EletiofeSix storylines from Saturday's second scrimmage

Six storylines from Saturday’s second scrimmage

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We take a look at six storylines between offense, defense and special teams following Florida State’s second scrimmage on Saturday. We also look at what’s next for the Seminoles in the week ahead as they push forward toward the season opener against Duquesne on Aug. 27 (5 p.m. on ACC Network).

Pushing development of Rodemaker, Duffy

Florida State opens with Duquesne in under two weeks, and the opportunity is there to spread playing time across the Seminoles’ roster. That would make sense across the roster but especially at quarterback, where Tate Rodemaker has thrown 31 college passes and AJ Duffy is a true freshman.

Norvell said that Jordan Travis only had two or three drives and it was clear he and the coaches wanted to get a long look at Rodemaker and Duffy with the first- and second-team offense.

“Jordan’s had a really good camp,” offensive coordinator Alex Atkins said. “He’s been consistent, we know what he’s been, he’s put the work in so we wanted to kind of let those younger guys roll with those older groups, let them operate with the wideouts, the O-line and running backs. I thought those young guys showed a lot. I thought Tate was poised, I thought AJ made good decisions. We didn’t have many of the negatives that we had in scrimmage one. I thought those guys showed their understanding and their confidence in the offense.”

Norvell echoed some of Atkins’ thoughts and said the quarterbacks “didn’t seem uncomfortable.”

Mixing and matching on the OL

Darius Washington got some work in during Saturday's scrimmage.

Darius Washington got some work in during Saturday’s scrimmage. (Peyton Williams)

With Kayden Lyles season-ending injury, Norvell and Atkins have done a fair amount of cross training in recent practices as well as the scrimmage. While Lyles isn’t able to play he dressed out in Jacksonville and has been encouraging and mentoring his linemen. The Seminoles also got a lineman back.

“With the O-line, you are still mixing at a couple different – mixing guys around,” Norvell said. “Darius Washington got some work tonight, which was really good. He has been working himself back on a limited basis. It was good to see him out there being a part of the scrimmage as we continue to progress him along.

“But I’m excited about our offensive line and the growth and the work. And we needed a lot of work tonight. As we continue to look at those best lineups and make sure that we have the confidence in the versatility of what these guys can do as things happen throughout the course of the year.”

Atkins said he wanted to make the scrimmage “as uncomfortable as possible” as he seeks versatility through cross training at the various offensive line positions.

“I told a couple of guys that played right all camp that they’re playing left today,” Atkins said. “I told some guys that they’ve been playing right to play left. I threw some monkey wrenches at them, which caused more focus stuff. We’ve got to correct that. In this game as it’s flowing, we want to build continuity, but we’ve also got to be able to operate when there is no continuity. You’ve got to train for both instances. But what I liked about today was I thought we operated well. I thought the snaps were good from the young guys that played, we rotated a lot of guys. We’re gonna have about four or five guys that can play that position outside of the ones we already have so just building that depth. This is the time to stress them and this is the time to make it uncomfortable.”

Norvell mentioned there were some pre-snap penalties, which is to be expected given the nerves of a game-like setting as well as unfamiliarity of different positions.

Big picture depth chart thoughts

Norvell likely won’t disclose a depth chart until the Monday before the Duquesne game. But a few of the coaches mentioned some of their thoughts as they’ve had 15 preseason practices through Saturday night.

“I think we have a pretty good sense of the guys who have shown the consistency and will be able to help us,” Norvell said. “Now, the extent of that is still unknown. What I like is, I do think we have depth. I do think we have guys who can help this team. Certain positions more than others. But what that is going to look like come gameday, that’s a daily process. That’s going to go all the way up until we kick off.”

But Norvell then said by midweek he expected “probably (by) midweek, get a little bit more solidified of who is going to be in those top couple groups.”

Defensive coordinator Adam Fuller underscored the search is to build rotational depth, especially along what is a veteran-laden defensive front.

“We’ll have probably five defensive tackles that’ll play, at least probably four ends,” Fuller said. “At linebacker we’ll probably have four guys that play the majority of snaps. And then in the secondary, we’ll probably lock in on five and then have a sixth and a seventh, have a third to fourth safety, have a third to fourth nickel / corner. And what we’re doing at linebacker right now with Randy (Shannon) is we’re teaching them basically both spots and we’re making it really flexible. So it’s always the next man up. It’s not just the backup at a certain spot. I think we’ve done a good job in the secondary of doing that as well. You’re trying to get the next best player ready whether it’s a corner, whether it’s a nickel, whether it’s safety and so I like the flexibility.”

FSU often showed a nickel (five defensive back) alignment last fall, although that changes based on opponent as well as down-and-distance. But in his comment above, Fuller said “we’re teaching them basically both spots” and had also mentioned the search for four linebackers. That would mean the Seminoles are intent on going with a 4-2-5 as the base defensive formation.

Coaches narrow options at return spots

Sam McCall is in the mix at punt and kick return.

Sam McCall is in the mix at punt and kick return. (Mike Olivella)

Special teams coordinator John Papuchis didn’t give a 1-2-3 depth chart for kick return and punt return but he did mention the top names. It’s notable that of the names he mentioned, all but one is a newcomer.

We’re talking about Deuce (Spann) and Trey (Benson) and Sam McCall on the kick return side,” Papuchis said. “And then you got Mycah (Pittman) and Keyshawn (Helton) and Sam (McCall) have done a good job at the punt return side. So those are the names that that are going to be the key figures, the guys that are playing a key role.”

FSU needs better blocking as well as more playmaking capabilities by the returners. The Seminoles were 66thin the nation in kick returns in 2021 (20.36-yard average), and they were 117th in punt returns (4.18-yard average).

Stars standing out on defense

Norvell mentioned safety/nickel Jammie Robinson as among the defensive players who were “flashing.” Robinson mentioned on Friday that he had missed some time in camp due to injury but feels like he has settled in well.

“Jammie’s trying to play as hard as he can every rep,” Fuller said. “And whether it’s special teams, right now he’s starting on kickoff and punt and we’re pushing him and he’s obviously playing a lot of snaps on defense. And we’re moving him around some to try to create flexibility for our defense and to be able to showcase his talents. And Jammie’s really come on these last couple practices. He’s playing really hard. He’s playing fast. And we got to clean up a few of his angles on some. But I know what Jammie’s about. I’m looking forward to coaching him. I’m looking forward to pushing them and he’s pushing the other guys and this team’s important to him.”

For a second straight scrimmage, transfer linebacker Tatum Bethune was singled out by name. Bethune has shown his instincs and impact since his arrival in the spring. “Once again in the scrimmages, he shows up big in those moments,” Norvell said.

The focus this week

Norvell and the staff pushed the Seminoles last week with practices Monday through Friday as well as the scrimmage on Saturday. While the workouts on Wednesday and Friday were lighter, it was a week without a day off.

“We get two days where they are off from the physical,” Norvell said. “The bodies get to heal up just a little bit. It will be a challenge come Tuesday. After you’ve had a couple days off, we are going to jump right back into it. It’s about that constant improvement until we get to game week. And then our sole focus will be on Duquesne and the continued growth to be our best come Aug. 27.”

Norvell called last week “identity week.” This week lacks a catchy name, but it lines up well with his mottos (Work and Climb).

“Get better,” Norvell said. “I know it’s simple, but it’s our daily focus.”

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