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Florida State football practice observations: Defensive backs show potential, offense finds footing

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Brendan Gant, Keyshawn Helton stand out on day five of spring.

FSU sports information

Florida State football hit the practice fields for their fifth day of spring practice yesterday under the Tallahassee sun on a perfect day. With their first scrimmage on Saturday, today was another step in the right direction for the Seminoles.

Mike Norvell said, “It was really good to get out there and have another physical practice. Focused on base team situations, mixed in a little third downs. Wasn’t as big of an installation day. Good special teams work setting up our first scrimmage on Saturday.”

For most of the first couple weeks of practice, the defense had the upper hand. On Thursday, the ‘Noles had a balanced practice, trading positive plays on both sides of the ball. On the growth within the offense, Norvell said, “I thought some guys really stepped up and made some nice plays. Backs are doing a nice job of staying in tracks. Offensive line is growing, working a couple different rotations. Tight ends can be a strength. Quarterbacks are getting better every day. We are definitely seeing some positive strides and it will be exciting to see them on Saturday.”

FSU ran through multiple sessions of full team action, seven on seven play, individual work, and a lot of special teams work. While working through special teams drills, every skill-position player from both sides of the ball were trained in every phase. In a physical practice, many of the day’s highlights came from an extended session of the Oklahoma drill. Here are our observations and standouts from Thursday’s practice:

Offense

  • The quarterbacks flashed throughout the practice and seemed to be comfortable running Mike Norvell’s offense. Jordan Travis got the first team snaps, but the reps were split evenly between Travis, McKenzie Milton, and Tate Rodemaker. Travis was often used on rollouts and was successful on many short routes to his running backs and young wide receivers. He also showed off his agility with multiple scrambles for positive yardage. When Travis is under center, the Seminoles move the ball down the field at a consistent rate due to his escapability. Milton showed off a quick release and easy arm strength from sideline-to-sideline. The veteran quarterback showed off consistent ball placement on routes over the middle during team play and fade routes in the end zone on one-on-ones. Milton’s one struggle on the day came from overthrown balls. He made one poor decision, throwing a deep ball into triple coverage which was almost picked. His mobility looked to be at a high-level.
  • Keyshawn Helton was the star of the day on the offensive side of the ball. He started the day with an electric spin move in the Oklahoma drill, going untouched through the lane. During 11 v. 11 play, Helton was the quarterbacks’ favorite target, snagging four catches. Throughout the day, he showed quick feet to create separation from defensive backs. His biggest grab of the day was a 20+ yard gain over the middle of the field from Milton. He made a couple men miss of a screen for another first down later. He also had a tough, diving grab in tight coverage. Speaking about the wide receiver after practice, Norvell said, “You can tell the confidence that he has, overall change of motion. His work has shown up. Has a lot of experience, played a lot of football here. Respected by the team. He has the opportunity to really take that next step.”
  • Throughout the day, a hand full of young wide receivers flashed in multiple phases. Four redshirt FR showed up with big plays. Darion Williamson had back-to-back catches from Milton, the first coming on a tough grab down the sideline for a big gain. Bryan Robinson consistently used his physical frame to create separation out of the slot. He took a Rodemaker pass for a first down in 11v11’s and had a big win in one-on-one’s. Kentron Poitier flashed his athleticism and skill set on two dynamic catches. The first came on a fade route, soaring up and high-pointing the football, before tapping his feet just inside the end-zone. The other went for a first down from the arm of Rodemaker. Ja’Khi Douglas had a high usage rate up the middle of the field. Douglas won the majority of his 1v1 reps and made a tough grab with a defender on his back during full team play. The true freshmen, Joshua Burrell and Malik McClain, had solid days and showed their potential. Burrell won two reps in 1v1’s in the end zone. The first came on a tough fade route, before he beat a defender to the pylon on an out-route. McClain oozes potential on the football field with an athletic 6’4, 195-pound frame and long strides. He won a one-on-one rep down the field and hauled in a first-down pass from Travis. While the young wide receivers flashed, they also dropped some crucial passes. This group has the ability to be dynamic, but have to become more consistent on a rep-to-rep basis moving forward.
  • The Seminoles had success moving the ball down the field with the run game today. FSU’s offensive lineman and tight ends had a solid showing between full-team play and the Oklahoma drill. Highlights from the Oklahoma came from Brady Scott, Dontae Lucas, Darius Washington, and Camren McDonald. Scott pancaked a defensive lineman on one of the first reps of the day. Lucas won every rep he took in dominant fashion. Washington drove a man into the ground with ease. McDonald held his ground against Jermaine Johnson with a strong block to set the tone on the first rep of the drill. Between McDonald, a bigger Wyatt Rector, Preston Daniel, Markeston Douglas, and a rehabbing Jordan Wilson, the tight end room’s ability to aid in the run game seems to be a major boost to the offense.
  • DJ Williams does not present a fun task for defenders. The running back got FSU’s offense going with some hard-nose running up the middle of the defense. He got his day off to a good start, as he lowered his shoulder and ran right through a defender in the Oklahoma drill. The back is thickly built and runs with a purpose. He proved hard to bring down for most of the day. He also had some strong blocks in 1v1’s against linebackers. Williams was versatile coming out of the backfield, often make the most out of check-downs from the QBs. Lawrance Toafili showed off his burst on a couple plays today. He took a toss from Travis to the outside and beat the FSU defense for a big gain. When he gets the wheels going, he’s got the breakaway speed to hit the home-run play.

