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Position by position: Atkins reflects on FSU’s development in spring

Florida State offensive line coach / offensive coordinator Alex Atkins met with the media on Wednesday to reflect on the Seminoles’ spring practices. Below is a position by position look back at some offensive players as well as thoughts from Atkins.

Quarterbacks

Mike Norvell and Atkins are clearly all in on Jordan Travis as QB1. They like what he offers as a passer and runner but also the respect he has from teammates.

“When you call a huddle and we call a play, those guys wait for Jordan to say the play again,” Atkins said. “Not like they just go (to the line of scrimmage). Because they want to hear from him too. He might repeat what coach just said or what I just said, but they wait for him to say it. When I started seeing that I knew, ‘Let them go run it.’ It’s not the Mike Norvell, Alex Atkins, Florida State offense. It’s going to be the Jordan Travis offense.”

Atkins was asked a few times about having three quarterbacks and the potential pursuit of a transfer quarterback. But Atkins avoided that discussion. He took time to praise Travis as well as the improvement he saw from Tate Rodemaker and AJ Duffy.

“I think we’re very comfortable with the room and I’m very pleased in their progression,” Atkins said. “I’ve been pleased with those three guys.”

Running backs

From the start of spring practice to the final one on Tuesday, the running back group has done everything it can to convince that the competition and depth is there for FSU to be successful running the ball in 2022. Of course, it helps that Travis is a dual threat. But Trey Benson has the size and speed to be a playmaker, although it’s easier to see him carry 10-12 times per game than 25+ following his major knee surgery suffered in 2020 at Oregon. And it’s also easy to see Benson maximizing those opportunities with his speed, racking up yards after contact and creating chunk plays. 

“Trey is a kid that you have to make him slow down,” Atkins said. “You have to tell him to stop you have to almost protect him from himself because he loves to play. He loves to carry the football. We challenged him on some things and he’s really responded … It feels like he’s already been here for a while. It’s like he fits right in.”

A trio of Benson, Treshaun Ward and Lawrance Toafili is one that offers varied skill sets and versatility. Norvell likes to use three backs during the course of a game and those feel like the top three coming out of the spring, but FSU also has options with D.J. Williams, CJ Campbell and early enrollee Rodney Hill. 

Atkins stated the group looks “faster, they look stronger, they look more confident.” He also cited the physical progress of Toafili. “He doesn’t look like a skinny guy out there playing running back anymore,” Atkins said. “He’s thick. He’s running hard.”

Receivers

Atkins admitted the obvious: Media and fans were curious (and often obsessed) with the four receivers the staff brought in via the transfer portal. He called them the “shiny, new toys” and said “We knew as a staff they were gonna fit right in.”

There were positive signs from the receiver group this spring, especially how Mycah Pittman practices and the tone he sets. There’s still way too much inconsistent play from the group, including drops, although Johnny Wilson proved to be a tough 1-on-1 matchup in the red zone this spring. Deuce Spann had moments but remains a project.

Atkins mentioned Malik McClain as having a good spring in which “he really showcased himself.” But even McClain, in his second year on campus, had too many drops or moments where he lost focus.

The floor of the room has been elevated, in large part due to Pittman but also Ja’Khi Douglas has emerged as a receiver who is more than just an occasional deep threat and has now settled in permanently at receiver.

“I’ve enjoyed not only the new guys progressing into the room, but the other guys stepping up,” Atkins said. “… Competing to go get the ball.”

Norvell and Atkins have avoided putting a timetable on Winston Wright Jr.’s return following a car accident over spring break. Atkins offered perhaps the most encouraging thoughts overall.

“He was here yesterday (Tuesday), in good spirits,” Atkins said. “I give props to our team, our teammates and a lot of people that kept him encouraged, so I feel fired up that Winston can help us. I like where his mindset is and feel confident in it.”

Tight ends

Given the chance to observe 12 of FSU’s practices this spring, one position group that didn’t appear to make significant progress was tight end. Norvell doesn’t formulate depth charts in the spring, but it would likely be Camren McDonald and Wyatt Rector as the 1-2 guys (Rector likely had the most consistent spring of the tight ends). Younger tight ends like Jackson West and Marketson Douglas still aren’t dependable enough in the passing game. 

When asked directly who was the best blocker in the group, Atkins didn’t offer names but made it clear what their roles are. “Blocking is not an option,” Atkins said. “They all are required to do it.” 

Atkins also cited the leadership of McDonald. “They’ve been consistent for us not only on the field but off the field,” Atkins said. “Cam McDonald has been a steady rock.”

Offensive line

Spring is about player development and that was evident along the offensive line. Atkins knows what he has in guard Dillan Gibbons, for example, so he at times was able to rest and we saw more of Bryson Estes and Zane Herring at guard with starters. 

“We had more bodies but we still were able to get a bunch of reps,” Atkins said. “Just having that depth and competition always adds a lot of value and just more confidence, to be honest. They feel more confident in what they’re doing and what we’re asking them to do.”

Atkins cited center Maurice Smith as a leader, a veteran who often goes to the rooms of younger linemen and helps encourage and review film. He was also asked if there’s a possibility Kayden Lyles could line up at a guard spot and emphasized cross training is critical to what he wants all linemen to do and be prepared to play in different spots.

Thomas Shrader was also lost to season-ending surgery last spring, but he returned this spring and was able to get reps in. Atkins said Shrader has been engaged throughout the last year despite the surgery and rehab.

“Thomas had a really rough knee injury,” Atkins said. “He had surgery and got operated on last spring and he was in our position meeting the very next day after surgery. I had to basically kick him out. He has not missed a meeting throughout this entire process. So what I love about Thomas is he has a tough mentality, tough mindset.”