On the first day of FSU's spring practice March 16, new head coach Jimbo Fisher signified a new era with his posture.
A whistle around his neck, crouched down on the sideline, warm-up jacket rolled up, constant chatter. After decades of looking up at iconic figure Bobby Bowden silently perched in an observation tower, the kind of tower his idol Bear Bryant made famous at Alabama, this was truly the first step in the future.
But there have been so many more.
Fisher has overhauled everything at FSU from study hall, to offseason conditioning, to media access, to practice tempo, to defensive philosophy. But in many ways, there has been a certain comfort level among the team, because Fisher and four assistants he retained have been with the program for years.
"I think that the head coach in-waiting thing has allowed me that comfort zone of being here, being in front of y'all (the media), knowing y'all," Fisher said. "There's not a lot of unknown for me on the field, as far as where we're going to go.
"And the good thing for the players: there's not a lot of unknown for them. Because they know what I'm going to demand, what my personality is, and they way I'm going to expect things to be done. So I think in both ends of that spectrum, it's a good thing, and there's more of a comfort zone there. Now, we've just got to go get it done."
Fisher has adopted some of the philosophy of his mentor, Alabama's Nick Saban. One is that FSU assistant coaches will no longer conduct interviews after practices or during the season, unless Fisher approves. It's the one-voice, one-program, one-team attitude that Saban mandates at Alabama.
But unlike Saban, Fisher is more accessible, more engaging, more forthcoming and he has allowed his players to frequently conduct interviews.
On defense, the Seminoles have welcomed the arrival of defensive coordinator Mark Stoops from Arizona and his new defensive style.
"It's so many adjustments," junior linebacker Nigel Bradham said. "It's more of an NFL-type of defense. I mean, it's been fun."
Stoops has tried to play to the strength of his players and wants more zone coverages and blitz packages. He's requiring defensive players to study a playbook like the offense. The players, eager to atone for last season's disaster, are happy to try anything different.
The other radical change is that the Seminoles are hitting less in spring practice. Like Saban, Fisher believes grinding players in practice, causing injuries, does little good.
Former defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews had the old-school philosophy that worked well for so long. He wanted players going full bore all the time. But with scholarship reductions and more parity of talent, it hurt FSU because they constantly practiced without starters participating in drills.
Fisher also mandated the spring game return to being a game, not a situation scrimmage as Bowden had done for most of the past decade. He will make it an all-out game, trying to make it entertaining to fans, so people will come and watch.
The best dose of news for the Seminoles as they start spring, however, is that quarterback Christian Ponder can participate and throw at full strength. There had been concern that Ponder might be limited, thus forcing the Seminoles to use No. 3 quarterback Will Secord or even true freshman Clint Trickett with the No. 1 offensive unit. That would have been disastrous.
Instead, Ponder ensured he would be ready with a diligent rehab effort and has made a big difference in running the offense and certain drills the way Fisher and his staff want.NOTES, QUOTES
SPRING OBJECTIVES: The biggest challenge is the overhaul of the defense with three new coaches, including a new coordinator, a new scheme, new philosophy and rebuilt secondary. After being a man-to-man defense under Mickey Andrews, this group will now employ a zone, and blitz from different schemes. The Seminoles' No. 1 priority is getting a solid defensive line. The Seminoles hope sophomore Jacobbi McDaniel, who played well last season at times, can step into a starting role, along with newcomers such as DT Anthony McCloud. The group will be aided when Moses McCray returns in the fall. But the Seminoles have to find pass rushers, run stoppers and become much quicker on the edges. They were burned so many times last season with teams running sweeps.
The second biggest priority is the secondary where CB Ochuko Jenije is the lone returning starter. He tied for the team lead with four interceptions. But the Seminoles will challenge him with players like Greg Reid and Dionte Allen, along with newcomer Lamarcus Joyner. FSU has to get much better at defending the pass and outside rush plays.
