TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Willie Taggart’s first practice at Florida State on Wednesday definitely had a different tone compared to his predecessor.
It also began a lot earlier.
The practice fields adjacent to Doak Campbell Stadium were abuzz with the sounds of AC/DC, Wiz Khalifa and Blake Shelton during the morning workouts instead of assistants yelling during the middle of the afternoon. The first practice was also at a quicker pace, with five-minute instruction periods instead of the 10-minute periods that were common under Jimbo Fisher.
Taggart wants to see the Seminoles play fast and not worry about making mistakes.
“It is going to be a fast practice. We’ll get in and out. We’ll do a lot of coaching in the film room,” said Taggart, who was named coach on Dec. 5 , less than a week after Fisher resigned to go to Texas A&M.
Many of the changes are staples of Taggart’s previous stops at Western Kentucky, South Florida and Oregon. The changes have received rave reviews from the players.
Defensive tackle Marvin Wilson said last year was more like a job than having fun. A lot of that was due to the Seminoles going 7-6 and Fisher’s messy exit.
Fisher had hoped to finish last season as Florida State’s coach but resigned on Dec. 1 amid anger from the administration and parents when he wasn’t forthcoming about pursuing the Texas A&M opening. Fisher now refers to the school he led to the 2013 national championship as “the other place” while Florida State President John Thrasher has said in a couple speeches to groups that he no longer holds his wallet when walking by the football offices.
But there’s nothing but positive vibes at Taggart’s practices — so far.
“It doesn’t feel like a job anymore. It feels like something we love,” he said. “You loved football in high school, now you love it again in college.”
Taggart was quick to note that having fun will not get in the way of fundamentals and technique. But when a player does something noteworthy, like Cyrus Fagan did when he intercepted a pass, it should be celebrated by the team.
“I don’t believe in doing anything and not having fun.,” he said. “I’m big on quotes, as you know. Ralph Emerson said, ‘Nothing great happens without enthusiasm.’ I believe in that and want our guys to be that way daily.”
On the field, Taggart and his assistants — which includes only one holdover from the previous staff — are using the 16 practices between now and the April 14 spring game to get a better gage on their personnel. Taggart has told his players that the depth chart throughout the spring will be fluid and that those who grasp the system the quickest will rise to the top.
Most of the focus will be at quarterback. Deondre Francois, who suffered a knee injury in last season’s opener against Alabama, will be limited to non-contract drills as sophomore James Blackman and redshirt freshman Brady Hockman.
Blackman, who threw for 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions last season, said he has been watching Oregon’s games from last season to get a better grasp of the system.
“The play calls that they give us, we’re getting them down pretty well,” he said. “We’ve been working them out in 7-on-7 by ourselves.”
Hockman said the play calls are a lot simpler and that the offense is “more toned down but it’s effective.”
Besides vying for spots on the depth chart, numbers one through nine on the roster are also up for grabs. Akers, who wore No. 4 last season, was wearing No. 23 on Wednesday.
Even though Akers rushed for 1,025 yards and seven touchdowns last season, Taggart said the players have to earn their numbers back, which Akers said he liked.
“I know when I was growing up the single digits went to the dudes. That’s kind of how we want it,” Taggart said. “Not everyone can be a single digit. Getting it is being one of the best.”
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