In offseason conditioning there is a distinct dead-period.
In these doldrums, some teams find life while others find rebirth. A period where fans and faithful lament on the past, and look to the future with hope and excitement.
That period is upon us.
As Florida State nears its summer practices, both offensive and defensive players are beginning to find their way to Tallahassee.
For the 2010 Seminole squad, the feeling on campus is anything but ordinary, and perhaps for the first time in a long time, it is worth it's weight in Garnet and Gold.
After a bleak period of back to back (to back) mediocre campaigns, this FSU team is vastly changed and seems poised and rejuvenated.
Will the new and improved Seminoles have enough to make it back to the ACC Championship Game? This seemed like a certainty when the 12 team ACC was newly formed. Now it's anyone's guess.
Here are the Top Five things the Seminoles need to do to get back to the top of the ACC.
We all know Jimbo Fisher is the guy in Tallahassee now.
Many knew he was the guy over the course of the last three seasons when he took FSU's Offense from a joke to a perennial Top 25 caliber unit.
While Jimbo has primarily focused on his offensive unit and Quarterback play; not much else has really been under Coach Fisher's control—until now.
Pictured are Jimbo's new guys (from left to right).
Defensive Coordinator Mark Stoops (Former Arizona DC), Linebackers Coach Greg Hudson (Former East Carolina DC), Running Backs Coach Eddie Gran (Former Tennessee RB Coach), Quarterbacks Coach Dameyune Craig (Former South Alabama HC), and Defensive Ends Coach Darin Eliot (Former Rice D-Line/Recruiting Coordinator).
With each of these welcome additions comes not only impressive ability on the coaching side of the ball, but experience in grooming some of the most undisciplined players at the College level.
In his time at Arizona, Stoops improved his Defense from the ranks of 86th in 2005, to 49th the following season, 53rd in 2007, 24th in 2008, and 25th in 2009.
For all of this improvement in his time at Arizona, Stoops never had the level of athletic talent around him that Florida State will readily provide.
This should easily help FSU return to a formidable defensive unit, provided Stoops has the right support in place. It is no surprise that Stoops is a coveted coach that will likely only be in Tallahassee a few seasons before he is elevated to the next level.
How do you preemptively prepare for such attrition?
You hire another Defensive Coordinator to be the "DC in waiting."
Enter Greg Hudson from ECU. Rumor has it that Hudson could have, and very nearly did become FSU's next Defensive Coordinator. A Linebacker specialist in his time at places like Notre Dame and Minnesota, Hudson made a name for himself with the Pirates as a work-hard no-nonsense coach who focused on fundamentals over strength and speed.
It should come as no surprise that Hudson was also a coveted coach and was looked at by many big name programs before accepting a reduced role as Linebacker Coach at FSU. A steal by most accounts, Hudson will likely be Stoops replacement following Stoops' three year contract.
This certainly is a change from the old-guard mentality instilled during the Bowden administration where coaches seemed to stay for ages (Andrews), or returned after failing at the next level (Amato).
Fisher is no stranger to the mentality behind success, and preparing for "next year's staff" is always a consideration, just like recruiting or on-field changes.
Rounding out the Defensive newcomers is Darin Eliot. By most accounts, Eliot is being leaned on heavily to be a producer on the recruiting trail more than as a Defensive End Coach.
As Rice's Recruiting Coordinator, a school known more for academics than athletes, Eliot was instrumental in recruiting the talent necessary to get the Owls to their first bowl game in 45 years in 2006, and their first bowl victory since 1954 in the 2008 Texas Bowl.
At Tulsa, Eliot also personally coached DE Nick Bunting to Conference USA's Player of the Year honors. Eliot is no stranger to the main show, having spent time as a graduate assistant to the Secondary and Special Teams with Miami during their last National Championship appearance in 2002.
On the Offensive side of the ball, former Carolina Panthers backup QB and Auburn Tigers Starting QB, Dameyune Craig offers an array of experience as both a player and a coach.
In his professional coaching career, he has spent time under Nick Saban with both the LSU Tigers (alongside Fisher who was the Quarterbacks Coach) and the Miami Dolphins. Craig then left Saban in favor of a position at D-II Tuskeegee, where he coached QBs again, and helped the Golden Tigers to two consecutive SIAC Conference Titles. He then spent a year at South Alabama as the Wide Receivers Coach.
Craig's Offensive understanding and influence in the hotbed of Alabama recruiting will be instrumental in the success of Fisher's newly installed offense.
To compliment this pass attack, Fisher also brought over Running Backs coach Eddie Gran from Tennessee. Gran spent 10 years prior to his time in Tennessee coaching at Auburn.
In his time there, Gran coached Auburn to 8 bowl games, including an undefeated 2004 squad, and mentored the talented likes of Ronnie Brown, Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, Brandon Jacobs, and Kenny Irons—all of whom were responsible for 1,000 plus yard seasons in their time as starter for the Tigers.
You can't teach an old dog new tricks, but you sure can't teach a new dog without some old ones.
OL Coach Rick Trickett and TE Coach James Coley might not call themselves old dogs, but they are certainly talented tricksters nonetheless.
The backbone of FSU's offense in 2009, Trickett turned a bunch of overweight sloppy "Jenny Craig-needing" blockers into one of the best offensive lines in College Football in a matter of just a few short years.
