The value of having 15 spring practices at Florida State can not be understated. Mike Norvell and the coaching staff had just three practices in 2020 and then had to hustle to teach fundamentals and install scheme.
This spring offered a chance to, yes, focus on fundamentals but also build on the offseason strength and conditioning program and show some of those gains through practices and scrimmages. In some position groups, those gains were evident. In others, injuries limited being able to have a clear picture.
A full set of spring practices are critical for development and evaluation but also setting a tone of hard work for the months to come as players transition toward player-led summer workouts.
“I truly believe that your identity as a football team starts forming now,” Norvell said. “The winter conditioning is big for our program, Tour of Duty, building mental toughness and physical development, that’s critical. You get out there at practice where you really don’t have an opponent. You have yourself, you have guys fighting at the position and then you have your teammates that you’re going against every day.
“I want to see how they show up every day and come sit in the meeting rooms, how they apply that out on the practice field and do they prepare and execute relentlessly throughout the work so that we can be the best version of us. I’m starting to see guys taking the proper steps so that we can accomplish that.”
Norvell offered the media a look at five practices plus three scrimmages (including Saturday’s Garnet and Gold game). Upon reflection, here’s our viewpoint of FSU’s offense after the spring. We’ll take a look at the defense on Wednesday.
What we like: From the start in March, McKenzie Milton looked good on the run — he never looked like a quarterback who had a catastrophic leg injury. The difference in Milton the passer from early in the spring to his final practices of April were the biggest positive. Milton said early on that he wanted the FSU offense to become like “second nature” and it was clear it would take time as he continued his comeback and learned a new system. Norvell remarked that Milton’s practice last Thursday was one of his best, while his timing, accuracy and touch were on display in the spring game. Jordan Travis also looks bigger but the added weight is good and hasn’t slowed him down one bit. He appears more confident in the offense. No surprise but it’s a wide-open competition going into preseason camp. While Norvell did not name a starter or front-runner, it’s clear Milton and Travis are ahead of Tate Rodemaker and Chubba Purdy going into the summer.
Areas of improvement: Through the majority of the open practices and scrimmages the media was able to attend, a running theme was how to evaluate the quarterbacks. Pass protection was often shaky and receivers’ drops were prevalent. We’ll get into offensive linemen and receivers later on but FSU’s quarterbacks must continue to build rhythm in the passing game with receivers. Rodemaker seemed to have improved accuracy on deep passes, one area he mentioned as a focal point, but he also didn’t look comfortable in the spring game (although he was often playing with the second-team offensive line). Norvell said Purdy should be medically cleared ahead of summer workouts, allowing him to work with receivers and learn beyond the “mental reps” and work in the meeting room with quarterbacks.
What we like: The group may lack a 1,000-yard back like a Devonta Freeman, Dalvin Cook or Cam Akers but the Seminoles do have backs who will show toughness as runners as well as reliable hands in the passing game. Jashaun Corbin has been praised for his consistency this spring as a rusher and receiver out of the backfield. Lawrance Toafili is a smooth runner who often looks and moves like a receiver. Treshaun Ward was given a scholarship this winter and has shown he will fight for yards.
Areas of improvement: Auburn transfer D.J. Williams often looked like he was getting acclimated to the offense and will need time to learn the offense. Corey Wren moved from receiver to running back/athlete, but he has yet to make much of an impression. As a group, the running backs must improve in pass protection.
What we like: There were “flashes,” coachspeak for moments of brilliance, from true freshmen like Malik McClain and Joshua Burrell as well as redshirt freshmen like Bryan Robinson and Kentron Poitier. The spring game perhaps showed the consistency (without as many drops) from the receivers. Walk-on Parker Self doesn’t drop passes and looks like an option in the slot. Name the starters in a three-receiver set for the season opener and there’s plenty of presumptions being made, but at the same time candidates are emerging as you can see the development and benefits of 15 practices for the early enrollees or second-year receivers. Milton has twice praised McClain as a receiver who will be playing on Sundays.
Areas of improvement: Throughout the open practices, drops were a major source of frustration and acted as drive-killers. We needed to see consistent production from receivers on a daily basis and it wasn’t there. McClain has moments where he doesn’t look like a freshman — his size is evident, his footwork is crisp and he will make the routine and difficult catches. There are other moments where drops remind you he is a freshman. This is the case throughout the receiving corps. The goal is to learn as they go and grow and build chemistry with the quarterbacks this summer.
What we like: Jordan Wilson returned late in the spring and, while limited in contact, the prospect of him being fully healthy by August means he can add a dimension to the run game this fall with his 6-foot-4, 262-pound frame. Camren McDonald won’t be the kind of blocker Wilson offers, but he is an athletic downfield receiver when lined up off tackle or in the slot. Jackson West often stood out — enrolling early should earn him more playing time this fall.
Areas of improvement: There are a number of scholarship tight ends without much separation, a group that includes Wyatt Rector, Carter Boatwright and 289-pound Markeston Douglas. To be fair, all of them are in the early stages of their development. But walk-on Preston Daniel appears to be comparable or have a slim edge if you were doing a tight end depth chart going into the summer.
What we like: Let’s start with the obvious: Every position was desperate for 15 practices to improve in development. But the line needed on-field time to learn from Alex Atkins and develop chemistry. Individual positives are tough to find here but tackles like Robert Scott and Darius Washington can only improve through daily battles with Georgia transfer defensive end Jermaine Johnson. Washington in particular was praised for his work in the offseason strength and conditioning program. Maurice Smith appears entrenched at center.
Areas of improvement: Not having Devontay Love-Taylor, a veteran who can play multiple positions but also be a leader and call out blocking assignments pre-snap, was a big limitation. The Seminoles had just nine scholarship linemen available for the spring game. Just how good or how much progress FSU has made in pass protection remains a question mark. Coaches spoke in August about finding eight linemen they feel good about and the Seminoles aren’t near that number. Dontae Lucas and Baveon Johnson have been inconsistent but do have starting experience. There are still too many linemen who are long-term projects (Chaz Neal, Jalen Goss, Lloyd Willis and Ira Henry) and it’s unclear how much they can contribute this fall. With depth being razor-thin, it remains to be seen when injured linemen like Thomas Shrader (on crutches at spring game) or Brady Scott (in boot at spring game) will be back in August or later. Love-Taylor’s return is vital. And FSU still has a scholarship spot left, which should be used on the best available lineman in the transfer portal.
The Osceola’s Patrick Burnham and Jerry Kutz contributed