Florida State Seminoles: Jimbo Fisher

FSU spring: What we learned

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
1:00
PM ET
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Florida State’s spring camp came to a close on Saturday with the annual Garnet and Gold game, and now the Seminoles are prepping for a second straight national title.

The game is secondary compared to the rest of spring practices, so with that in mind, here are some of the biggest answers the 15 spring sessions presented.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Don Juan Moore/Getty ImagesFlorida State coach Jimbo Fisher escaped the spring with a healthy roster.
1. FSU will be at full strength this fall.
In early March, Noles coach Jimbo Fisher noted how healthy his team was and how rare it is to have a squad almost entirely intact for spring practice. As the practices mounted, though, so did the injuries. The silver lining is that none of the injuries are expected to linger into preseason camp. Running backs Dalvin Cook and Ryan Green had shoulder surgery but will be 100 percent by around July. Nick O’Leary missed the final half of spring practices with a second motorcycle accident, but he avoided any serious injuries. There were a few concussions in camp, but Terrance Smith, who suffered one of them, was back for the spring game. The lone setback that could impact fall camp is the foot injury Ukeme Eligwe sustained, which Fisher hinted could be the dreaded Lisfranc injury, which has a tendency to persist for quite some time. The thought is he should be fine for August, though.

2. The secondary is among the best in the country.
Quarterback Jameis Winston said after the spring game that “we got the best [defensive] backs in the country.” He should know, having thrown against the unit for much of the spring and the entire Garnet and Gold game. The secondary of P.J. Williams, Jalen Ramsey, Nick Waisome and Tyler Hunter shut down the No. 1 offense’s passing attack the entire first half, and the unit was without sophomore Nate Andrews. Fisher said throughout the spring that Ramsey is a star-in-the-making and should become a nationally recognized name replacing Lamarcus Joyner. Ramsey showcased his skills by moving around at cornerback, safety and nickel during the game. Fisher and Winston are raving about freshman Trey Marshall, too. Williams is a star in his own right, shutting down No. 1 receiver Rashad Greene.

3. The receivers need to step up.
Speaking of Greene and the receivers, that position is probably the biggest weakness heading into the season. Fisher was upset with the production and consistency his receivers showcased through much of the spring, and the starting unit did not get any separation from the Noles’ secondary. Jesus Wilson has the potential to be a playmaker from the slot, but can he replace Kenny Shaw’s production? Isaiah Jones is 6-foot-4, but his production did not match that of departed 6-foot-5 receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Levonte Whitfield announced himself to the world in the national title game, but he is still needs some refinement as a receiver. The coaches can spend two hours a week breaking down film with players during the offseason, and Fisher said that will be a critical step in Florida State’s development at receiver.

4. The talent is there at linebacker.
The Noles lose beloved figure Telvin Smith and consistent producer Christian Jones, but the depth at linebacker is there so those losses might not be felt all that much. Matthew Thomas is a budding star, and the former five-star recruit will not be kept off the field this fall. Terrance Smith is the leader of the unit and could be a viable replacement for Telvin Smith. Before Eligwe’s injury, Fisher voiced his opinion that Eligwe was having as good of a spring as any player. Reggie Northrup and E.J. Levenberry should each see significant snaps in the rotation, and Ro’Derrick Hoskins could be a dangerous third-down specialist from the position.

5. Sean Maguire is a quality backup for Noles.
Earlier this spring, Winston missed a practice to travel to Clemson with the baseball team, putting the pressure squarely on No. 2 quarterback Maguire to perform at a competent level. Following the practice, the third of the spring, Fisher was lukewarm on Maguire’s performance. But Maguire looked the part of a quality No. 2 option for Florida State during the spring game. The Noles got him in rhythm with three straight passes to the flats to open the game, and then Maguire dropped in a 26-yard touchdown on a post route over the defender. Maguire, a redshirt sophomore, said he made the most progress this spring than he’s ever made at any point in his college career.
At this time last year, Texas A&M was the epicenter of college football during spring practice. The Aggies' 2013 spring game drew a record crowd. ESPN televised the game, "Johnny Football" was the face of the sport and it helped swing in-state recruiting momentum from the Longhorns.

It would only make sense that Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin was ready to do it all again this spring.

“No, it’s not for me,” Sumlin said in March. “I’ll be honest with you, you guys know me, that second half [of spring games] goes real quick. I’m ready to get out of there.”

The spring game in many ways goes against the core belief of Sumlin, and really every coach, of using every practice to get better. So the Aggies went without a game this spring, and will do so again in 2015 as Kyle Field's renovations continue.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsOhio State coach Urban Meyer likes the opportunity to get young players, such as redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, some playing time in a spring game.
Spring games are at somewhat of a crossroads in college football. They’re hardly fighting off extinction as 54 FBS programs held games this past weekend. But the watered-down product is giving coaches reason for pause. The argument against holding the spring game is picking up steam, and coaches are questioning the value in using the final spring practice on a half-speed “dog-and-pony show,” as Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship puts it.

A handful of programs aren't holding spring games this year. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy did not plan a spring game, and Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst believed it wasn’t in the program’s best interest to have one, either.

Both Chryst and Gundy have young rosters. Only Utah State returns fewer starters than the Cowboys. Chryst is still trying to put his stamp on a program that has had more head coaches than winning seasons in the last decade, and he is breaking in a new quarterback. To Chryst and Gundy, it did not make sense to waste a practice day for a haphazard game.

