- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Monday's practice was little more than a brisk walk through a few plays. Tuesday and Wednesday had moments of intensity, but there was a line Jimbo Fisher wasn't interested in crossing. The week winds down with a bit of a lighter touch too, which might not be ideal, but it's necessary.
The challenges of enduring nine weeks of football -- 144 if you include fall camp -- without a break is no easy task, and Fisher spent this week trying to find the right mix as Florida State's long-awaited bye looms on the horizon.
"When you get over six weeks without an off week, you have to be very careful how you manage your football team," Fisher said. "You have to judge where their bodies are. It's how much, how hard you practice, the amount of contact you have during the week."
The Week 10 bye is the latest for a Florida State team since 2004, and it's been a hot topic of conversation among players eager for a little down time.
"Everybody's waiting on it," cornerback Nick Waisome said. "I can say that much. That's one of the things you hear guys talking about -- just, 'Man, we don't ever get off.' It's coming soon, and we'll get a little break."
While the long stretch without an off week has resulted in a few bumps, bruises and sore muscles, Florida State has largely avoided significant injuries aside from last week's season-ending ACL tear for running back Chris Thompson as a result of the hefty workload.
But injuries aren't the only concern, Fisher said. The bigger issues are morale and motivation.
"I've been on some teams we mismanaged [the bye week] and it cost us games," Fisher said. "You practice and then you get to the game and you have no legs. Bodies are bruised and they don't want to hit on Saturday."
That could certainly be a concern this week as Florida State prepares for Duke with the bye tantalizingly close, but quarterback EJ Manuel said the excitement for the break has been tempered by the reality of the task at hand.
“We are due for [a bye], but that is why we have to make sure we are ready for this one," Manuel said. "We don’t want to have a letdown and have a week-and-a-half before we play another game. We don’t want that bad taste in our mouths.”
If this week's practices are any indication, however, there's little reason to think a letdown is forthcoming.
"Legs were fresh, ran very well," Fisher said. "Guys were locked in. ... I thought it was one of the best weeks of practice we've had."
Eye on the backs: Of all the reasons for optimism during this week's practices, none may be more significant than the play of running backs James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman.
Fisher said both sophomores looked sharp during their first week without Thompson ahead of them on the depth chart, and he was pleased to see how well they handled more significant roles in the offense.
"They've stepped up and know they have an opportunity and that our team needs them," Fisher said. "They're two very mature guys."
Thompson is lost for the season with an ACL tear, which means Wilder will get the start Saturday, and both he and Freeman are expected to share time in the backfield the rest of the way.
Both have already demonstrated ample skills with the ball in their hands -- each averaging better than 6 yards per carry -- but Fisher said Wilder and Freeman have looked much better at handling all the ancillary jobs where Thompson excelled.
"They were picking up blitzes, seeing calls, blocks when we check a play," Fisher said. "That consistency level of everything we do that the average fan doesn't see. ... This week, those guys have been locked in doing those things. That's what I'm anxious to see [Saturday]."
Injury updates: The only change to Florida State's injury report for Week 9 is the addition of Thompson. He joins defensive end Brandon Jenkins and tight end Dan Hicks as the only members of Florida State's two deep that have been lost for the season.
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