The old adage of "a Quarterback is only as good as his line," is perhaps why Ponder managed to get considerable notoriety and award considerations before going down to injury last season, even garnering a Semi-finalist nod for the coveted Maxwell Award.
Even backup E.J. Manuel was able to push an FSU team with little to no defensive ability to a 3-1 record in his first 4 starts.
Thank the offensive line and West Virginia Marine transplant Coach Trickett whose Zone blocking technique has wreaked havoc on bigger and stronger defensive lines.
The offensive line wouldn't be complete without the likes of the Tight End position. A position once abandoned by FSU under the Bowden administration was given new life thanks in large part to the coaching of Coley, who made Beau Reliford and Caz Piurowski mainstays in the 25th Nationally ranked passing game.
In 2009 these two players accounted for a quarter (4 for 16) of FSU's Touchdown receptions, and nearly 10 percent of its total receiving yards. If that weren't enough, both Piurowski and Reliford revitalized the concept of the H-Back (not to be confused with a Halfback), creating an extra man on the field for pass blocking and run blocking assignments.
Seminole vets Odell Haggins (Defensive Line) and Lawrence Dawsey (Wide Receivers) return to their respective duties anchoring both the defensive and offensive sides of the ball. Haggins, now supported by a new defensive staff, should see plenty of benefit in the way of a heavier and more disciplined penetrating unit.
While Dawsey will need little as everyone in his receiving core except for Rod Owens is returning.
Rounding out the old guard of coaching acumen is Fisher himself. Heading into his first season as the Head Coach, a lot of pressure has been put on him to deliver quickly.
In just a matter of a few short weeks between the end of the 2009 season to National Signing Day, Fisher revamped the FSU coaching staff and landed a top ten recruiting class.
Yeah, he can deliver.
By taking FSU from an abysmal 80th ranked offense in his first year as Offensive Coordinator, to 28th by the end of his third season, Fisher showed he knows how to make an offense tick, and how to run a very tight ship. If he can carry this over to his other units, FSU could be a very dangerous squad to contend with in 2010.
"Weight gainers, weight losers and weight maintainers."
These are the essential and simplistic categories that new Strength and Conditioning Coordinator Vic Viloria (Southern Methodist) has imposed on all players reporting this summer to FSU.
Simplistic is hardly the word to define these new nutrition plans that all of the players must follow. In addition to the diet programs, players will be evaluated on their blood sugar levels, vitamin levels, hydration, body fat, caloric intake, heart rate, pulse, oxygen levels, and even mental/psychological testing.
That's right, Viloria has hired a team therapist to determine the mental health of FSU's players as well.
The days of eating fried chicken and hitting the weights are over. Players will now be evaluated on every act from sun up to sundown while conditioning. Oh, and for extra measure, every meal that a player consumes is required to be eaten in the presence of the team's nutritionist in the team's cafeteria.
Recruiting, Speed, Talent, Health, Coaching, Explosiveness, Intangibles, Eligibility, Coordination, Stamina, Strength, Skill....
Amounts to nothing.
Not without a team mentality.
Florida State will field a talented bunch of players, and bring in more talent to bolster the sagging defensive units. They will combined this with fresh coaching to mentally retrain those athletes who were left to fend for themselves over the course of the last two to three seasons.
The staff will have players at the edge of their abilities both mentally and physically. They will have their ears pinned back and their helmets tightly fastened.
The schedule doesn't give FSU much room for error, and by all accounts, if FSU prepares for this season the same as FSU has in years past, they will not win, nor even play for an ACC title.
The game is not won in the skill or the preparation, but in the heart and with dedication.
FSU needs to turn it's "all for one" mentality that seemed so prevalent off the field into a desire on the field. No man should be left behind, and every player should focus less on what they can do for themselves, but what the team can do for one another.
Chemistry cannot be decided by the fans, the coaches or the nutritionists, but by the players themselves.
For FSU to truly re-emerge, they must take this opportunity to gel, new players and old, for one unifying goal, to win a championship.
In order for a team to think like a team, it needs a leader—a player on the field that can signal to all of the other players that he is watching out for them, just as much as he knows they are watching out for him.
A leader is someone who holds himself to the same level of accountability as his teammates and then sets the pace for them.
He provides them a framework for success and gives reasons for his team to follow him down the field, whether the outcome is a success or a failure.
We all know that Christian Ponder has earned his team's loyalty on the field, but the offense has its ducks in a row.
On defense, it would appear that there is no leadership.
While the defense is anchored by the likes of Markus White, Jaccobi McDaniel, Nigel Bradham, and Dionte Allen in all three areas, there doesn't seem to be a clear-cut leader among them.
While a player like Greg Reid might seem like a natural fit at this position, his youth may make it challenging for him to gain the respect of his entire team heading into 2010.
One thing remains certain, in order for FSU to be a success, a defensive leader will need to emerge and solidify the other half of the team.
In the end, FSU could be a very potent and explosive unit, or it could be just another team with a great offense that loses a lot of close games.
That will only be decided on the gridiron.
Until then, this Seminole team looks poised for a move in the right direction, and with a little luck, this team will be a perennial contender for the ACC crown, and have a shot at a BCS Bowl game for the first time since 2005.