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5 posts from August 7, 2012

August 07, 2012

Seminole News and Notes 8/7

Here are a few odds and ends from a busy day of talking to players and watching the Seminoles in action for the first time this season. I'll try to make this a semi-regular thing when I have bits that don't fit in other places but are worth pointing out.

Hopkins Touts Aguayo

Though initially the plan was for kicker Roberto Aguayo to take a grayshirt year and be on the team in 2013, recent shuffling of the roster has opened a spot and Aguayo will be on the team this season. Though senior Dustin Hopkins, a Groza candidate and one of the top kicking prospects in the nation, is firmly entrenched ahead of Aguayo, that hasn't stopped him from impressing his new team.

"Berto's a really good kicker, I'm really excited for next season," said Hopkins. "I would say he's better than I was coming in my freshman year as far as being able to kick off the ground and everything. We still have the whole camp to go through and I'm sure he's going to grow even more, but he's really impressed me thus far."

New Kickoff Rules

Speaking of Hopkins, he also commented on the new kickoff rules that place touchbacks at the 25 yardline. This frankly, puts strong-legged kickers like Hopkins at a disadvantage because it devalues a touchback. It's going to change the way a lot of kickers approach kickoff duties, Hopkins will be no different.

"It's definitely something I've worked on, trying to get height instead of just driving the ball," Hopkins said. "It's something I've tried to add to my arsenal, I'm working on it."

Dustin said he's not sure what the team strategy will be on kickoffs quite yet, even if he were I doubt he'd divulge it to us. Though he was very polite, as he always is, I doubt Hopkins cares much for the new rules. The NCAA also changed onside kicks so they must bounce twice but Hopkins admitted onside kicking already wasn't a strength so it's less of a concern for him.

As for how he's been working on the new kickoff strategies, Hopkins attended a Jamie Kohl kicking camp with a number of other college kickers this summer. Hopkins has attended Kohl's camps since his sophomore year. 

Reid's Presence Still Felt

One of the more candid admissions of the afternoon came from Chris Thompson when asked about the challenge of watching 2011 from the sidelines as he rehabbed a broken back:

"During the season, I hate to bring this up, but just looking at Greg [Reid] play, that did something for me," said Thompson. "It helped my spirits a whole lot just seeing the excitement, you know the excitement he brought, it made me want to rush back."

Reid's enthusiam and vocal brand of leadership will be missed this season, early on you can tell some players are noticing a bit of a void as Thompson isn't the only guy to comment on Reid's absence. For those who criticize Reid for his off-the-field indiscretions, on the field Reid has always been a fiery, enthusiastic leader.

Menelik Watson, Impressively Raw

Menelik Watson is an interesting story, he's a juco transfer who hails from Manchester, England and has very little experience playing organized football. If that doesn't seem like an ideal candidate to play on the Seminoles' line, it may be worth mentioning that for all his inexperience Watson is 6-6, 320 and runs a 4.7-40. 

Basically, he's all potential.

"I'm kind of jealous, I'm just like wow I've been playing football since I was 11," said redshirt junior lineman Bryan Stork. "That's just really cool that someone can be that athletically gifted. He's got a good head on his shoulders and a good work ethic, I think he'll be fine."

Dawkins on the Early AM Practice

Florida State's decision to move its Wednesday practice to 5:30 AM definitely caught a few of their players by surprise.

"I've been here for a long time and I've never done that before, they said that and I was just like 'ugh,'" joked 5th year senior Everett Dawkins. "You know we're still in class, this is the last week of school a lot of guys have papers and stuff to do but I guess you just have to get in when you can. It's going to be interesting."

So keep that in mind as you drag yourself out of bed tomorrow morning. Everett Dawkins and the Seminoles were out on the practice field at 5:30 AM... Don't you dare hit that snooze.

Chris Thompson Returns From Broken Back Feeling Better Than Ever

There was a point, a dark moment sometime last year, where the typically upbeat Chris Thompson had his doubts.

"Yeah, you know that's something I tried to stay positive about for a while," said Thompson. "But at times I did think like 'maybe I shouldn't play football anymore or something like that.'"

It would have been understandable.

On Saturday October 8th, in a game at Wake Forest, Thompson cut a run back inside, put his helmet down and broke his back. Compression fractures of his T-5 and T-6 vertebrae landed Thompson in a Winston-Salem hospital for several days and threw not just his football future, but his basic mobility into jeopardy.

Fortunately (loose use of that term), the fractures didn't leave Thompson paralyzed. After returning to Tallahassee and beginning to rehab from the injury, Thompson began to make his return to the field. Whereas just a decade ago a broken back was likely the end of a career, Thompson enters 2012 with a chance to have a significant role in the Florida State rushing attack.

"It's been a journey, man," Thompson reflected. "Last year was a rough year, well, this whole year's been a rough one for me. But now I can really say I'm feeling great to be honest."

