A couple thousand people turned out at Doak Campbell Stadium late Sunday afternoon to see the fifth-ranked Florida State football team get to work in the lone open practice of the year.
What they likely took away as their lasting impression – at least until the Sept. 3
“If we’re ahead on offense, we’re going to have a bad year. Any team I’ve ever been on where the offense home-opener against Louisiana-Monroe – is the Seminoles have come light years defensively in just two years.
A relentless pass rush prevented EJ Manuel and the other Seminole quarterbacks from ever getting comfortable in the pocket, which in turn enabled FSU’s secondary to get hands on a lot of passes, both for deflections and interceptions.
“Defensively, we’re way ahead of where we are offensively,” Fisher said at the end of the 2 ½-hour workout, which followed FSU’s normal practice routine. “We have a lot of problems up front on offense. The quarterbacks are playing too inconsistent.”
FSU’s seemingly endless supply of defensive linemen relentlessly got after an offensive front that remains a work in progress after just seven practices. Sacks were plentiful, and when they weren’t, deflections and interceptions were.
Fisher was neither surprised, nor especially disappointed with the dominant defensive performance on the practice field.
“They’ve got more experience,” Fisher said of the defense. “They’ve got a lot of guys, a lot of veterans; they’re really good up front. And up front, until we get the offensive line gelled it’s going to be hard to do anything on offense. We’re doing some good things. We’ll break some runs. We’re just not consistent.
The defensive improvement in coordinator Mark Stoops’ second season is not by accident.
“We put time and effort into recruiting players, difference-makers up front, and you can see it,” Fisher said.
Veteran starters Brandon Jenkins, Jacobbi McDaniel and Amp McCloud have continued to develop under Stoops’ staff. Second-year players like Bjoern Werner, Cameron Erving and Darious Cummings are coming into their own, while freshmen and first-year ‘Noles Timmy Jernigan and Tank Carradine are physically advanced at this stage.
Bert Reed ‘Now’ emerging as a leader
Among players who have made the greatest strides from a year ago, fifth-year senior wide receiver Bert Reed is right at the top of the list. Fisher, who has spent the past four years poking, prodding and admonishing Reed in an attempt to bring out his best, is finally beginning to see it pay off.
Though Reed enters his final season of eligibility as the sixth-leading pass receiver in school history, he has ridden the roller coaster of inconsistency. Sunday, Fisher praised the slender pass-catcher for his practice habit.
“What people don’t realize about Bert is he’s highly intelligent,” Fisher said. “When he focuses and does little things, he’s playing fast, he’s thinking fast, he’s reacting. He’s really doing some good things – and he’s a leader. He’s doing a really good job.”
Earlier in the day, Reed told a group of reporters that he understands his collegiate career is winding down, suggesting that it has had significant impact on maturity level and appreciation for the game.
“When you know you’ve got tomorrow, sometimes you don’t have urgency today,” Fisher said. “I think he’s buying into what we’re talking about – live in the now. His now is now. There is no tomorrow. It’s exciting to watch because now he’s starting to do the things I always used to yell at him about because you knew what he could do.”
Joyner may have earned himself a nickname
Sophomore Lamarcus Joyner may be short in stature for a strong safety, but he’s making a big difference on FSU’s defense with his football instincts and infectious love for the game.
“He erases mistakes,” Fisher said. “He’s like an eraser. He tackles well. … When you blitz it’s like having another corner in the game. And he’s so instinctive.”
Playing behind FSU’s productive pass rush tends to bring out the best in Joyner, who is quite capable of matching up one-on-one with receivers out of the slot, playing the run and understanding the concepts of playing the ball when the ‘Noles are in zone. It helps, too, that FSU has a trio of talented cornerbacks, who force teams to take underneath looking for mismatches on linebackers or safeties.
“People are not going to throw out there; they’re not going to attack,” Fisher said. “They’re going to attack those guys inside. That’s where you’ve got to be sound.”
Since moving to strong safety in the spring, Joyner has been just that.
(Thanks to Bob Thomas of FSU Sports Information for contributing this report.)