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Notes: Norvell encouraged by development of younger Noles

Florida State coach Mike Norvell said a focus during the bye week was taking a long look at true or redshirt freshmen as well as some veterans who hadn’t played much in 2021. Last week’s practices gave the coaches an opportunity to evaluate.

The Seminoles are also a 37-point favorite on homecoming against UMass. If FSU can jump out to an early lead, the coaches could get some freshmen playing time on Saturday. Norvell mentioned a group of players on offense.

“For us, it was a good mix of young guys who maybe haven’t had an opportunity, but guys like, a guy like Ja’Khi Douglas who’s had some positive plays in the early part of the season, but really giving him a bigger load there at running back to see his confidence level continue to grow,” Norvell said. “I thought it was good in that respect. There on the offensive line it was good to see guys like (offensive linemen) Lloyd Willis, Zane Herring, Rod Orr, kind of get those guys working. Bryson Estes. Just really seeing where those guys are at.”

Norvell admitted the obvious: True freshmen often practice like true freshmen. But he said he’s starting to see the confidence gained. He also pointed out a few defensive ends as well as defensive backs.

“Josh Farmer, who is now playing more for us, and put himself in the rotation and seeing him get out there and get some quality work,” Norvell said. “I like the growth and development I’m seeing from Patrick Payton. He’s already gained close to 30 pounds since he’s been there. You can see his confidence in how to play, he’s learning some things fundamentally. As a true freshman who missed some time in camp, you kind of hit a little bit of a wall there, but really seeing him take some positive steps. George Wilson is another guy that we’re pushing. I like the explosiveness and things I see from him.

“A lot of guys have put themselves in a position to be able to help this team. Omarion Cooper is a guy who’s played more and will probably be in the rotation than what he was. But it was still a great opportunity to get him back after missing the last game. Get him some extra work. Hunter Washington, Shyheim Brown, those guys, I’m very encouraged with what I’m seeing from them in their development.”

FSU is already one of the youngest teams in college football, with freshmen up and down the depth chart on offense, defense and special teams. But the Seminoles have a chance against one of the nation’s worst Group of 5 teams, UMass (1-5), to get some of the true or redshirt freshmen playing time that will help them learn and review game film to help in their long-term development.

One opponent at a time

The Seminoles have an unusual schedule where they have not played a rival at the midpoint but will then face Clemson, Miami and Florida in the span of five weeks. FSU startlingly lost its second game to FCS Jacksonville State, and Norvell reinforced on Monday that the Seminoles aren’t looking ahead to Clemson on Oct. 30.

“I can promise you we’re not going to look past anybody,” Norvell said. “My focus is 100 percent on our football team, where we are, and this week. You see a schedule at the beginning of the year, you know the great games you get to play. That’s why you come to Florida State. … But the thing I believe we’ve all learned, you’ve got to maximize the one that’s in front of you. We’re still a very young football team. We’re a football team that every day matters, every practice matters. As we continue to embrace that, as we’ve applied that throughout the season, you see us playing better.

“There’s been examples that have showed up throughout this year, they were life lessons. And I know I shared that through press conferences this year, you can’t take the pain of some of the things we experienced earlier this year and let it go to waste. You’ve got to build on it. You’ve got to learn those lessons that every day, you’ve got to come here and go to work.”

Break gave time to recruit

Norvell said he would use the time off from practice Wednesday through Saturday to watch recruits play in games. By NCAA rule, he was not able to talk with prospects during the evaluation period but was able to catch games and talk to high school coaches.

“I was at a game Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday,” Norvell said. “Some of those nights, multiple games. Hit the schools throughout the state. It’s important to me that we have that presence. Since I’ve had the job. Really you had the one contact period for about 20 days. It was really the only time I was able to be out in the state.”

Norvell said FSU’s coaches were able to recruit on the Friday night before the Notre Dame game as well as a few other games here and there but the bye week was critical for Norvell and the staff in “building those relationships, sharing the vision.”

Defensive ends coach John Papuchis said he felt the visits were “really positive.”

“We’ve been able to build some good relationships in the short amount of time that we’ve been here,” Papuchis said. “The schools that I went to I feel like I have good relationships there. And I think they see a lot of the same things that you see and that we’re all aware of is that the last two weeks our progress in the program, that there were some games early on in the year that we had an opportunity to win and we didn’t quite put away.”

Offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham said evaluation is different from looking on tape or in a camp.

“The key for us is to see, when a kid is on the field in high school, he’d better be the best player,” Dillingham said. “We get all these sheets that we get handed from all our people and I take those sheets and I don’t even look at them when I go to a game. Because if you don’t stand out, if I don’t notice you when you’re on the field and say, ‘That dude is different than everybody else, then all you are is somebody else says you are good.’ That’s all it is. So when we go to games, we’re trying to evaluate what are the difference-makers not what are the guys on the sheet. …

“I want the guys if you watch the game and you say, ‘Holy cow. I don’t want to play him.’ And if you get all the guys on your team that you don’t want to play, you’re going to be pretty good.”