true freshmen, combining for just two receptions, but they are tall and physical talents, not unlike Fortson.
That should make them easy targets for quarterback Christian Ponder.
"Being a big target for Christian is good, because he's not going to see too many 6-foot-1, 6-foot-2 corners (defending)," said Haulstead. "Rodney is over 220 pounds and I'm just under 220 pounds. We're both fast and can run a little bit with Bert, even though he's going to beat us in the end. ... It puts us in position where we can go get the deep ball and get the short ones and turn them into big plays."
Smith enjoyed a break-out spring performance and has moved into Fortson's starting slot on the practice field, buoyed by the confidence he lacked this time last season.
"The playbook is getting easier to me," said Smith. "The only thing I have to do is keep my mind right when I'm getting tired.
"The spring gave me a little more confidence that I can go out there and make plays. It gave me the opportunity to work harder and earn a spot (in the rotation)."
Haulstead is more confident as well, thanks to a better grasp on the playbook.
"Personally, I know more so I can play faster," Haulstead added. "I just feel more comfortable."
Neither will back away from the contact that receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey demands when it comes to downfield blocking. Their added strength is the perfect complement to a physical mentality.
"I came from a Wing-T offense (in high school), so I'm used to blocking," Smith said. "Now I just have to adjust to the pro-style offense and get my routes down.
"I've got a defensive player's mentality. I like to hit. That gives me a big advantage. I can go up for the ball and I also have speed for a big guy. Now I can go into the middle and I don't have to worry about me getting hit by linebackers. I can still move with the weight that I have. That's a good thing, too."
Fisher likes two-a-days
While some schools, most notably Georgia, have discontinued two-a-day practices, Fisher sees a real value in the double-up opportunities.
"I do (like them) because I think it's a great mental conditioning deal and it's a great challenge for guys to push themselves," said Fisher. "Until you hit the limit you don't know what you're capable of and that's what we're trying to do."
The Seminoles will practice twice on Thursday and again next week on Monday and Wednesday.
"Now is the time we've got to grind and keep pushing them because they're getting tired," Fisher added. "We're through six practices, going into seven, and that's when it's easy to take the easy way out."
Nigel Bradham and Jacobbi McDaniel earned praise from Fisher for goal line stops at the end of Tuesday's morning session...Tuesday's afternoon practice will be in shells (helmets and shoulder pads) and likely include more work on the passing game. The evening practice is closed to the media...Fisher was pleased with the morning session, which culminated with a goal line drill as the `Noles worked out in full pads. "We're learning to compete," he said. "Guys are pulling the pin, learning to compete and making some plays. We'll still make some mistakes, but we're getting physical at times when we needed to. The effort was very good today."
Courtesy of FSU SID