“Truly looking at this from the inside of the program and what this group needs, it was, 'What’s the best use of the 15 opportunities we get in the spring,'” Chryst said. “I felt like we didn’t have a group where we’re going to take just one full day and scrimmage. Bottom line is we wanted to make sure we’re maximizing our opportunities.”

Two coaches not questioning a spring game finale are the leaders of programs with some of the best odds to win the first College Football Playoff. Both Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer are in favor of the model most programs still subscribe to: 14 practices, mix in a few scrimmages and hold a game at the end of camp. Fisher and Meyer believe it’s the only time in the spring to get an accurate read on how players react to a fall Saturday game atmosphere.

“What you get is the people in the stadium, you get pressure, you get outside people watching you get the lights on the scoreboard and [the game] matters,” Fisher told ESPN.com last week. “You get a game environment. It might not be the one in the fall, but it’s as close as you’ll ever get out in this practice field. To get a guy in front of 40,000 people and watch how they play in front of them, to me, I put more value in that.”

However, Meyer acknowledges the issues the modern-day spring game presents. Ohio State star quarterback Braxton Miller was out with an injury, but Joey Bosa, Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington were healthy scratches. Fisher elected to sit starting running back Karlos Williams, leaving a fullback and a handful of walk-on running backs to carry the spring load Saturday. The sustainability of the spring game could come down to depth, but rosters are thinner with the 85 scholarship limit, and coaches are keeping their proven commodities out of harm’s way.

Fisher To get a guy in front of 40,000 people and watch how they play in front of them, to me, I put more value in that.

-- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, on the value of spring games
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said the lack of numbers at certain positions causes the few available players to “double dip” and play both sides, opening those few healthy players up to injury. The emphasis on preventing and identifying concussions has grown substantially in the last few years, and Blankenship added that “a lot more guys are missing practice today with concussion-related symptoms, and that’s been consistent across the board with other coaches I talk to.”

Meyer said spring games are often a “great opportunity to get scout-team guys a chance to play,” which in itself can be considered an indictment of the spring game’s inherent value.

“One time at Florida we had only five or six offensive linemen and they had to play both ways,” Meyer said, “but the experience of playing in front of [fans], if you want to have a practice but arrange how the receiver has to be the guy, to be in coverage and catch a pass and hear the crowd, that’s real.”

There are only so many programs that consistently draw 30,000 or more fans for a spring game, though. Those other programs don’t have the benefit of putting their players in a game-day atmosphere when only a few thousand fans fill the bleachers.

Blankenship understands he needs to promote his Tulsa program and bring in as many fans as possible. So last year, they tried a new spring game model. Instead of a traditional game of the roster being split, Blankenship operates on only 50 percent of the field and allows fans to sit on the other side of the 50 to get a more intimate view. The game resembles more of a practice as the team works on situations such as red zone and fourth down instead of keeping score.

A piece of him still wants a sound 15th practice, though.

“I do think [the spring game] is worth it from the fan standpoint,” he said, “but the coach in me would like to have another practice.”

[+] EnlargeVirginia Spring Game
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsThese Virginia students received a better-than-front-row view of the Cavaliers' spring game.
Fans and alumni are maybe the most overlooked part of the equation of whether it is realistic to ditch the spring game. Florida State director of marketing Jason Dennard said it would be nearly impossible to change the Seminoles’ spring game model, which begins with downtown events Friday. The school even receives grant dollars from the local economic development council to fortify the weekend lineup.

“It’s a complete home run,” Dennard said. “After what we’ve built, it’d be hard to scale it down. People have come to expect this to be a big deal. It’s an investment into the future of our program.”

While Pittsburgh has struggled to draw fans for its spring games in recent years, Chryst was still cognizant of the program’s fans when he decided to cancel the spring game. So Chryst met with the marketing department at Pitt and helped introduce a football clinic for young players and offensive and defensive breakdowns of the Panthers’ schemes for the Xs-and-Os fan.

“It was different at first and people said, ‘What, no spring game?’ But when Coach Chryst announced the Field Pass, the response was overwhelming,” said Chris Ferris, associate athletic director for external relations at Pitt.

Could that union of a standard 15th practice with an added day of fan interaction be the union that seals the fate of spring games? Maybe.

“I think it is,” Blankenship said. “We’re much closer to that in our part of the country. I think the tradition of the spring game is something we’re all kind of tied to, but we’re all figuring out there’s a better way.”
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher says spring practice is all about cramming as much information to the mind as possible. Introduce as many schemes, techniques and late-game situations as possible, but remember there is no buildup to a Saturday opponent. The hope is his team will draw on that information when it counts this fall.

It’s best to take that approach when evaluating Florida State’s spring practices and game, which the Garnet won over the Gold 31-14.

This was supposed to be a ho-hum spring for Florida State. That’s the goal when you’re the reigning national champion and return your Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. Sure, there are issues on the roster, but those were never going to be resolved in 15 spring practices, not with more than a dozen players nursing injuries.

[+] EnlargeSean Maguire
AP Photo/Steve CannonReserve quarterback Sean Maguire said he "learned a lot" in spring practice.
“We got a lot accomplished and we’re starting to form the identity and the personality of this team,” Fisher said. “... We are nowhere close to where we need to be, but I can picture where we’re going to be.”

That picture, Fisher hopes, is one of him holding the national championship trophy, plastered on all 11,520 square feet of the video board at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, where the first College Football Championship Game will be played. Fans were spoiled at this time a year ago when Jameis Winston launched the ball and his path to stardom on his first throw, a 58-yard touchdown. That was a different time, though. This spring was about improving and getting to August.

