Florida State tight ends coach Chris Thomsen met with the media Tuesday after the Seminoles’ fourth spring practice. It is the first time Thomsen has met with the media since spring practice began a week ago.
Thomsen’s unit returns four players from last year’s team, including returning starter Camren McDonald, redshirt sophomore Wyatt Rector, redshirt freshman Carter Boatwright and redshirt freshman walk-on Preston Daniel.
Graduate transfer Jordan Wilson also returns but his participation will be limited this spring as he continues to recover from ACL surgery. Wilson’s injury cost him the entire 2020 season after transferring from UCLA. Redshirt freshman Markeston Douglas is also back, as are walk-ons Ben Ostazewski, DJ Daniels and Austin White. True freshman Jackson West enrolled in school in January after signing with FSU in December and is also participating in spring practice.
With the group in relatively good health, competition is fierce at what could be a position of strength for FSU in 2021.
“The competition has been really good,” Thomsen said after the team’s fourth practice. “That’s kind of the thing that you would like to have at every position to where you got guys that you feel very confident putting in the game. I have a number of guys that I feel that way about.”
One reason Thomsen feels good about his group is the work they have put in so far this offseason.
“They’ve all positioned themselves to compete and to be in a position to play just with the things that they did in the offseason program,” continued Thomsen. “Their change in their bodies from the end of the regular season to when we started spring ball has been pretty remarkable, what the strength staff has done with those guys, with my guys, really all the guys. But seeing what they have done with my group has been really impressive. Competition is the key word. We don’t want any guys getting complacent, feeling like they’ve got a spot locked down. We want competition every day and that’s what we’re getting.”
McDonald, who led all tight ends with 23 catches for 263 yards in 2020, has added over 10 pounds since the end of last season, which should only help in his development as a run blocker heading into the 2021 season.
“I think getting a chance to be a full-time starter last year was huge,” said Thomsen of McDonald. “I think there’s only so much football you can learn in practice. And obviously practice is critical. But there’s a point where you have to go in the game and you have to be out there to feel. Cam had played obviously before last year, played some but only in spots. So I saw a lot of growth in him as a route runner, as a blocker, all the things that you look for. He’s one of those guys, like after the season, he went from low to 230s to low to 240s. He’s playing in the 242 range, 243. So with that brings a lot more physicality to the run game. And not only the run game, just route running.”
Thomsen steadfastly believes McDonald’s best days are still ahead of him.
“He’s a matchup problem at times because he’s so big, and he’s got length and he’s put on the extra mass,” continued Thomsen on McDonald. “When guys get stronger, they change direction better, they get out of breaks better. And he’s showing all those things in the first four practices. And I think the sky’s the limit for him. There’s still things in the in-line part of blocking that he’s still learning because he just hadn’t done a lot of that, but we made a huge emphasis in spring ball, the early part of spring ball, just the physicality. We want to be able to line up in any formation and run the football effectively. And you got to have tight ends that can do that. And he’s really stepped up. I think (if he) continues to develop as a route runner, continues to develop as an in-line blocker and all the things that he’s got to do, the sky’s the limit for him.”
Thomsen also thinks that Rector, Daniel and Boatwright also benefitted from their 2020 experience.
“That’s been huge,” said Thomsen of the four returning lettermen. “Just to come back after a year and have the same system in place, the terminology, we ask a lot of those guys in terms of where they line up and what they’re doing. With that there’s a lot of things that, from a technique standpoint, they have to perfect. Having that year under their belt, having gone out and played in ball games, like you said, feeled it. There’s times where you just have to go out in the game and feel the things that happened to you. And what all those guys did that you just mentioned, Wyatt is in the low 240s, between 240 and 245. Cam is the same, 245. Preston is up over 250.”
Even Wilson, whose return in the fall could help FSU’s power running and passing significantly, has made strides this offseason despite the injury.
“Jordan Wilson, who didn’t play last year, is up over 260 right now,’ said Thomsen. “We want to be a group that can function well in the passing game but also bring physicality to the run game. And so they’ve been able to do that with just continuing to transform their bodies. Having the experience is huge, having a comfort level with the system, you can see that they’re all just a lot more comfortable having a year under their belt.”
West has also impressed his new coach in the early stages of his development as a college tight end.
“He’s adapting well,” said Thomsen of West. “He’s not a guy that you have to push into being physical. The first couple of padded practices, and we saw this immediately on film in high school, he takes the fight to the other guy. He’s not a guy that waits around, whether he’s attached or whether he’s on the perimeter, whether he’s in the backfield. He’s always moving downhill, he’s playing physical. He put on 10, 12 pounds from the time he got here early January until spring ball, which probably is a little too much for a freshmen to gain that quick but he’s a very determined guy. He wants to make an impact early and he’s shown a really, really good deal of physicality early in spring ball.”
The veteran college assistant also thinks his unit also has a better understanding of his expectations and those of head coach Mike Norvell as they continue to develop the culture and standards of a program whose growth and maturation process was stunted last season in large part due to cancellation of spring football last spring after just three day.
“Yeah, even though we missed spring ball, you still got obviously a lot of time a little with them in the fall,” said Thomsen. “And so definitely think that the guys have a clear understanding of how we want to practice, the tempo we want to work at both sides of the ball. We want a culture of competitiveness and physicality. And for the first couple of padded practices, that’s what I’ve seen. I’ve noticed the guys are willing and want to bring that and they understand. And we’ve talked to them a lot about, when we walk out of the tunnel in that first ball game, we want to be a team that we know we’ve invested the work in being physical. We know we’ve invested in the things that we need to do at practice and to come together as a team. And so I definitely feel that. I think we’re still definitely evolving in that process. Spring ball is a great way to do that because it’s hard. There’s no games to get ready for. They have to push through things that aren’t easy. But a good spring and transition to the summer and you are where you want to be when training camp starts.”