Observations from FSU football’s first full-pads preseason practice

The Florida State football team took to the field for its sixth practice this fall and first in full pads Tuesday morning. The majority of the 24-period practice took place under clear, sunny skies with the temperature reaching the mid to high 90s.

Head coach Mike Norvell said that he was pleased with the physicality of Tuesday’s practice as he has been with the previous two practice sessions. He was also very happy with how both sides of the ball worked together during practice in order to get all their objectives accomplished for the day.

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He also mentioned that the deeper the team has gotten into fall camp the more he is starting to see players emerge and take the next step in his development. Players he mentioned included quarterbacks Tate Rodemaker and AJ Duffy. He also has been pleased with the progress of tight ends Markeston Douglas and Brian Courtney. Norvell said that he expects Courtney, a true freshman who mostly played quarterback in high school, to have a role on this year’s team if he continues to develop as camp moves forward.

Tuesday’s practice began, as normal, with plenty of individual and position group work. The defense spent its opening periods this morning working on angle tackling. The two sides of the ball then got involved in some group drills. The offensive line spent several periods in a half-line inside run drills while the skill position players went through several half-field pass skeleton periods. At the same time the linebackers and running back went through a blitz/blitz pickup drill.

While the team was in full pads for the first time, there was still some encouragement from coaches to wrap up instead of fully tackle in some situations. However, one particularly physical period with thumping of pads came when offensive players went against defensive players in a 1-on-1 base run blocking drill.

The players crowded around the drill in a circle to build an atmosphere of intensity. Incidentally, this somewhat obscured what we were able to see of the drill.

From what was able to be seen, the players that stood out to the Osceola from our perch from the upper deck of Howser Stadium were offensive lineman Bless Harris and Bryson Estes. Defensively, linebacker DJ Lundy and Robert Cooper stood out.

True freshman Julian Armella also had a particularly impressive rep where he held up Jared Verse and then pushed him onto his back.

The line segments also went through one-on-one and two-on-two pass rush periods. The players that stood out on the offensive line were D’Mitri Emmanuel and Estes. Defensively, defensive ends Derrick McClendon, Dennis Briggs and Leonard Warner had impressive reps. Defensive tackles Jarrett Jackson and Robert Cooper also looked strong in these drills.

Practice ended with four periods of 11-on-11 work. The first couple of periods of team focused on an open field drive the ball the length of the field situation. They also did team periods featuring short field and red zone situations.

Norvell said he was pleased with the defense’s ability to stop the run during the team period. Meanwhile the offense found most of its success throwing the ball. Rodemaker and Duffy both had strong debut drives in the session. Rodemaker’s was a methodical march down the field which ended with a touchdown pass to tight end Markeston Douglas, who was a frequent target Tuesday.

Duffy’s drive quickly marched down the field as he had quite a few targets to Darion Williamson, who was a full participant for the first time this preseason. However, it stalled out on the goal line as the defense came up with a pair of stuffed runs and then a sack by defensive tackle Bishop Thomas to force a field goal.

This success that Rodemaker and Duffy had Tuesday is a credit to the time they were afforded by the second-team offensive line. Norvell and the FSU coaches spoke about an increased level of confidence in the depth up front entering this season and that has been on display through six spring practices.

One of Norvell’s few criticisms after Tuesday’s practice was on the special teams units and their struggles. A horrendous low snap never gave kicker Ryan Fitzgerald a chance to make the field-goal attempt during Jordan Travis’ second drive of 11-on-11 work. It also wasn’t a great day for FSU’s punters, who had quite a few shanks.

However, it bears mentioning this comes after a very strong day from FSU’s specialists Monday.

The team will have Wednesday off before hitting the field again on Thursday and Friday ahead of the first preseason scrimmage Saturday evening.

Osceola analyst Patrick Burnham contributed to this report

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