Fisher said he saw that improvement throughout camp, and it was clear during the second half of spring practice that Fisher was pleased with the progress. Two weeks ago, Fisher called his team “lazy” and was sour on just about every position. He spoke positively about his team during the final eight sessions.

His starting quarterback made strides this spring, although Fisher said it might not always be visible to the naked eye. Fisher said it is about improving the “subtle things” and “all of a sudden it’s a major change.” The backup position looks better than it did a month ago, too.

“I thought the spring went well. I thought I learned a lot,” backup quarterback Sean Maguire said. “I haven’t gone into a camp or a spring where I was a No. 2, but going into it and getting reps the whole time with the twos, I felt like now I know a lot more than I did.”

There will be questions that still need answers when preseason camp opens, however. It was evident Saturday that Florida State’s passing attack could take a significant step in the wrong direction. Granted, Florida State could have the best secondary in the country, but the Seminoles’ first-team receivers generated no separation from defenders despite Winston getting several seconds to survey the field. On a few occasions, he was forced to his fourth and fifth reads. Winston’s window to fit the ball in will probably be bigger Sunday from the pitcher's mound than it was Saturday from the pocket. Kelvin Benjamin is a potential first-round NFL draft pick, and there is no direct replacement for the 6-foot-5, 240-pound receiver on the roster. Undervalued receiver Kenny Shaw will be hard to replace, too.

“Early they didn’t get open, but that’s kind of expected,” Fisher said. “Then, as the game went on, they gradually made plays, and we helped them get open with some formations and things.”

That stands to be the biggest issue for Florida State as it exits the spring. The defense underwent major changes, but there is talent at every level, and new coordinator Charles Kelly was an in-house hire.

The spring game -- and the entire spring -- was ugly at time for Florida State, but it is still too early to determine how far this team will go. Florida State didn’t look like a team that has 15-0 written on it, but there probably isn't any team with that look on any campus in mid-April. There are questions, but there is more talent.

“You relax and realize the sky’s not falling and the world is not coming to an end,” Fisher said.
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- No position on the Florida State roster has taken as many losses as the defensive line over the past two seasons.

Four linemen were drafted a year ago. Another, tackle Timmy Jernigan, is projected to become the second straight Florida State defensive lineman to be drafted in the first round. The last time Florida State had at least five defensive linemen selected in consecutive drafts was 1998-99.

At many programs, losing so many players would be a major cause for concern and, as you'd expect, the defensive line has drawn some of the biggest questions this spring and last. FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, however, looks at the situation differently.

Rather than lament potential depth issues, Fisher looks at the pure talent he has available for this upcoming season -- and the versatility they provide. Though only three scholarship defensive ends were available during the spring, two of them were consensus top-10 players at their position out of high school -- Mario Edwards Jr. and Chris Casher.

[+] EnlargeEddie Goldman
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State coaches are expecting junior Eddie Goldman to flourish as Timmy Jernigan's replacement at defensive tackle.
Both began learning every position along the line in order to take advantage of their athleticism. Edwards moved around some last season, but expects to do much more of that in 2014, not only to help with depth but to also give Florida State key matchup advantages.

“It’s kind of fun,” Edwards said. “The offense can’t pinpoint where I will be -- right or left side, inside or out. I feel I can go and play any one of the positions the coaches put me in at and be a factor.”

For Edwards, the process of not only becoming a master at his own position, but also learning several others, has meant more time studying the playbook and game tape. That has allowed the former No. 1 high school player in the country to feel even more comfortable with the defense.

The road has not necessarily been smooth for him. He was out of shape as a freshman, and last spring he had to learn an entirely new defensive scheme while following a strict diet and weight program. Edwards ended up starting, but he did not feel comfortable until midway through the season. That is when the results started to show.

Now that more of the pressure is on him to perform, Edwards says he is ready to dominate.

“I’d like to think this is a big year for me,” Edwards said. “I watched film of last year but not only was I looking at the good things I did, I looked at how many plays I left out there, just because I wasn’t aligned right, I wasn’t doing my job, I may have forgotten what I was supposed to do. I felt like I left tons of plays out there I could have made. This year, it’s reacting more than thinking.”

To help at end, Florida State might end up using linebackers Matthew Thomas and Ukeme Eligwe, whom Fisher called “dynamic rushers.” He did something similar with Christian Jones a year ago, and Jones thrived in that role.

Tackle Eddie Goldman, slated to replace Jernigan inside, was a five-star defensive tackle out of high school. Fisher said Goldman will end up being one of the team’s spring award winners because he has made such drastic improvement. Though not as powerful as Jernigan, Goldman is more athletic and a more natural pass rusher.

“Him and Mario -- it’s hard to handle them one-on-one,” Fisher said. “Eddie, his upside is ridiculous. It’s ridiculous how good he can be.”

Will he meet that potential this year?

“The way he’s playing right now? No doubt,” Fisher said.

Fisher also will play some of his true freshmen, the way he has done with guys such as Edwards, Jernigan and Casher. The Seminoles loaded up on the defensive line to make up for the heavy losses they have taken recently. Four of the seven players Florida State signed were rated four-star prospects out of high school. Two incoming ends -- Lorenzo Featherston and Rick Leonard -- are both 6-foot-7. They will not be tied exclusively to end, either.

