The FSU Seminole football team ended their preseason workouts on Saturday with a high noon dress rehearsal scrimmage, and the team has now entered their full regular season mode and routine.
Head coach Jimbo Fisher had called Saturday's final scrimmage "decision" and "movement" day, because that would be when the coaches would find out "who are you going to play, who (do) you think can play, who you think can work. It's a big day for them. Both sides want to do well, but we as coaches have to find out who can play and who can't play and put guys in situations."
On Friday, Fisher explained that his decision to move the scrimmage from late Friday afternoon to high noon Saturday was an effort to simulate the conditions the team will face on the September 4th opener against Samford, which will also kick off at 12 noon.
"I want them to get used to the heat that time of day; getting up (early) and having a pre-game meal ... get that routine going," Fisher said. "You want to put them in that situation as much as you can: where it's at, how the heat is going to be, where the sun is. It's supposed to rain tomorrow, but it could do that on game day. We'll have to take the conditions as they come."
Also on Friday, FSU senior quarterback Christian Ponder said he was eager to see how his unit will perform during Saturday's scrimmage after a sub-standard effort in last Friday's scrimmage, and how the team will focus on the task at hand, which is critical to the teams continued development.
"It's very important for the offensive side, but as a team, as a whole," Ponder said. "The last scrimmage the offense performed pretty poorly and we've made a lot of strides this week to improve. I think tomorrow is going to be the big ending of camp. Guys have got to come out and fight for a job. A lot of guys can make a statement for starting jobs. I think it's very important for us to end camp on a good note and go into the school year and really starting the season with a right note. I don't want to see a lot of MA's (missed assignments). I want to see a lot of guys have the focus. A lot of guys didn't have the focus last scrimmage. It's good to see when the offense makes plays, but it's good to see when the defense makes plays as well. Back and forth; I just want to see us have a good battle and a good scrimmage, (where) everyone make plays."
Please hit the jump to find out how Fisher and Ponder felt the team did during Saturday's final scrimmage of the preseason, courtesy of the FSU SID.
FSU Closes The Preseason With A High Noon Rehearsal For Samford
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.
Hopkins on Groza Award radar
The Lou Groza Award, presented to the nation's top kicker, has a special meaning when it comes to Florida State. Former Seminole Sebastian Janikowski (1998 & 1999) was the first and remains the only two-time recipient of the award. Graham Gano added his name to the list of distinguished winners following the 2008 season.
Sophomore Dustin Hopkins hopes to continue those ties and will enter the 2010 campaign as one of 30 kickers on the Groza preseason Watch List. The Palm Beach County Sports Commission released the names of the top challengers for the award Friday.
"To be mentioned with some of the best kickers ever, like Janikowski and Graham, is humbling," said Hopkins. "I'm just going to try and live up to their standards."
Janikowski, a rare first-round draft choice, continues to excel for the Oakland Raiders. Gano took the free agent route to the NFL and enters his second season with the Washington Redskins.
Those standards are certainly high, but Hopkins' impressive freshman season for the Seminoles seems to indicate that he is on the right path. With 97 points in 2009, the Houston, Texas native authored the most prolific scoring season by a freshman kicker in FSU history. He capped the season with a Gator Bowl-record four field goals in the win over West Virginia.
From the moment that Hopkins drilled his first collegiate field goal - a 52-yarder in his debut against Miami - he set the bar high. On the year he was 19 of 27 on field goal attempts, including of 11 of 13 from inside 40 yards. After a slow start, he carries a streak of 33 consecutive successful PAT conversions. Equally impressive, Hopkins drilled 24 kickoffs for touchbacks, which ranked fourth nationally and led the next closest ACC kicker by nine.
Hopkins is one of five ACC kickers on the Groza Award watch list.
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Click here to view the 36 picture photo gallery of Saturday's scrimmage