It's a remarkable tale of recovery, but the 5'8 190 lb tailback hasn't had to go it alone, he's had a support system that he's quick to acknowledge helped him along the way.

"I have my parents believing in me, praying for me," said Thompson. "I'm always in and out of church so I had faith I could be able to come back and play again."

Thompson also found strength in his teammates.

"Everytime I saw a guy he was asking, 'hows your back doing?' or 'how you feeling?' It's still like that now," said Thompson. "They all, I can say as a whole, the whole team cared a lot and always tried to keep me going."

The support from his family and teammates gave Thompson the strength to recover physically and also mentally.

Such a serious injury can take a huge toll on a player's psyche. Sometimes the psychological damage far exceeds the physical toll. You used to see it a lot when receivers would get obliterated going over the middle, before they cracked down on helmet-to-helmet shots and launching. Occasionally a bad enough collision would ruin a guy. 

Injuries can leave doubt, doubt is fatal in football.

Thompson admits he's struggled with as much.

"I try to be used to feeling good," said Thompson. "Sometimes I do think [about the injury] though and that's a bad thing. But sometimes I can't really help myself from thinking about it because it happened last October. But for the most part I'm always trying to stay positive about the situation."

He's watched the tape of the injury. Many athletes never can, Thompson has. Just a few times at first, but lately as he's gotten stronger he's begun to watch it more frequently. Still, it represents the final hurdle between Thompson and being completely recovered.

"Just getting hit, that's the biggest issue. I looked back at the game against Wake Forest again last week before we started practice," said Thompson. "Just getting tackled again, that's the biggest issue that's on my mind to be honest."

As odd as it may be though, Thompson also finds strength from watching the replay of that fateful blow last October. 

"I was with someone [the other day] and they were like, 'why are you looking at this?'" joked Thompson. "I was like, it happened, I've just got to remember it. That's one of those things that keeps me going, I can say I overcame that."

It's been a process to overcome it, a journey as he calls it. Thompson had to rehab from the fractures and work to regain his strength so he could even make it back in the first place. Doing that has meant overhauling almost everything about how he eats, trains and to some extent lives.

"We changed how he trained, changed everything about him," said head coach Jimbo Fisher. "To get the healing in his back we changed a lot of the things we do with him."

Thompson was ready for limited action by the spring but was hampered by a hand injury that further reduced his workload. It wasn't until this summer's conditioning program that he began to really find his old form. 

"I would say end of July I went out at the end of workouts one day just running, doing the rhythm conditioning we do, I just decided to go out with some of the freshmen, the fast ones, [Ronald] Darby, [Marvin] Bracy and those guys, just to see where I stand, see if I could run a little bit."

"I was able to keep up, put it like that," Thompson joked.

Now at the start of the season, Thompson feels, and more importantly looks, like his old self. 

"I feel better than my old self to be honest," said Thompson on Tuesday. "This offseason helped me out a whole lot just the way we handled everything, the way we switched up a couple things. It really helped me out a lot."

Thompson says he's in the best shape of his life and at practice his cuts look crisp and explosive again. He also says the mental reps he took last season from the sideline have helped him with his pre-snap reads and the mental side of his game. 

It remains to be seen whether Thompson regains his former aggressiveness once he gets reacquainted with contact or whether he may be timid at first. But for their part his teammates are just happy to see him looking like himself again.

"It just feels good man, because honestly we didn't know if he was ever going to play again," said senior defensive tackle Everett Dawkins. "Just to see him out there with that same speed like he hasn't lost a step, he's still fast and quick, it feels good."

"It's a blessing for him."

That hasn't been lost on Thompson, who seems to have a new love of football after almost losing it for good.

"Just being able to cut and run like that, it's a great feeling and I'm just happy," said Thompson. "It's been a long time, it's been a journey for me."

Freshmen Impressing Right From the Start

Count fifth-year senior quarterback EJ Manuel among those impressed early on by Florida State's incoming class of freshmen. Ranked among the top three classes in the country by most scouting agencies, the Seminoles' expected good returns on their 2012 class, but maybe not this early.

Freshman cornerback Ronald Darby drew the most effusive praise from Manuel, who thinks Darby has a shot to replace recently dismissed senior Greg Reid as the starting field corner.

"I think so," said Manuel when asked if Darby could compete for the job. "The fact he has the raw instincts and the speed to match it. You know I think that's his biggest thing and that's what you want as a corner, that's what Greg [Reid] did that was great, he was a very instinctive player. So hopefully Darby can come and contribute early. I think he can."

Darby is a 5-11, 175 lb four star recruit out of Maryland. He was considered amongst the top two or three corners in the nation by ESPN, Rivals and Scout.