“We like that hybrid guy, the versatility,” Fisher said. “You can go 3-4, 4-3, and create a matchup where they get locked on a back, where a back has to block them, that kind of stuff.”

Florida State took advantage of the versatility it had last season to great success. Despite more personnel losses, Fisher expects more of the same in 2014.

ACC spring games preview

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
2:00
PM ET
Seven ACC teams will play their spring games this weekend, and eight will officially close spring practices in the coming days, as Pitt has opted to have a more fan-friendly event instead of an actual spring game on Sunday before closing practice on Tuesday.

For all of these teams -- including Florida State -- the quarterbacks will be among the most-watched players on the field. In Tallahassee, fans will get a chance to see the Heisman Trophy winner, returning starter Jameis Winston. At every other school, there is an ongoing storyline and competition with the quarterbacks. We’re giving you one additional thing to keep an eye on that might not be so obvious.

Check it out, and enjoy the games this weekend!

CLEMSON

When: 4 p.m. on Saturday (ESPNU) and on WatchESPN

Where: Death Valley

One thing to watch: The true freshman wide receivers. Artavis Scott, Demarre Kitt and Kyrin Priester were all highly touted recruits who enrolled early to help Clemson try to replace Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant (a combined 2,292 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns in 2013).

FLORIDA STATE

When: 3 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN) and on WatchESPN

Where: Doak Campbell Stadium

One thing to watch: The wide receivers. They haven’t exactly earned high praise from coach Jimbo Fisher, who called the receivers out last week for not getting open and making catches. Rashad Greene is the most experienced option as the Noles try to replace Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, but the staff also needs to see more from players like Bobo Wilson and Kermit Whitfield.

LOUISVILLE

When: 7:30 p.m. on Friday

Where: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium

One thing to watch: The safeties. Louisville lost Hakeem Smith, who started 51 straight games, and projected first-round draft pick Calvin Pryor. Jermaine Reve, Gerod Holliman and Chucky Williams are the leading candidates for those spots, but Reve is out for the spring with an injury. Reve and Holliman are the only players with game experience.

MIAMI

When: 6 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN3)

Where: Sun Life Stadium

One thing to watch: Defense, defense, defense. It’s been an area of concern, but the defense showed signs of progress this spring. The Canes return eight starters and 16 players from the two-deep depth chart. Denzel Perryman is now playing middle linebacker, and Dallas Crawford moved to safety to give that position a boost. Those within the program have said repeatedly that the defense has made strides since last season, and overall it was a good spring for the defense. We’ll see if they can punctuate it in the spring game.

NORTH CAROLINA

When: 3 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN3)

Where: Kenan Stadium

One thing to watch: True freshman running back Elijah Hood. The four-star recruit was rated the nation's No. 9 running back in the Class of 2014 by ESPN.com and No. 80 overall in the ESPN 300. The early enrollee has had such a good spring that he could see some immediate playing time, even though the Tar Heels are deep at the position.

NC STATE

When: 1 p.m. on Saturday

Where: Carter-Finley Stadium

One thing to watch: More young wide receivers. NC State has to replace Quintin Payton and Rashard Smith, both starters from last year. The talent pool to choose from includes a host of sophomores and freshmen, including two early enrollees. The leading sophomore candidates are: Jumichael Ramos, who finished the last three games of 2013 strong; Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who led the team in receiving at one point last year as a true freshman; and Bra'lon Cherry, who suffered a season-ending injury against Duke. Freshmen Bo Hines and Stephen Louis enrolled early, and redshirt freshman Gavin Locklear is also in the mix.

VIRGINIA

When: 1 p.m. on Saturday

Where: Scott Stadium

One thing to watch: Improved wide receivers. This is a group coach Mike London has praised this spring, for both its height and athleticism, as the staff has moved toward a longer, leaner look. London recently singled out Miles Gooch, Keeon Johnson and Kyle Dockins -- all listed at 6-foot-3 -- as players who have excelled this spring. Unfortunately, fans won’t be able to see starter Jake McGee, the Hoos’ star tight end who moved to receiver this spring, as he’ll be sidelined with a hamstring injury.

PITT (No spring game)

When: From 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, Pitt will host its “Pitt Football Field Pass”

Where: The UPMC Sports Performance Complex

One thing to watch: Instead of a game, Pitt will hold a public event that will include a kids’ clinic, an offensive strategy session with coordinator Joe Rudolph, a defensive strategy session with coordinator Matt House, a recruiting session with coordinator Dann Kabala and a strength and conditioning session with assistant coach Ross Kolodziej.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Fifth-year senior Cameron Erving walked off the practice field Saturday after one of the most interesting practices of his career. For those attending the afternoon practice, it was a bizarre sight watching Erving orchestrate the offensive line considering Florida State’s All-ACC left tackle is still only in his third year playing the position, and not once in his life had he previously snapped the ball. Erving, a potential first-round pick in 2015, would be the NFL’s tallest starting center at 6-foot-6.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsJimbo Fisher moves players to other positions in part to make them better.
The odds that Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher would move his best offensive lineman out of one of football’s premium positions to play center are slim. It is the spring, and nearly the end of it, and Fisher said he is prepping for a worst-case scenario in which injuries force him to reshuffle his offensive line, which returns five players with starting experience.

"Center is like quarterback,” Fisher said. “You can move guards, tackles, receivers. Centers and quarterbacks, that's a learned profession and you have to have as many as you can. … We’re just doing things to develop backups and get other guys snaps.”

