Atkins on cross training the OL, early standouts in camp

FSU offensive line coach Alex Atkins met the media after the Seminoles’ second day of fall camp on Saturday. Among the topics the first-year Florida State assistant coach spoke on were the need to cross-train players at multiple positions, bonding with his position group, what he was able to get accomplished in offseason Zoom meetings and a few early standouts in practice.

Atkins worked his linemen at multiple spots during FSU’s pandemic-shortened spring practice period in March and will continue to do so as the Seminoles prepare for the season.

“You have to,” said Atkins on if he planned to continue cross training this fall. “Even if you look at NFL rosters, they don’t carry that many active. You got to have guys that can play multiple positions. And also be able to keep your best players out there regardless of position. We got some guys going guard-tackle, center-guard, just to be able to always give the best guys the chance for us to be successful on the field.”

He also says it allows him to make sure he can get his best players on the field and makes them more comfortable in the event they have to move from their original spot in order to give his unit the best combination possible.

“It goes hand in hand,” continued Atkins. “The foundation of it is to make sure you can get as deep as possible with the best players you could put on the field. As far as ability-wise, it’s very similar. The play is different if you are playing left guard or right tackle, it could be like a different world. But the footwork, the hands, the striking, the vision, all of that is pretty similar. It is more of making sure you are putting the best players on the field to be able to have success and understanding that you have to put those guys in those situations so they can see it. So, if he’s only played left tackle the whole camp and then you put him in at left guard, that will be foreign to him. You have to give them those reps if you are going to use them in those roles.”

It was far from a normal transition for a first-year staff and an unusual offseason. Atkins says he and his unit took advantage of being able to stay in touch via Zoom meetings once practice was cut short in mid-March and prior to their organized meetings once they returned in July.

“Our guys have gotten really close-knit,” Atkins said of his unit’s togetherness. “And I believe that just because for a while there, when they came back and did the voluntary workouts together and they did all the Zoom meetings, that’s all they were really around. Some of them couldn’t go home because of the virus and the impact and things like that. I believe the continuity and the relationship off the field is just as important as on the field. And I believe they’ve done a good job.”

From a coaching standpoint Atkins focused his players on the fundamentals of offensive line play in those meetings.

“What I did was we had fundamental focus,” said Atkins. “Which I thought was beneficial. You took one thing whether it be jump steps, whether it be flash sets, whether it be down blocks and you really broke it down to the ‘T’ or the finer points of it and gave examples, showed NFL players doing it. And show many examples of the why. It really goes back to the why the fundamental is important. I can take anybody out there and do a drill. They have to know why they are doing it and when to apply it. I was able to teach them the why and apply. I was able to teach them the why.”

One true freshman who caught the early attention of Atkins as well as head coach Mike Norvell is Thomas Shrader.

“Just his approach,” said Atkins. “How he took it upon himself to really study the information that was given to him. The strongest thing in the world is a made-up mind and he has his mind made up where he is going to approach every day and attempt to get better. He has really shown it through his action. We haven’t put on the shoulder pads yet, so it sounds good right now, but I love his approach and how he has attacked the information and how well he is doing. He’s also a guy that’s played multiple (positions).”

He is also working seniors Andrew Boselli and Baveon Johnson along with redshirt freshman Maurice Smith at center this fall in a battle that will continue further in to camp.

“All three guys, we’re still continuing to evaluate, we really can tell a lot with the practices coming up in the future,” said Atkins. “The things I really like about the guys is they are all pushing each other. They are very close in the race. The first thing is going to come back to accurate snaps. Who can get back there accurately? With as much (shot)gun and under center stuff as we do, the snaps have to be accurate. Who can process the offense and process the information more quickly. As we get into the offense, as we get more detailed into it, time will tell who handles that the best. The center position is important because he’s the one guy on the field that can talk to both sides.”

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