Florida State offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham, defensive coordinator Adam Fuller and special teams coordinator John Papuchis spoke with the media on Tuesday afternoon. Each assistant spoke on various players and position groups. Below are highlights of their comments and the full video from each assistant is at the end of the story.
What were your thoughts on the spring game and the 15 practices for the offense?
Dillingham: I thought they did a nice job executing them. And when you watch the tape, there’s not a lot of catastrophes. There are some negative plays, some of those self-induced, some of those tag mode the quarterback, which is part of the spring game. But most of the time we gave ourselves a chance to be successful, especially with that first group. And that was something we didn’t do a lot of the time last year, a lot of time we had a lot of self-inflicted wounds. Scrimmage two we had a lot of self-inflicted wounds. So I was happy. We had no bad snaps, limited penalties, we definitely increased our ability to process and make decisions. We put our guys in situations where we made a game-day adjustment within the scrimmage with how we were going to do something to make them have to apply it. And they did it really well. So I was pleased with how they performed as a whole. And I thought we got a lot better this spring.
What did you see in the skill set of Malik McClain’s catch on sideline? What areas did he improve from start to finish this spring?
Dillingham: Evaluating the catch, really high skill set to make that catch. I was very happy that he made the play. That’s what we saw when we were recruiting him. The size, the speed, the length, the combination. And then he has that dog in him where he is competitive. And that’s what you can’t coach, you can’t coach the dog in somebody and he’s got the dog. And then as a whole he’s a guy who took advantage of every single rep. There were no plays off. He may not have been on the field, but he was paying attention. And you can tell the difference. Because when you’re looking at him and you’re talking to him, and you’re teaching them, some people hear, other people listen. And what I mean by that is some people can repeat what you said. Other people are listening to what you said in the context and how to apply it. He’s a kid for a young, an 18-year-old to be able to listen at his age is going to help him make those plays. Because it’s going to help him get on the field.
McKenzie Milton, coming off a two-year layoff, playing in a new offense, how do you evaluate his spring?
Dillingham: Constant improvement. Obviously, he knew football. But constant improvement. You’re talking about a kid who hasn’t really played in a live setting or as close to a live setting in over two years. And in a new system. So every single day, he got a little more comfortable. He had his good days, his bad days, but he got a little more comfortable. He learned from those mistakes. And when you’re in a new system, that’s all you can really ask is, don’t make the same mistake twice. If we’re going through a read and you think you can fit the ball over the corner in a high low and the guy sinks off it and the ball is batted down, I’m with you. Just don’t do it again. And that’s a guy who, the more comfortable he got within the system in terms of where people are going to be on the field, how we teach releases, those little details, he had to get used to. And he had constant improvement. And then just fundamentally, I talked to him, we’re gonna improve on driving off our back foot and throws from the pocket. You know, that’s something that we got to be, as a group, we got to get better at is pocket movements and keeping a base in the pocket. That’s something I challenged him with and he took that challenge. And now it’s on them. That entire quarterback room, it’s on them. Like I said, those guys know the system, they know how to self-correct themselves. They know when a throw feels good and why it shouldn’t feel good for the most part. So now it’s on them to see who prepares the next three months.
What growth did you see in Jordan Travis and what does he need to continue to do?
Dillingham: The growth in him, you can’t put it in words. I could try to describe it. But I can’t put it in words. Not just as a football player but as a person, as a leader. As everything about him. I couldn’t describe. There’s not a word that would do it justice, the growth he’s made. And I talked to him yesterday. He’s raised his standard of just living in every aspect of his life. And he’s raised the standard of what a work ethic is on the field. And there were still days where you would see his work ethic, and then he would just give a little bit more. And that was the challenge with him is ‘OK, you’ve raised the baseline, you practiced good every day, you may not have made the right read sometimes, but you practiced well every single day. Some days you practice better, and you gave a little bit more. Now that’s the next step. We’ve created the baseline of good. You show that you can be great. Now let’s be consistent with the next step. And for him, just getting more consistent with his feet, his feet have gotten consistent, a lot better than they were. And there’s still more room to grow. And for him, once again, similar to McKenzie, he’s a guy who’s starting to feel what it’s supposed to feel like, starting to feel when he’s late to throws, starting to feel when he’s early, starting to feel when his feet are underneath him, starting to say, ‘Hey, coach, can I tweak this drop? Because I feel like I’m late to this throw.’ That’s what we want. And that’s to the point where he’s getting. So I can’t describe enough how proud I am of that kid.
Do you see where you could use multiple QBs at times?
Dillingham: Yes, if they’re our best players, we will put them on the field. Our job as a staff is to put our best players on the field no matter if we have four quarterbacks. If they’re four of the best 11, you’re going to see some crazy stuff. If we have one quarterback, then there will be one dude on the field. Our job as a staff is to get the best quarterbacks on the field that gives us a chance to win.”
What were your thoughts on the defense’s progress from practice 1 to 15?