BUILDING BLOCKS: The Seminoles return an offense that will be rated among the nation's best returning groups in preseason. This was an offense that made huge strides the past two seasons under Fisher's tutelage. Last year, the Seminoles finally ran the ball like Fisher had hoped, all due to a solid offensive line that returns intact. The kicking game is solid. Placekicker Dustin Hopkins had an outstanding freshman season in 2009 and got even stronger during offseason workouts. This should be a very productive offense, provided QB Christian Ponder returns to form.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It'll live there. Maybe I'll get a bow stand up there and practice shooting a bow out of it or something. Make a deer stand. ... There'll be time when a scrimmage goes on or you're letting your guys call it or something and you want to get up and just get an overall view of what's going on. But mainly during practice, I won't be doing that." -- FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher, on what he planned to do with the observation tower that Bobby Bowden occupied during every Seminoles' practice.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: Even with all the massive coaching changes, the Seminoles go into the season with high expectations. The biggest reason is senior quarterback Christian Ponder, along with the starting backfield and every member of the offensive line. This is a very unusual situation for a new head coach to inherit. The Seminoles also return the bulk of their receiving corps and their kickers. At issue, is the defense. But if new coordinator Mark Stoops can get his players to adjust to a radically different scheme and philosophy, this could be a big year for FSU.
The Seminoles have seven home games. They open the season at home against Samford, not against Miami but then play at Oklahoma.
LB Jeff Luc -- He's one of the four early enrollees, and so far he's already made an impact. Luc is an aggressive 6-foot, 245-pound player from Port St. Lucie (Fla.) High, who was rated the nation's No. 1 inside linebacker prospect by Rivals.com. With position battles everywhere on defense, Luc could step into a backup role.
RB Debrale Smiley -- A sophomore signed out of junior college, Smiley set school records for touchdowns in a season (35), touchdowns in a career (81) and rushing yards in a season (2,028) while starring at Thomas County (Ga.) Central High School.
DT Anthony McCloud -- The junior college transfer had a big season in junior college and, given the state of FSU's defensive line, he's likely to compete right away.
CB Lamarcus Joyner -- He won't arrive until June, but Joyner is expected to challenge for the huge void in FSU's secondary. He was the USA Today Defensive Player of the Year, playing at Fort Lauderdale-St. Thomas Aquinas. Could this be the shut-down corner the Seminoles have lacked forever? They sure hope so.
--Four players are not participating or doing very little in the spring. The group is led by QB E.J. Manuel (shoulder), who shined in the Gator Bowl despite playing with the injury in his right (throwing) shoulder. Manuel started the final four games of last season in place of Christian Ponder. He had arthroscopic surgery to repair the injury and has been taking snaps and running on his own, but not throwing, during spring. This is the second consecutive spring he has missed with an injury.
The other players out are OT Zebrie Sanders (hip), OT Garrett Faircloth (hip) and DT Moses McCray (elbow).
--Four members of the 2010 recruiting class are participating in spring. They are LB Jeff Lub, RB Debrale Smiley, DT Anthony McCloud and QB Clint Trickett, who is the son of offensive line coach Rick Trickett. Clint Trickett's presence has been a big help during practices, because the Seminoles don't want to overwork QB Christian Ponder, but they need live arms to run their offense and throw to receivers in situation drills.
--Four assistant coaches were retained from Bobby Bowden's staff. They are defensive line coach Odell Haggins, receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey, offensive line coach Rick Trickett and James Coley, who was elevated to offensive coordinator from tight ends coach.
Head coach Jimbo Fisher hired Mark Stoops away from Arizona to be the defensive coordinator -- the position he held with the Wildcats. He hired former Auburn quarterback Dameyune Craig to be the quarterbacks coach and Rice defensive line coach D.J. Eliot to be the defensive ends coach. Fisher also took advantage of the fallout at Tennessee to lure Eddie Gran, one of the Vols' top assistants and a highly regarded recruiter in Florida, to be the running backs coach. He also replaced strength coach Todd Stroud with Vic Viloria, who was the strength coach at SMU.
Previous Report: 04/28/2010