Through the spring, Fisher has mixed and matched his offensive line so his five starters have at least an elementary knowledge of playing more than one position on the line. It’s not limited to just the maulers up front either, as Fisher routinely cross-trains his linebackers and defensive backs.

Jalen Ramsey could play three positions in the secondary this fall. The same goes for defensive back Nate Andrews. Several Seminoles linebackers are receiving work at multiple positions.

Cross-training his players is not simply Fisher guarding against a series of injuries that would cause him to revamp his offensive line or back seven on defense. Fisher contends it makes a player better at his starting position. The constant formation and personnel changes opponents present necessitates a comprehensive awareness of the entire unit.

Redshirt sophomore Ukeme Eligwe is campaigning for a starting position this spring. He played in 13 games last season, mostly out of position at outside linebacker. A natural inside linebacker, he was uncomfortable and out of his element flanked to either side of the defense. But this spring he is once again playing inside linebacker and is doing so with a better appreciation and understanding of playing in the middle.

“Whatever the call is I know exactly what the outside man is doing and that makes it easier for me to know ‘I don’t have to go over here because he has the flats, and I can drop,’ so I’m glad I moved to the outside last year,” Eligwe said. “Now it’s a little easier. I know the defense a lot more.”

The 15 practices permitted during the spring are the optimal time for Fisher to explore. Coaches have a limited amount of hours of on-field practice time during the fall. Fisher said the hope is he can build a strong enough base in the spring that if and when a player is called upon in a meaningful situation, he can reach back into his library to bring forth the information he filed away five months earlier.

“It’s demanding on them because they have to learn quickly in a short amount of time, but in the long run it’s going to help. Right now you got to cram as much information as you can,” Fisher said. “If you’re familiar with something, it makes it easy to learn it once the package comes out.”

It would be na´ve to believe Fisher is not cramming that same information for his own use. He is interested to see how Ramsey works at nickelback or how Erving responds at center and whether it might give Florida State the best chance to win. The spring is meant for tinkering, but it also gives Fisher an opportunity to appraise his roster and formulate a way to get the best 11 players on the field.

“You don’t know a guy can do this [at a different position] and you can mix and match to get the best personnel on the field in different packages,” Fisher said. “… You’re always looking for that.”

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 8, 2014
Apr 8
12:00
PM ET
First prediction I've gotten right all tourney.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Torrential downpours pelted the roof of the Albert J. Dunlap facility on Monday, but Jimbo Fisher’s ears were not in tune to the rain. The only thunder the Seminoles coach wanted to hear was when linebacker meets running back at the goal line.

One week removed from a scrimmage in which he dubbed his team “lazy,” Fisher beamed following Monday’s scrimmage when discussing the Noles’ toughness.

"Much more intensity, more physical, more plays being made. For instance, a guy was covered tight, made a great throw and catch. A guy gets out in the open field, some guy comes flashing out and makes a play,” he said. “Still have to get better, but it was a very physical, good scrimmage."

The message was sent last week that Florida State would not rest on its laurels from 2013. Fisher was laconic after the Noles’ first spring scrimmage, and the few words he had for his team gravitated around the term “average.” He needed to see a renewed toughness in a team that has all the tools to land a place in the inaugural college football playoff. And if the Noles were not going to show that grit, then Fisher felt he might as well be the one to bring it out of them.

The end of practices would be goal-line drills, often the ultimate test of a team’s bravado. It’s the 11 best on offense and 11 best on defense, scrapping for each and every yard. Linebacker Ukeme Eligwe said Fisher told his team he’s going to find out how many of his players are equipped to play for the Noles.

“There was some pops today,” Fisher said.

Sophomore defensive back Jalen Ramsey prides himself on his physicality, and he said the secondary on Monday laid some big hits on the young, inexperienced receivers. Ramsey was impressed to see the receivers -- all but two weighing less than 200 pounds -- get up and jog back to the huddle each time, though.

“Was a lot better intensity out there, a lot better toughness showed by everybody,” Ramsey said. “… Coach told us to step it up, toughen it up, have more competition out there so we really worked on that in practice last week and wanted to show it [Monday] in the scrimmage.”

Florida State is far from a complete team -- injuries and departures have created concerns -- but the attitude the coaching staff is looking for is taking shape.

Asked if this Monday scrimmage looked like a Florida State practice, Fisher once again was short. Except this time, however, he was considerably more affable.

“Yes,” Fisher responded. “Much more that way.”
Old Seminole Head or new one, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher is not choosing sides.

Fisher was asked his thoughts on the new logo, which will be officially released April 11, following Monday's practice.

"It’s still our Seminole Head. It’s a beautiful head," he said. "It doesn’t change Florida State, what our values are, what our systems are. I don’t see the issue with it."

It was reported last week Florida State planned to change its logo. There were rumors the Seminole Tribe of Florida asked the university to alter the Seminole logo, but both the Tribe and Florida State told ESPN.com that it was a university decision. In a statement released last week, Florida State said the alterations began almost two years ago and the Tribe, student-athletes, coaches, boosters and administration were all consulted. The university had issues reproducing some of the details in the original Seminole logo and asked Nike to help produce a logo that can be achieved on a consistent basis.

That set off a faction of the Florida State fan base, which took to social media to voice its displeasure. The athletic department's official Twitter responded to the negative feedback by telling its followers they can offer their opinions to the school in an email.

