FSU 'very proud' of the spring game

For the most part, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher was happy with what he saw Saturday in the Garnet and Gold Game. Particularly, the 'Noles look to have tight end covered with Nick O'Leary and Dan Hicks.

For the first time in 2012, the Florida State Seminoles took to Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium for a game-type atmosphere.

And coach Jimbo Fisher was pleased with what he saw.

"I'm very proud of some guys," he said after the game. "Guys made some plays. Guys made some good throws. We got some good catches. Had some runs when we did call it. A lot of progress, but I thought we had a good spring overall."

The Garnet team, led by backup quarterback Clint Trickett, secured the 35-20 victory over E.J. Manuel's Gold squad.

It was a game played similarly to an actual regular-season affair, but there were a few differences between what we saw Saturday and what we'll see in September. The biggest difference being that quarterbacks, kickoffs and punts weren't live.

With that being said, one quarterback that everyone had his or her eye on heading in was Manuel. The Virginia Beach native started off well and looked solid on the Gold's opening drive, which was capped off by a 2-yard touchdown pass to James Wilder.

Nonetheless, the rest of the afternoon will be one Manuel might like to forget. He finished the day an unimpressive 28 of 51 for 255 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The 6-5, 238-pounder made some poor decisions with the ball and overthrew a couple of wide-open receivers.

"We didn't protect," said Fisher. "Start calling drop-back passes. We got to get back to running. You got to mix up. You can't just let guys lay their ears back and come."

The lack of an efficient running game is something that hurt both squads. Wilder led the Gold with 32 yards on the ground and early-enrollee freshman Mario Pender gained 23 yards for the Garnet, but both outfits averaged less than three yards per carry.

One of the bright spots out of the backfield had to be Lonnie Pryor. The senior fullback dropped 13 pounds in the offseason, and it appears to be paying dividends. He seemed quicker on his feet, and it showed with a couple of nice plays in the open field. He padded his stats in the waning seconds, punching in a short touchdown run and finished the day with seven carries for 27 yards.

Perhaps the most impressive player on the offensive side of the ball was new left tackle Cameron Erving. The former defensive tackle rarely made a mistake and did a nice job of keeping star defensive end Brandon Jenkins in check.

Fisher raved about Erving's athleticism throughout spring workouts, and that didn't change following this contest.

"I thought Cam Erving played very well," he said. "I wanted to see if he could sit there and block it over and over and over again. I came out of there very pleased."

While Erving was busy dominating Trickett's blind side, it was the two tight ends that were active making plays. A position that lacked productivity last season for Fisher's squad was surprisingly good on Saturday.

The highly-recruited Nick O'Leary had a rather uneventful freshman season but was targeted early on by Manuel. The Palm Beach Gardens product caught five passes for 53 yards and was featured in a way that Seminole fans did not see last season. He was lined up as more of a pass-catching H-back than as an in-line tight end, a new wrinkle that could be an important part of Fisher's offense.

A reason that O'Leary could be a bigger part of the vertical game this season is a direct result of the addition of Dan Hicks. The junior is making the switch over from defensive end and seemed very comfortable in his first college game experience at his new position. Hicks did catch 18 passes as a junior in high school.

"Hicks is going to give you a lot of girth on that line, and he's got ball skills," said Fisher. "You've got two tight ends now who can catch the football, and Hicks is getting much better as a blocker. His ability to catch the ball is only going to get better because he's concentrating on his assignments right now. It's hard for him to play as fast. I'm excited about that position."

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One spot that received plenty of attention heading into spring was the one left vacant by the departed Terrance Parks at safety. The opportunity has been seized by Terrence Brooks, and the junior didn't disappoint in his debut as a starter.

Brooks outshined his biggest competition, speedy sophomore Karlos Williams, and returned an interception of Manuel 49 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. The Dunnellon descendent looks more than ready to provide some big-play ability that has been lacking at safety in recent years.

All in all, it was a strong day for Florida State football.

"Glad we got through it relatively unscathed," said Fisher. "We've got a lot of work to do. [We] know where we're at. We've got a good foundation built, and now it just matters what we do between now and the first ballgame."

Matt Ritter is a football and basketball reporter for NoleDigest.com, as well as a graduate student in Media Communication Studies at Florida State.

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