Fuller: Just more general communication, I thought was better from practice 1-15. It wasn’t always clean, but the importance of the communication, there’s always a speaker and there always has to be a listener, too. It’s one thing to have somebody talking, it’s another to have somebody listening. To be on one accord. I thought that improved as the spring went on. Just significantly, getting the guys the reps. The reps. That happened at linebacker, it happened up front and it happened in the secondary, especially with Kevin and Jammie, and Bam. I thought it was a really successful spring from that standpoint.
Will Jermaine Johnson stay at Fox or could he move around?
Fuller: Right now, he played end. There was a little Fox play during the spring, but not much. Those positions, it’s always about, there’s differences in positions, but the more the talent level becomes similar, the more they become interchangeable. Right now, we kept him at end. I thought DMac did a nice job coming on, we’ll get Keir Thomas coming back. That’ll offer us a little more flexibility with how we can use Jermaine. The positive of putting him in the field is he gives you a presence over there. But I definitely think there’s going to be a value in allowing him to play both spots.
What returning players made progress in your view?
Fuller: “Sidney Williams jumps out right away. We threw him in last year, he deserved to, but the next thing you know Sidney is getting starter reps towards the middle-end of the year. It showed up pretty early, even last year, he was in position to make plays. He plays with good pad level and that showed up here in the spring, too. He’s someone we’re going to rely on heavily. I saw the growth from where we were at the end of last year to early in the spring fairly quickly, and our players see it, too. Just his confidence, communication, ability to make the play. Takes good, natural angles. I thought we really saw some improvement with him. Thought Derrick McLendon showed up. He was somebody that played sparingly last year, but his technique and his development, he got much stronger and had a really good offseason in the weight room. He was much more consistent this spring. Really happy with the way that he’s developed. In the linebacker room, Kalen DeLoach, that was the one, I thought he did a really nice job at the beginning of last year. Then he kind of fell, he helped us on special teams at times, but he just wasn’t very consistent with his play, how we were using him, just an up and down season. But the way he went about this offseason, I’d say from about practice four or five, when Emmett Rice when down, I thought Kalen DeLoach was our most impactful linebacker just from his flash, the way he showed up. Got really high hopes to keep trending the way he did. He’s got some athleticism that’s needed in that room. Those are three of the guys at each position who I felt stood out.”
What improvement have you seen from Kalen DeLoach?
Fuller: It wasn’t, when we watched him even last year, there were flashes. He actually started Game 1 last year, so there were some flashes that he showed along the way. Just the consistency of what that looked like. The physicality, the finishing. And that second scrimmage, I really felt him and we really felt him. It wasn’t just in the plays he made, but how he was going about his business. How each play, in between each play he operated. I would say those last seven practices, he played at a very consistent, physical level. That development needs to continue. But stock was definitely up on him and I’m excited to see what these next three or four months have as we roll into 2021.
How does the hire of Randy Shannon help the defense and recruiting?
Fuller: Randy, he’s got an off-field role, so it’s limited. There’s really nothing he can do on the field as far as coaching or anything of that nature. But he’s, No. 1 been in college football and been in the state of Florida his entire career. So just to have someone with those relationships off the field, somebody with that insight on the field. I just feel it’s incredibly valuable to myself personally and my entire staff. In dealing with Randy here over the last several weeks, just his professionalism, he’s got a really good outlook on things. I just think his experiences and relationships in the state, I think we’ll see that pay off here.
Has Ryan Fitzgerald or Parker Grothaus emerged as the front-runner for the job?
Papuchis: I’m comfortable with both of them. I think they both have a lot of ability and potential. I thought we had a very solid spring as a specialist group. To be honest, coming out of spring, no one has really separated themselves. If you look at their stats, they’re almost identical. So, we actually had our meetings with the players post-spring and the message to both of those guys is continuing to compete and we’ll see how it all plays out. You would like to be able to go into the season and be able to name a guy that you feel confident is going to be the guy for the long-term, but we’ll see how that goes. Someone’s gonna have to take control the job. We’ll see how that you know if that happens and when that happens, but we’re going to continue to let them compete and battle it out.
How has Alex Mastromanno grown in year 2 of playing American football?
Papuchis: Alex is super-talented. So everything that that he went through last fall and through the season, it was really the first time he experienced all those things in his athletic career. He had never really played in that kind of setting or organized football before. So, you know his growth was continuous throughout the course of the year but really going into this offseason, the focus was honing in on the fine details – his ball placement, his accuracy, his footwork. I thought he made pretty significant strides as spring went. I thought the first scrimmage he might have been pressing and struggling a little bit, there was also some wind associated with that day, but I thought the second scrimmage and the spring game, he hit the ball really, really well. He can be a weapon for us if he continues to track the way he is tracking.
What were your impressions of the punt and kick returners?
Papuchis: “Big focus of our spring was both of our return unit. I felt like, you know coming out last fall, both our punt and our kickoff coverage was was really solid. Our return units were not the weapons they should have been. And so there was a lot of fundamental focus both on our punt pressure and our kickoff return units just to get better at the techniques and fundamentals of blocking. Then our return guys, they got reps every single day. I do feel like we have some guys who can be weapons back there – Travis Jay, Corey Wren, Jammie Robinson, Keyshawn Helton, all those guys got got a bunch of reps, Jakhi Douglas. I think we’ll have the people that can do it. It’s a matter of us be able to put it all together.”