Spring is For Experimentation, Caution

Spring practice is a time for experimentation, contingency planning, and ensuring that top players will be healthy for the fall.

There's an old saying among college coaches that no games are won in the spring, but they sure can be lost. That dictum is helpful for fans to remember in the midst of an unusually uneventful spring practice season for Florida State, as no news really is good news most of the time in the spring.

As is so often the case in the spring, the majority of the news so far has focused on injuries, especially at the running back position, where for the second straight year, the Seminoles will have no scholarship players available for the spring game.

Fortunately, none of these injuries have been serious. Five star true freshman Dalvin Cook and sophomore Ryan Green have each had shoulder surgeries and should be full strength by the fall. Mario Pender, "got dinged in the head" on the goal line according to head coach Jimbo Fisher, and should enter the offseason healthy.

Senior starter Karlos Williams spent the first third of the spring in a non-contact jersey and will now be held out of the rest of spring simply as a precaution. Fisher explained, "We know what we've got there. He'll keep getting banged and bruised up."

While on the one hand it will surely be a little frustrating for Seminole fans who want to see their star-studded backfield in action in the spring game, we must again return to the dictum above: There is nothing to gain and quite a lot to lose if Williams or one of his backups should get banged up at the end of spring. FSU certainly didn't suffer in 2013 for having had no scholarship backs in its spring game.

If anything, this caution should be understood as a positive. Despite Williams' relative inexperience at the position, the coaching staff is so confident in his consistency that they do not believe he needs the risk of any more live reps this spring.

Similarly, this reflects the coaching staff's commitment to keeping its players healthy, understanding that one of the keys to consistency on the field is avoiding injury. To that end, the staff religiously consults data from GPS and impact sensors built into the players' equipment to ensure that they can push the players right to the edge without pushing them over it. That system has, according to Fisher, reduced soft-tissue injuries by 88% since its adoption, a huge difference.

Were it the fall, Williams, Green, and Cook would all likely be suiting up on Saturday, with fans not even aware of any ailments. Pender might miss a few practices or perhaps a game, but he too would be right back out there. But there's nothing to gain from such machismo in the spring.

Cross-Training and Experimentation

The other hallmark of springtime is the flexibility it allows the coaching staff to experiment with scheme and personnel, both getting a good sense of what the current roster can actually execute and building more depth. This is all the more true with experienced rosters.

As such, the coaching staff has been moving personnel all over the place, particularly on the lines. Cam Erving has taken repetitions at center during the last week, with Josue Matias at tackle. Eddie Goldman worked at the nose tackle (one technique) on Monday with Nile Lawrence-Stample out.

FSU has also experimented with different "jumbo" defensive line packages, with Keith Bryant at nose tackle flanked by Goldman and Lawrence-Stample (or Desmond Hollin) and Mario Edwards standing up. Edwards has moved inside in pass packages to make room for a quicker pass rusher on the outside. The linebacker position has involved various players cross-training at each spot throughout the spring.

Some players may get starters' minutes in the spring despite trouble with assignments simply because they need the work in the hope that they'll be ready to contribute in the fall.

As a result, any of the personnel moves observed during the spring must be taken with a grain of salt, as the goal is always to improve for the fall. It is highly unlikely that we see Erving at center next year. But the staff wants to ensure that it is prepared for contingencies in the event of an injury or two. It is critical that they know who would move where in the event of an injury to one or another player.

On another note, the lack of injuries up front on the offensive line continues to reflect the size and maturity FSU has built there over the last few years, as the Seminoles finally have the bodies to field two solid groups.

As we approach the end of the spring, the key thing to remember is that the staff is not coaching for the spring. It is experimenting and contingency planning for the fall, all while trying to ensure that its most valuable players are healthy when they're truly needed. Thus the rather uneventful and cautious spring we've observed is the sign of a healthy, mature program.

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