"Did I like the old one? Yes. Do I like the new one? Yes. It’s our logo and not drastically that much different," Fisher said. "To me, I haven’t been there that long, but I’ve been a Florida State fan, too, and I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. If the Seminole Tribe is fine with things and they like that, to me, that’s great. But it still doesn’t change our traditions, our values and what we are."

Noles quarterback Jameis Winston is also a fan of the new logo. He offered his thoughts in a tweet.

ACC's lunch links

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
12:00
PM ET
Hot: Florida hoops. Not: Florida football.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jameis Winston is still unsure what Florida State is playing for in 2014. The goal is to win consecutive national championships, that much is certain. He’s just awaiting word on what exactly he’ll be carrying with him on the plane home from Dallas.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesFlorida State coaches have QB Jameis Winston working on mechanics and mastery of the offense this spring.
“We want to go out there and keep the crystal ball -- or whatever trophy it is -- in Tallahassee,” Winston said. “We don’t want anybody to take our prize.”

Wednesday marked the opening of spring practice for the reigning champions, who will likely be the preseason No. 1. The Waterford crystal football, which Winston laid lips on two months ago, will not be awarded to the national champions in Dallas, the site of the first playoff title game.

Whichever piece of hardware is eventually settled on, Winston knows simply repeating his Heisman numbers from 2013 won’t be enough to hoist it. With significant losses at receiver, running back and throughout the defense, the coaching staff is counting on Winston to continue maturing.

“I think you are always learning as a competitor different situations, different scenarios, how you impact your teammates in different ways consistently,” Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said. “I think the knowledge of his offense and the things that he can do and make those decisions that much quicker, see reads that much quicker, even recognizing coverages and blitzes. ... He must continue to grow.”

Not even three weeks after Winston led the game-winning drive in the BCS championship game he traded D-ends for DHs, though. He missed most of the winter workouts with the football team and will miss Saturday’s spring practice. He will try to make up for lost time by working on his mechanics, a part of his game he can work on during his limited amount of free time. Fisher and quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders have already alerted Winston to a few tweaks they would like to see by the April 12 spring game.

“Holding the ball a little higher and my hips. I have to get my hips into the ball that I throw,” Winston said. “Coach Fisher being a perfectionist and Coach Sanders is actually the one to bring that to my attention a lot. He is always on me, and I know Coach Fisher is always on him about me.

“I always want to get better. I’m never going to be the type of guy that just sits back and just lets things go. I’m going to get better on my hips, get the ball up higher, and I’m going to start throwing rockets.”

Fisher lauded the efforts of Winston and the rest of his team through the first day of spring. The fifth-year coach said this 2014 team could be further along at this point than any of his previous teams.

“We had a good practice [Wednesday]. Missed assignments and a couple little things but very pleased with our knowledge of what we were doing and executed for a first day pretty good,” Fisher said.
Florida State is recruiting the best players, has a Heisman winning quarterback returning and received first glimpse of its championship rings Monday.

Be careful, Jimbo, of those Pasadena roses -- petals muted, fragrance faint but thorns sharpened, impervious to decay.

That sage advice comes from Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher’s predecessor, Bobby Bowden. The legendary Florida State coach whose statue greets staffers at the football offices entrance knows the spring pitfalls that accompany a national championship.

[+] EnlargeBobby Bowden
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsBobby Bowden, who coached the Seminoles to 14 straight top-5 finishes, knows Jimbo Fisher and FSU need to avoid any complacency this spring following their national title.
“One thing is true,” Bowden told ESPN.com Monday, “it’s easier to win one than to continue winning.”

Bowden won 304 games in 34 seasons at Florida State and two national championships. Although the Seminoles did not repeat in 1994 following his first national title, complacency never set in at Florida State. He went 42-4-1 the four seasons after the 1993 national title and reeled off 14 consecutive top-5 finishes from 1987-2000.

With Fisher getting his first taste of a national title as a head coach and Florida State’s rising seniors a combined 35-6 in their careers, the biggest question this spring is whether the program is poised for another decade-long run of national relevance.

“The big thing you try to do is prevent a letdown, prevent the kids being overconfident, taking things for granted,” Bowden said. “You need to be looking out for letdowns. You have to continue to talk and stress it to the boys and if you see it happen nip it in the butt.”

So far, so good. Through offseason conditioning, the players' efforts have Fisher convinced the 2014 team is not set up to revert to a middling ACC program.

“I’ve been very pleased. It’s been a very good offseason. I like the demeanor and mentality of our team right now; hopefully we can take it to spring practices and continue to grow, but I’m very proud of them,” Fisher said recently. “They know what to do, they know the culture, they know what’s expected and they’re going to take care of business.”

While no program is completely immune to letting its foot off the pedal, Fisher comes from the Tree of Saban, who's done better than any other coach at keeping his teams hungry. A former LSU assistant, Fisher coached under Nick Saban when the Tigers won the title in 2003. Saban, with his now infamously coined philosophy, “The Process,” has successfully fended complacency off much of the last decade. Sure, the Crimson Tide lost three games in 2010 following the 2009 title, but it took the wildest kick return since Kevin Moen trampled Gary Tyrrell to keep Saban from a third BCS championship.

In 2007, Saban hired mindset coach Trevor Moawad, who is now Vice President of Pro and Elite sports at API/EXOS. A specialist in mental conditioning, Moawad now splits his time between Tuscaloosa and Tallahassee. Fisher followed Saban’s initiative and asked Moawad to speak to his offense beginning in 2008.