Even more heralded than Darby entering Florida State though were several of the stalwart defensive linemen the Seminoles pulled last signing day, including the nation's top prospect Mario Edwards Jr.

According to Manuel, they're living up to the billing.

"[Eddie] Goldman and Mario [Edwards] are first off appealing, they're big," said Manuel. "Every ranking they got they're definitely worthy of that. Obviously here [in college] it's a different ballgame but I think they're going to be fine."

"If you just look at them you can tell they can play. But I've heard Goldman probably has the quickest first step of any D-lineman we have. That's what I was told by another D-Lineman."

That's high praise considering Florida State boasts two first-round caliber prospects in defensive ends Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner.

Edwards is a 6'4 295 lb defensive end out of Texas, he was a five star, blue-chip recruit, the son of former Seminole Mario Edwards Sr., and one of the prizes of last year's recruiting season. Eddie Goldman also came with considerable billing, hailing for Washington DC, the 6-4 325 lb tackle's frame belies his natural athleticm.

"A lot of them [don't look like freshmen] at all," said Manuel. "Chris Casher (DE, 6-4, 250, 4 star from Alabama) doesn't either, he looks like he's a junior or senior in college and could play right now. I'm looking forward to seeing how they develop."

Seminoles Continue to Battle Weather Early On in Camp

I just left today's Florida State player availability and was greeted outside by a torrential downpour. Normally that would be highly irrelevant but as Florida State begins its first full week of practice, the weather could potentially threaten the Seminoles workouts through the rest of the week. Right now FSU is just trying to get in practice number one.

Yesterday, much to the chagrin of Jimbo Fisher, the Seminoles finally had to cancel practice after several delays for lightning and flooding.

Today in Tallahassee, the rain has continued and streets at several points near the state's capitol have begun to flood. According to the national weather service the chance of precipitation is well over 50% through Friday, meaning Florida State could potentially lose more practices.

That's hardly ideal for the first week of the preseason when practices are even more crucial.

"It's frustrating, but we've been through that before," said quarterback EJ Manuel when asked about the delays that lead to Florida State heading in and out of the lockerroom and attempting to start practice several times before ultimately cancelling practice.

"It is tough, but I was just saying it happens in games, you have to go inside and wait and still come out and play well."

Aside from the practical lessons though, Florida State desperately needs all the reps they can get.

With the Seminoles entering the season ranked 7th nationally and bearing the weight of considerable expectations, they can't afford to lose any more practices to inclement weather. 

Of course at this stage in the season, what team can?

I'll have a few more things coming up a little later this afternoon... As for whether or not the Seminoles practice today, in the words of aspiring weatherman EJ Manuel:

"We're looking forward to [practicting] today, but looking outside right now, I don't know how [the weather] is going to be today too, so we'll see," said Manuel earlier this afternoon. 

"But whenever we do get the chance to practice, we'll be ready."


The Early Read: Is Jacobbi McDaniel Looking at a Redshirt Season?

Good morning! Here's something to start the day with...

Jimbo Fisher surprised me a little bit yesterday when he mentioned senior defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel. Last October McDaniel suffered a serious season-ending injury when he dislocated his ankle against Duke. 

Just over nine months later McDaniel is still fighting back from that injury as the Seminoles start camp.

"Jacobbi should be back out there at about 60, 65, 70 percent," said Fisher. "We'll see how he recovers from that injury."

That was not what stuck out to me though, it was later when Fisher didn't exactly downplay the notion that Florida State could redshirt the senior defensive tackle if he's not ready for the season. 

"Well we'll play it by ear from a physical standpoint because he does have redshirt year," said Fisher. "That's something for him, one he's an outstanding guy, he's an outstanding leader. He's a good player, I think he has a chance to be an NFL player. So we'll see where he's at and what his status is at that time."

Fortunately the Seminoles have the luxury of being able to redshirt an experienced senior defensive tackle, they have ridiculous depth along their D-Line. Whereas other schools may be forced to hope McDaniel gets healthy at some point in the season, Florida State just added an extremely talented crop of freshman defensive linemen to a line that ranked amongst the best in the nation last year and returns everyone from that unit. 

Defensive ends Mario Edwards, the consensus top prospect and Chris Casher arrived this summer along with mammoth tackles Eddie Goldman and Justin Shanks. All four should make an early impact and push returning players for reps in the rotation. 

If McDaniel is not healthy he's going to end up buried on the depth chart anyway.

It's hardly anything concrete, a lot will happen before the September 1st opener to decide who plays in the rotation at D-Line and whether McDaniel is healthy enough for the season, but there does seem to be some credence behind the idea of redshirting him if necessary, based on coach Fisher's comments yesterday.

We'll have to see how it all plays out, but you would really have to feel bad for McDaniel if his ankle injury ends up costing him not one, but two seasons. 

I'll have more for you later today after player availability and practice.




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