Defense

  • Florida State has a little bit of everything in their defensive back field. FSU has some big hitters, some playmakers, some veterans, and some unproven young guns who are ready to make an impact. A large group of guys flashed on Thursday and there were little to no uncontested completions for the offense. For the cornerbacks, it was Jammie Robinson, Jarvis Brownlee, and Jarrian Jones highlighting the day. Jones and Brownlee got first team reps outside, while Robinson played alongside them in the nickel-back spot. Jones is at his best when he’s playing physical, and he showed off his physicality multiple times. He had a pass break up in 1v1’s vs. Helton and made it hard for receivers to get to their routes, playing tough press at the line most of the practice. Jones finished his day by quickly diagnosing and triggering on a screen, as he came down with a diving interception in full team play that ignited the Seminoles’ defense. Brownlee looked like a potential shut-down corner. He had a couple pass break ups and was only beat once or twice. Brownlee also used the hit stick on a big time tackle on a screen play, which likely would’ve broke for a big gain if he hadn’t made the stuff. He finished his day with a sack, coming off the edge untouched on a corner blitz. Robinson was all over the field in 11v11. He looked strong in coverage against tight-ends and slot WR’s. The transfer had multiple pass break-ups on the day and provided one of the biggest tackles in the Oklahoma drill.
  • The upside for FSU at the safety position is massive. Brendan Gant and Travis Jay got the first team reps at safety and looked like an electric pairing, not just flashing in 11v11, but also special teams drills and the Oklahoma drill. Gant, who has added nearly 20 pounds, looks like a different animal on the football field. He made two big plays on special teams, one on a big block and another coming on a tackle which he flew across the field to make. Both led to a chest bump with an exuberant Adam Fuller. In 1v1’s on the goal line, Gant jumped an out route to snag an interception just inside the pylon. With health and the added weight, the big hitter looks to be a difference maker for FSU. Jay had one of the biggest hits of the day in the Oklahoma drill, laying the wood on a wide receiver and driving them into the ground. He flashed his athleticism during special teams work, as he often makes the game look easy with the way he moves about the field. The defensive back also had a PBU in 11v11’s.
  • The linebackers put together a strong day, with at least one coming up with a big play in every drill. DJ Lundy and Emmett Rice both had massive hits in the Oklahoma drill. Rice continues to look more and more powerful every time he steps on the field. Rice also had a pancake block deep down field in special teams work. Stephen Dix Jr. ended the special teams drill with a massive block of his own, driving a gunner into the ground and opening up a lane for Helton on punt return. Kalen Deloach might’ve had the play of the day for the linebackers. On the last play of the first session of full team action, Deloach stuck with his man on a scramble play from Milton and made a last-second PBU to negate a big gain.
  • Derrick McLendon had a strong day coming off the edge for the Seminoles. The defensive end had a sack late in full team play and was creating consistent pressure. Fabien Lovett was dominant on the inside for Odell Haggins. Lovett had multiple run stops and was pushing the middle of the offensive line into the QB often. Josh Griffis also had a couple pressures off the edge.