In his time in Tallahassee, Moawad has shown clips of Mike Tyson’s loss to 42-to-1 underdog Buster Douglas. Tyson was ill-equipped and ill-prepared for a drawn-out boxing match having had just three of his previous 16 fights last past the seventh round.

“It won’t be Auburn like in 2010 when it found lightning in a bottle. ... The goal isn’t to win 14 games but to execute the process,” said Moawad, mimicking a tried-and-true Saban proverb. “These guys in this program know they don’t have to be sick to get better. Coach Fisher’s program is about structure and coaching and great talent, and those things are in place for other guys to step in and sustain it.”

Just keep your feet clear of any thorns.
Aaron Donald of Pitt and Timmy Jernigan of Florida State were the two best defensive tackles in the ACC last season. But there has been some disagreement about who will make a better NFL prospect.

For months, Jernigan was rated higher than Donald on draft boards. But in his latest mock draft Insider, ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. has Donald going ahead of Jernigan for the first time. Kiper slots Donald at No. 14 to the Bears, while he predicts Jernigan will land at No. 16 to the Cowboys. In his previous mock draft, Kiper did not list Donald Insider at all.

So that leads to Monday's topic: Who will get drafted first: Donald or Jernigan? ACC reporters Andrea Adelson and Heather Dinich weigh in.

[+] EnlargeDonald
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesPitt DT Aaron Donald has done plenty to raise his draft stock since season's end.
Adelson says: Dominating Donald

So Kiper and the other draft experts are finally clueing in to what the rest of us have known for quite some time: Donald is the most dominant inside player available in the draft. Therefore, he must go ahead of Jernigan come May.

That all sounds simple enough, but nothing has come simply or easily for Donald. Overlooked for a majority of his career, Donald finally grabbed headlines with his thoroughly impressive senior season, winning every single major defensive player of the year award in college football. And yet, he was routinely knocked in early draft evaluations for his size.

While it is true Donald does not meet the ideal size requirements for a defensive tackle, it also is true that Donald does not play like most defensive tackles. His size (6-1, 285 pounds), has rarely been a big part of his game. He relies on his quick hands and overall speed to allow him to get past many linemen at the point of attack. Donald clocked a jaw-dropping 4.68 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine.

He might not weigh 300 pounds, but he is strong and powerful. He had 35 reps on the bench press at the combine, ranking second among all defensive linemen. His propensity for lifting began at age 12, when his father showed him what to do in the family weight room.

Beyond the physical tools, Donald has got a few intangibles that make scouts notice. Donald never ever quits on a play. His work ethic, and time dedicated to watching tape, also make him stand out.

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Discuss (Total votes: 1,952)

Donald is no dummy. He has heard the knocks about his size since he went largely unrecruited out of high school. Pitt was the only BCS school to offer him a scholarship. So to put the questions about his size to rest, he decided to work harder than everyone, get stronger than everyone, and focus on the unique skill-set that would allow him to dominate at his position.

Even still, those tired old questions followed him after a monstrous senior season at Pitt. But they have been made moot again after standout performances at the Senior Bowl, NFL combine and Pitt Pro Day. Donald has proven himself over and over and over again. Skeptics have turned into believers every step of the way.

So when May rolls around, it should not surprise anyone to see Donald go ahead of Jernigan.

Dinich says: Game-changing Jernigan

If Kiper’s prediction is right, the Dallas Cowboys can’t go wrong in drafting Jernigan.

If, of course, the Bears don’t draft him first.

Mike Mayock, an analyst for the NFL Network, said the Chicago Bears should “sprint to the podium” if Jernigan is still available for the 14th pick. Right now, that’s where Kiper has Pitt’s Aaron Donald headed.

[+] EnlargeTimmy Jernigan
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsTimmy Jernigan was at his best in the Seminoles' biggest games.
It’s like choosing between five-star resorts. Both players are first-class, but while Donald racked up the individual awards and was the best player on an unheralded team, Jernigan separated himself from a cast of stars on the nation’s best team.

“Timmy was one of the leaders on our defense and a big part of our success these past three seasons,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He was one of the most dominant defensive linemen I’ve been around in all my years coaching.”

Jernigan’s stat line is impressive -- career highs for tackles (63), TFL (11.0) and sacks (4.5) in 14 starts. But it doesn’t completely capture the impact he had as the anchor up front. He wasn’t always the one making the game-changing play, but odds are he had a hand in influencing it.

Jernigan had nine tackles in the BCS national championship win over Auburn – in spite of flu-like symptoms - and a career-high 10 tackles in the ACC title game against Duke. While his NFL auditions haven’t increased his draft stock as much as Donald’s, Jernigan is still talented enough to be the ACC’s highest-drafted defensive tackle.

Last year, Jernigan produced his best numbers in spite of being constantly doubleteamed, and the attention he drew opened up opportunities for Florida State’s linebackers and blitzing corners. His versatility is one of his best attributes, but his strength is stopping the run.

He has the ability to shed offensive linemen and was a big reason FSU’s run defense ranked No. 18 in the country. His technique will only improve, and he already has the strength and size to clog the middle.

“I can play a 3-technique, and when it’s a pass situation and you want to go to a three-man front, you can put me on the nose guard right on the zero,” he said at the NFL Combine, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “I can get pressure from the middle. I feel like that’s where my game changes from everyone else.”

The Bears should jump on the chance to let him prove it.

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Miami, NC State, North Carolina and UVa are all on spring break and resume practice next week.

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Now that our weekly chats are on hiatus, feel free to send me a line in the mailbag!

