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April 2, 2008

Florida State searching for offensive answers

MORE: Florida State spring practice preview | Team-by-team spring practice previews

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. When Florida State's practice ended Friday, a herd of high school coaches in town for a clinic hustled over to a tent on the practice field for barbecue. The hungry coaches lined up about 30 yards deep.

A year ago, a few Seminoles offensive linemen may have tried to sneak into the line.

Maybe Florida State's offensive coaching staff has instilled discipline (or fear) into its players over the past year. Or maybe the players simply are too tired after a couple of weeks of high-energy spring practices to stop and wait in line for a snack. Either way, each player made his way from the practice field to the locker rooms immediately after drills.

So, there are signs of progress regarding Florida State's offense, whose side of the coaching staff has seen a complete turnover in the past two seasons. But the Seminoles are still going through growing pains.

"We're not always doing it right, but we know where we're going," said second-year offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher, who already has been named FSU's coach-in-waiting to replace Bobby Bowden.

The Seminoles' first full scrimmage Saturday illustrated that much. Tailback Antone Smith had a few nice runs, finishing with 10 carries for 71 yards and a touchdown. Backup quarterback D'Vontrey Richardson, a redshirt freshman, showed some of his playmaking ability despite playing behind overmatched backup offensive linemen. Still, the offense had the same problems that have plagued it in recent seasons. It scored only one touchdown in the standard scrimmage and one more in red zone drills.

Incumbent starting quarterback Drew Weatherford is out for the rest of the spring with a knee injury. Sophomore Christian Ponder split first-team snaps with Weatherford earlier this spring before Weatherford had surgery Friday to repair cartilage in his right knee. He is expected to be healthy for the fall.

"It's tough for Drew but it's good for me," said Ponder, who played in one game last season, against Virginia Tech. "I've been given a great opportunity. I'm trying to take advantage and hopefully do everything I can to earn that spot. That's my No. 1 goal right now."

He's not necessarily seizing the opportunity. He had few highlights Saturday as the new No. 1 quarterback, going 3-for-14 for 19 yards, not including third-down and goal-line situations. Richardson, instead, was the one who took advantage of the extra snaps. Richardson, by far the best athlete of the three, was 7-for-17 for 122 yards and added runs of 25 and 9 yards.

While playing for Florida State's baseball team last spring, Richardson had few opportunities to learn the offense. That has changed this spring with his focus on football.

"I feel a lot more comfortable. Last year I didn't know all the plays. I feel much better in the pocket. I feel comfortable with the play-calling," said Richardson, who was in for two plays, both designed runs, in 2007.

"(The quarterbacks) did some good things and had a few screw-ups, but we've got to learn to function around them because you don't know what they're going to do," Fisher said after the scrimmage.

While the focus is on the quarterback, coaches recognize that depth is a concern at most offensive positions. Smith doesn't have a true backup this spring. Preston Parker, the Seminoles' best playmaker, is doubling as a starting wide receiver and the No. 2 tailback. He sat out Saturday with a knee injury. FSU adds five tailbacks in the fall, including four-star junior college transfer Tavares Pressley and four-star freshman A.J. Alexander.

At the least, the tailbacks will run behind better-conditioned linemen. Second-year line coach Rick Trickett is satisfied that the conditioning problems of the past are behind his linemen, but he has new challenges. A depth-shy line allowed four sacks and botched four snaps during Saturday's scrimmage.

Tackle Daron Rose, a junior, is the only upperclassman among the eight scholarship linemen on the spring roster. Trickett will have to wait until fall, when six freshmen arrive, to fill out the depth chart.

Though the line is in better shape than a year ago, the pace of practice hasn't slowed. There's less hat-throwing from Trickett, but the intensity hasn't subsided.

"They haven't changed," Rose said. "They're still working us like dogs. There's not time to rest or think. Keep moving. Every second of practice, there's something to do. If you're not doing something, you must be hurt."

FSU is a little leaner this spring, but it will have to wait until the fall to find out how much these spring growing pains pay off.

"We can still be good and we can still win games," Fisher said. "But we're a ways away to get to where we need to be."

TOMORROW: The Spring Break Tour hits Gainesville as we bring you the latest from Florida.

MORE: Florida State spring practice preview | Team-by-team spring practice previews

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.

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