"They are looking pretty good, even though they are kind of banged up right now," said Holland, who had a recent workout with the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I think they are going to be pretty good. They've changed some things around – they (coaches) are running different things (drills). Coach (Jimmy Heggins) is working them harder, he's coaching them harder. He's trying to whip them in shape. I am interested in seeing how next year is going to go. I think they are going to be good."
There's plenty of optimism coming from returning players. In tackles Ray Willis and Alex Barron, FSU has two players who combined for 13 starts last season. Center David Castillo and guards Bobby Meeks and Matt Heinz each have starting experience. Patience is expected also to be important in that regard, since FSU has had just one experienced tackle - Ron Lunford - available for most of spring drills.
"It's going better. We are moving the ball a little better. We've been trying to work on possession things, getting down field," said Barron, who started five games last season and played in all 13 games.
"Our focus has been just getting to know your assignments. The physical attributes, like speed and strength, that comes along with working in the weight room. Out here, the main thing we want to get down is our assignments."
The 6-6, 300-pound Barron admits the Seminoles face a difficult challenge in replacing four starters from last season – five including Milford Brown, who was ruled ineligible prior to season's start.
"We lost those guys last year, all those guys were great and we learned a lot from them, but now we have to stay together," Barron said. "We take that on as a challenge. We had a couple people who played a lot last year. We had a couple people who played a little bit. And we have people who are just stepping in and starting to play. We have to work with what we have. I think we are ready to take on that challenge and get some work done.
"We are doing most of the same drills but there are things we need to work on. We are trying to mix it up. We did a lot of zone in the past. We are working some man. We are just trying to mix it up and see what works best. Some people have little-man syndrome, we might have big-man syndrome – we think we can move and have great skill."
Meeks, who is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, also is pleased with the Seminoles' progress.
"It's coming along pretty good but we have a lot of young guys out there – all of us are really young," said Meeks, who made his first career start last season against North Carolina in place of the injured Holland.
"Me and a couple of guys are trying to keep everybody together, showing them what to do and help them out as much as we can. I believe it can. I believe it can. A lot of guys are getting a lot of reps. Some guys are hurt and that gives others an opportunity to get better. I believe we can be a good line."
Defensive ends coach Jody Allen agrees.
"It's hard to talk about them specifically because I don't watch film on them but I do feel as a general group they are getting a lot better," Allen said. "Quite frankly, when you look at them individually and what they had done last year, I thought we were going to go out there this spring and be able to have our way with them pretty good. But they have held their own. As a general group, I think they are improving rapidly."
Jody Allen, in his second season coaching the Seminoles' defensive ends, had these comments on a variety of subjects:
The impressive spring play of Willie Jones:
"Willie is night and day from last spring. Not that he had a bad attitude last spring – I don't mind that at all – he's a good kid. But as far what kind of production he's getting on the field. Last yeear, I think still in his mind, he wasn't sure whether he was a linebacker or a defensive end. It was all brand new to him. He was kind of a fish out of water. The effort was good but he didn't understand what he needed to be looking at, where is keys were. This year he has bitten into it whole-heartedly and he's getting better every day out there. We are excited about it."
"Due to different sets of circumstances, both those guys turned out to be real instrumental for us last year. Zo kind of slowly developed into the guy and you look back on it, he was the biggest leader we had last year. And Eric, because of everything he had come through and how hard he worked to overcome the situations he battled through, he earned everybody's respect because of that work ethic. Kevin Emanuel is the one senior defensive end – he's working at it and I think everybody is kind of sitting back and looking at it like, ‘What are you going to do here?' He stepped up to the plate as far as being a leader and demanding others to work. The first thing you have to do is work hard and he has done that. I am looking for him to really take a lot of that load that Zo and Eric left on his shoulders. And we have senior linebackers and senior corners and some inside guys who are not with us right now but will be with us this fall, we hope they can all share that leadership role."
On his development as a coach:
"It's like night and day. Now, I can of figured out what questions I need to ask when I talk to people. Last year I didn't know what to ask. We had a fun year last year, it was a learning year. I told them when I started. ... I told Zo, I am going to be a lot better defensive ends coach next year than I am this year. You are just going to have to live with me this year. I have learned a lot and it's a lot of fun. Of course, Mickey, Odell and Coach Gladden, who is still around and helping. It's kind of like we all piled in and let's do this thing together. But it has been a lot more fun and I do feel a lot more comfortable this year than I do last year. We've talked to a few schools (to visit this summer) but we did go up to Alabama as soon as we finished our off-season program and visited them some. But it was more about scheme than it was specific techniques regarding defensive ends."
Odell Haggins. who coaches the Seminoles' interior line, has had to work with mainly walk-ons this spring due to injuries. The news didn't get any better when nose guard Brian Ross underwent surgery Wedneday in which a steel rod was inserted to stabilize his broken right tibia. Ross also broke his right fibula during Tuesday's practice. Haggins has been impressed with his group.
"These kids fight," Haggins said. "I take my hat off to them. I am going to be positive and I love them. To me, it's a thrill to coach those kids. There's not many kids who are walk-ons and get to go out there and be on first- and second-team at a big-time university. That makes me feel good."
FSU would like to sign at least four defensive backs in 2004.
Chris Anderson, who is attending Hargrave Military Academy, has one nine week semester to go. He has brought up his GPA to 2.5. With his current SAT score, he would have to bring up with GPA .2 to qualify. In April he'll take the SAT again. Because of his learning disability, he'll have the questions read to him. In high school, he had that option also but passes on doing that. With a slight improvement on both his test and GPA, Anderson could be suiting up in the Garnet & Gold in August.
Coach Kevin Steel and Odell Haggins will share recruiting duties in Dade County. In addition to Dade County, coach Steel will recruit Texas. Jimmy Heggins, whose old territory was Dade County, will now be responsible for the Jacksonville area.