Robert VT in Blacksburg, Va., writes: AA, again thanks for yours and HD's professional reporting. You ladies do a great job, no question about it! Thanks for switching Maryland over to the Big Ten and bringing in LOUISVILLE. I'm ready! I sure hate seeing Maryland leave the ACC, but I think the ACC got a much better overall sports program with LOUISVILLE. I have a bunch of Maryland friends who are really unhappy about the move to the Big Ten and feel the move was shoved down their throats, with a back-room deal in the middle of the night. They just feel their President (Wallace) Loh (from Big Ten) did not allow enough input from the school and ACC to be fair, after 60 years of ACC membership. It reminded some of them of the Baltimore Colts moving out in the middle of the night to Indy on 3 Mayflower moving vans. Ha! Have a great day.

Andrea Adelson writes: Thank you, Robert. We appreciate the loyal readership! I agree the ACC got the better end of this deal. While the Big Ten has not had a glowing national reputation over the last few years, it is difficult to see how the Terrapins will move in to that conference and have their football program thrive from the outset, especially playing in a division with Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. And let's not forget Penn State, which has hired former Maryland coach-in-waiting James Franklin. He just put together an outstanding recruiting class, sanctions and all. Now the Atlantic is tough, don't get me wrong, but the Big Ten East looks much tougher, at least on paper. There might be more money on the other side of the rainbow, but more money cannot buy you 10-win seasons or conference championships. Just ask West Virginia.


David Goldberg in Houston writes: Hi, much is being made of Rob Moore leaving for the Buffalo Bills. People forget that George McDonald lasted at Arkansas exactly 4 weeks (December 2012-January 2013) before becoming the offensive coordinator at Syracuse. I realize the timing is a little different in terms of recruiting. Nevertheless, it's just one illustration of how coaches jump from job to job ... and that's life in the business.

Adelson writes: You are right, David. Look no further than new North Carolina assistant Keith Heckendorf, who just returned to the Tar Heels after spending one month at Arkansas State. Pitt also recently lost receivers coach Bobby Engram, too. I think the biggest issue, as you mentioned, was the timing. Did Moore and coach Scott Shafer know about the move and tell incoming recruits about it before signing day? Did they have an obligation to do so? It is absolutely true that recruits should choose programs over coaches because there is so much turnover. But at the same time, there must have been a sense from these recruits that they would play for Moore once they arrived on campus, even if it was for just a short period of time.


Jeff in Boston writes: Looks like Jimbo (Fisher) might be right! Jameis (Winston) confirmed that he will be focusing on baseball instead of the 2015 draft! :)

Adelson writes: Well, sure, did any of us expect him to declare for the 2015 draft now? I think we would all be wiser to focus on 2014 before we even think about who is staying and who is leaving for 2015.


KC in Michigan writes: After reading Tim in Blacksburg's suggestion on rivalry weekend, I decided to submit my own idea. Why not realign the divisions to protect all rivalries? Atlantic: Duke, Louisville, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Wake Forest. Coastal: Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, Virginia, Virginia Tech. That would make all but three rivalry games divisional. Those three games could be protected crossovers. They are Boston College-Syracuse; Clemson-North Carolina State; North Carolina-Virginia. Eliminate all other protected crossover games.

Adelson: I have been a proponent of divisional realignment since I started covering the ACC not only to balance out the divisions but to also help protect a majority of these rivalry games. Because when it comes down to it, one of the biggest issues moving forward with the eight-game league format is teams such as Duke and NC State going a billion years between playing each other. We have seen too many rivalry games get lost in the shuffle during conference realignment, and I think it would be smart to protect as many as possible. But one idea that has grown on me is getting rid of the divisions entirely. There are no divisions in basketball. If the NCAA grants the ACC the autonomy to govern its championship game the way it wants, and athletic directors are in favor of having the top two teams in the league play in the title game, then why do you need divisions at all?


Mark in Orlando, Fla., writes: No mention of Duke Johnson in your ACC top 25 players? Almost 1,000 yards and he missed a third of the season? No Stacey Coley? A freshman who scored on pass plays, a kick return and a punt return? The only player in the nation to do so? Both of those guys will be NFL first-rounders, yet your only mention of a Miami player is a third- or fourth-round linebacker who got a bunch of tackles because his D-line was porous? Do you actually watch any games or just read year-end stat sheets?

Adelson writes: I wondered how long it would take to get a note like this one. First, as you point out, Johnson missed a large chunk of the season. So we eliminated him from consideration, much in the same way we eliminated Stefon Diggs from consideration. Johnson and Diggs are two of the most dynamic players in the league, but they got hurt. And the 2013 final player countdown takes into account performance throughout the entire 2013 season. To that point, we do not count NFL projections in the countdown, either. Denzel Perryman was a first-team All-ACC selection by both the media and the coaches. I think the coaches watch the games. As for Coley, receiver was an incredibly deep position in the league this year. We had six receivers make the countdown -- and that does not include Michael Campanaro from Wake Forest, also left out because of injury. Coley was great, and will more than likely be in the 2014 top 25 preseason player countdown, but his overall numbers do not compare to the guys who made the list. It is tough to rank somebody with only 33 total receptions for 591 yards in the top 25. You mentioned his all-purpose production. Tyler Boyd and Jamison Crowder were better, and they were bigger contributors on offense. It is interesting that you are upset about Coley being left off, but not 1,000-yard receiver Allen Hurns. I thought for sure Miami fans would be screaming at us for that one.

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