They shared their thoughts on both sides of the ball and also discussed the totality of spring practice.
Florida State’s second-year offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham said he thought the offense got a lot better this spring and that they did a nice job of executing during the spring game.
“Most of the time, we gave ourself a chance to be successful, especially with that first group. That was something we didn’t do a lot of the time last year. A lot of times we had self-inflicted wounds,” said Dillingham.
Stronger depth across the running back and wide receiver skill positions will only buoy the Seminoles’ philosophies of playing fast and accounting for numbers.
“When you can keep people fresh you can play faster,” said Dillingham. “The more people we have on our roster that we feel comfortable with, the faster we can play and we can limit what we call because we know we are going to have guys who can win one-on-ones.”
Of particular interest to FSU faithful was the play of senior transfer quarterback McKenzie Milton. Dillingham said he was constantly improving and every single day he got a little more comfortable.
“The more comfortable he got within the system, in terms of where people are going to be on the field and how we teach releases, those little details he had to get used to, and he had constant improvement with that,” said Dillingham.
Speaking of quarterbacks, Dillingham echoed some of the extremely positive comments head coach Mike Norvell has had regarding redshirt sophomore signal-caller Jordan Travis. Dillingham said he can’t put into words how much Travis has grown in his play on the field, off the field, and “everything about him.” He is high on the quarterback room in general.
“The grasp of the system for all of those quarterbacks is so much greater. I wasn’t installing this spring; I was teaching football,” Dillingham continued. “That’s where you make your greatest growth.”
Dillingham even addressed the likelihood that more than one passer will line up in the offense with the first team during games. He said their job as a staff is to put the best players on the field. It doesn’t look like FSU is ruling out any possibilities with a runner like Travis in the fold.
Injuries across the offensive line only freed up the Noles to experiment further with different combinations and the cross-training of individual lineman at alternate positions. Dillingham pointed out that he was pleased with redshirt freshmen Maurice Smith and Darius Washington, senior Baveon Johnson, as well as redshirt frosh Lloyd Willis who got some time starting at tackle.
Now with spring behind them, Dillingham said it is all about how the players prepare for the next three months heading into fall camp.
“Some people are going to continue to get better these next three months. Some people are going to stay the same,” said Dillingham.
On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Adam Fuller said general communication was better as spring ball wore on. Fuller was happy that the players who needed to get reps got reps— at all three levels of the defense.
At the center of the defensive efforts Saturday in the spring game, and apparently all spring practice long, was Georgia transfer defensive lineman Jermaine Johnson. Due to his playmaking abilities nearly every snap, Fuller was asked whether there is a possibility Johnson could be featured across multiple positions (fox and field) along the defensive line.
“Right now, he just played end. It was a little bit of fox play during the spring but not much. Those positions, it’s always about…there’s differences in the position, but the more the talent level becomes similar, the more they become interchangeable. Right now, we kept him at end,” said Fuller.
“The positive about putting him on the field is obviously he gives you some presence over there. But I definitely think there’s going to be some value in allowing him to play both spots.”
Another player who may be utilized at multiple positions is true freshman defensive back Kevin Knowles II. Fuller described Knowles as a recruit that could play corner or nickel in the staff’s opinion. FSU and Fuller are really happy about Knowles right now and his stock has gone up.
“We made the decision to put him at nickel just to get him involved in as much football action as possible. Just to put him more in the middle of the formation, and force him to react, put him in more tackling situations,” said Fuller. “Early on we realized he is mature beyond his years. He is a really good communicator. He’s got the skill set to play inside or outside.”
Fans saw Knowles register the lone turnover of the spring game, but there was also a redshirt freshman defensive back who flashed as well. Fuller thought Sidney Williams showed growth fairly early in spring and his teammates have seen it as well.
“We threw him in last year, and he deserved to. But the way it went, next thing you know Sidney was getting starter reps toward the end of the year,” said Fuller. “It showed up pretty early last year that he was in position to make plays, he plays with good pad level. That showed up here in the spring too. He is someone that we are going to rely on heavily”
Two more players Fuller praised were redshirt freshman defensive lineman Derrick McClendon and redshirt sophomore linebacker Kalen DeLoach. Fuller said McClendon was more consistent this spring and got a lot stronger this offseason, while he noted how DeLoach went about his business during spring.
Everyone on the FSU coaching staff was excited to welcome former Miami head coach Randy Shannon to the staff as a senior defensive analyst. Particularly Fuller, who fully realized the advantages of adding a former head coach and longtime defensive coordinator. Fuller is excited about Shannon’s professionalism and his connections within the state of Florida.
“To have somebody with those relationships off the field, somebody with that insight on the field, I just think it is incredibly valuable to myself personally and our entire staff,” said Fuller.
Entering the slow days of summer, Fuller remarked that Florida State’s maturity and team concept will be key to carry the team into fall camp.
“I think it’s a critical time. Everything is critical, right?” said Fuller. “Now that we have set some standards and benchmarks for how it looks, we’ve had a good amount of time with them. It’s going to be really important here this next month and a half as we break away to continue that momentum.”
Thursday AM Update: Papuchis talks FSU special teams, defensive line spring position battles
Florida State special teams coordinator John Papuchis also addressed the media this week, providing insight into the battles for starting spots in the special teams units.
Papuchis said he is seeking improvement from 2020 when the return game “wasn’t the weapon it should have been.” That goes for each returner, as well as the blocking in front of them. He said the talent is there, but they need to put it all together this fall.
At returner, five players were mentioned to receive the majority of reps this spring. Receivers Keyshawn Helton (27 career returns across three seasons) and Ja’Khi Douglas along with running back Corey Wren were the offensive players who may be returning kicks and punts this fall. The other two players discussed were defensive backs Travis Jay and Jammie Robinson.
FSU isn’t just in the middle of a quarterback battle, they are also seeing heavy competition at placekicker as well. Just as their stats last season would indicate, junior kicker Parker Grothaus (4 makes in 7 attempts last year) and redshirt freshman kicker Ryan Fitzgerald (also 4 makes in 7 attempts in 2020) have yet to separate themselves from each other this offseason, according to Papuchis.
Papuchis said both of the kicker’s stats throughout spring were similar as well.
“I’m comfortable with both of them. I think they both have a lot of ability and potential,” said Papuchis. “I thought we had a very solid spring.”
“Someone is going to have to take control of the job,” Papuchis continued. “We’ll see when that happens and if that happens, we’re going to let them continue to compete and battle that out.”
Punter Alex Mastromanno, still with four years of eligibility remaining, focused on his ball placement and accuracy this spring. Papuchis pointed out that Mastromanno had very limited experience playing in a live game before the 2020 season, but had continued growth as the season wore on last year.
“The second scrimmage of the spring game, he hit the ball really, really well. He can be a weapon for us if he continues to track the way he is tracking,” said Papuchis.
Then, the assistant coach also pointed out some of the players who stood out within his position group of defensive ends. Papuchis called senior Keir Thomas a veteran presence to the team, a very savvy player, and someone who understands the big picture. Papuchis said he was really impressed with true freshman Joshua Farmer, especially the way he fought and competed.