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Notes: Haggins sees veterans pushing to improve at DT

Florida State is celebrating its 75th consecutive season of football in 2021. On Thursday, Odell Haggins was asked about what it has meant for him to be a part of the program as a player (1985-89) as well as an assistant coach since 1994.

“It means a lot,” Haggins said. “You think about it, 33 years of it. And it’s a blessing to me to be here at Florida State, working and pointing to the young men’s lives. I wouldn’t want to do it anywhere else. Making sure they go to school, they graduate and be great young men. To have a chance to go in the NFL if that’s a fit. But, hey, it feels awesome. You look at this stadium, I come in every morning, I come to work, I look at it and I say, ‘Wow, it’s a great feeling to be at Florida State.’ “

Haggins has had the same office for decades, and this year he has a group anchored by veterans like Fabien Lovett, Robert Cooper and Dennis Briggs. It’s a trio that combined had just 35 tackles in 2020 but is being viewed as a group that will need to take a step forward to help the Seminoles’ improve their run defense.

While Briggs doesn’t have as much time on the field at tackle, it’s evident what he brings to the table in terms of strength and quickness despite being yielding a few pounds compared to the typical 300-pound interior lineman.

“He’s a tackle to me and our staff,” Haggins said. “But the thing about last year, Dennis didn’t get much work at defensive tackle because we had COVID last spring, he came in the fall, opted out, came back and played part of the season. But he’s getting better and better. He’s a strong kid, he’s quick, he’s powerful, he’s 280 pounds, he’s doing a great job. He’s developing into a very good run-stopper and a pass rusher.”

Lovett has also slimmed down a few pounds to 310 and his athleticism and ability to stay in the game longer has been noted by Haggins.

“He was 315, 320,” Haggins said. “I said, ‘Fab, you need to get down to about between 300 and 305.’ The biggest thing for a defensive lineman is conditioning. How many times can you strike a blocker who is running to the football, not just one time? Reps, reps, reps. It has helped him a lot.”

Cooper is another lineman who has shed weight, from about 400 pounds at his arrival four years ago to now 338 pounds.

“He is playing a lot harder,” Haggins said. “I challenged him. Coach Norvell challenged him. Challenge him every day, running to the football. And he’s playing hard, striking blockers, he’s doing the things that I want him to do. He is starting to develop into that player we always thought he could be.”

Haggins also discussed other linemen in the video at the end of this story.

Farmer bulks up, set up for playing time

Joshua Farmer had an idea what was in front of him. A defensive end at nearby Gadsden County High, Farmer had a feeling where he would be playing when he arrived at FSU.

“I kind of knew I was going to be a D-tackle,” Farmer said Thursday. “When I came in I was at 260. Weight just gradually started going up. Plus, Odell mostly recruited me.”

Yes, those are good indicators in where Mike Norvell and the coaching staff projected Farmer. And the early enrollee has done what has been asked, beginning off the field by packing on weight early — the 6-foot-3 Farmer is up to 290 pounds.

FSU is loaded with veterans at defensive tackle like Lovett, Briggs and Cooper. Keir Thomas has also been used as an end and tackle. But there are also younger options like Farmer, Malcolm Ray and Tru Thompson. Farmer has shown that enrolling early helped him in the weight room and he’s also benefitted from on-field reps as well as coaching from Haggins.

The added weight hasn’t really slowed Farmer, he feels.

“I think I carry it pretty good,” Farmer said. “I’m still athletic. Coach (Josh) Storms helped me a lot with that. Not just throwing it on, putting it on the right way.”

Farmer said FSU was his dream school and he’s been preparing to be a college athlete since his days at Gadsden County and being coached by a Nole, Corey Fuller.

“I couldn’t have imagined coming in without Coach Fuller behind me, pushing me, talking to me how he talked,” Farmer said. “He never told me ‘good job’ or anything. Coming in with Coach Odell, you got to be mentally strong.”

Observations

FSU held a shorter practice Thursday that was often focused on special teams. The Seminoles emphasized various elements of special teams: punts, returns and coverage units and even onside kicks as well as hands-team onside recovery. Among the punt returners were Ontaria Wilson, Keyshawn Helton and Meiko Dotson.

Coaches looked to cover as many situations as possible and it was good to see a variety of first- and second-team offensive players involved in the hands team, as one example. We didn’t see field-goal kicking but it has been emphasized just about every day that FSU has practiced. Coach Mike Norvell has not announced a starting kicker yet in what has been a tight competition in camp.