Seven months of dieting and exercising have helped Florida State offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden shed 50 pounds since the Seminoles' Gator Bowl victory over Virginia Tech. During that same time, it would appear the Seminoles also have undergone a noticeable change.
As Bowden worked FSU's annual summer camp Wednesday afternoon, he couldn't help but peek across the practice field to watch the Seminoles hustle through their conditioning drills. The rapid-fire session was upbeat and intense despite the scorching sun and 94-degree temperature.
"By the look of the program they had just going on, that's really good seeing," Bowden said and smiled.
"That's the best I've seen in a lot of years around here -- the summer workouts. I am little concerned with their throwing and catching, though. They haven't been able to get it in because of the rain and it's already a shortened summer. They are down to two weeks. That's the stuff they need to get done, too. But their preparation has been very good. I walked out here and just looking at them and carrying themselves, they just look like a grownup bunch of kids that are together. They are starting to look like a football team that's a little hungrier."
FSU has good reason to be hungry. The Seminoles are looking to rebound from a 2001 season that saw them finish 8-4 and ranked 15th nationally. Second-fiddle to champion Maryland in the Atlantic Coast Conference, they also were flicked away far too easily by state rivals Miami and Florida and needed consecutive victories over Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl to salvage the season.
If FSU expects to return among the nation's elite, the Seminoles' offense is expected to have a major role in that resurgence. The unit's weapons are well-known:
Five starters long the line, anchored by Brett Williams and Montrae Holland; a quarterback who is older and wiser in Chris Rix; the one-two tailback punch of Greg Jones and Nick Maddox; and a bevy of talented receivers, paced by youngsters P.K. Sam and Cro Thorpe and flanked by veterans Anquan Boldin, Robert Morgan and Talman Gardner. In fact, Bowden said it was difficult to put in words what the return of Boldin and Morgan potentially means to the Seminoles. Each missed last season following reconstructive knee surgery.
"I can hardly explain how much more at ease I feel knowing they are back," Bowden said.
"I am crossing my fingers. I know their rehab has gone well. Anquan's rehab measurements are higher right now. Robert's are acceptable now, you just cross your fingers and hope they stay healthy. Knowing they are there is a great shot in the arm for your confidence of when you throw a ball in their direction you are going to get the result you want. And you're not going to be flipping a coin or hoping or crossing fingers. Then their leadership, man I can't even begin to ... just how they make everybody around them work. That's another thing you can't state enough. It's hard to say how important it is to have them back."
As summer winds down, Bowden and his offensive staff continue to make adjustments to FSU's playbook. The Seminoles averaged 33.9 points and 426.1 yards per game last season. Rix overcame early struggles to finish with 2,734 passing yards, 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. FSU also averaged 159.6 rushing yards per game and accounted for 17 rushing touchdowns. Gardner had a team-best 11 touchdown receptions after entering the season without a score.
"Cut and pasting," Bowden said. "We are deciding exactly what we want to go with that we will build on as the season goes. It's just trimming all the excess. Stuff that we added as the year went on last year. Our starting point, that's what I am trying to get us down to right now."
While Bowden doesn't expect many X and O changes, there could be an adjustment made in terms of approach, thanks in large part to the Seminoles' experience. The offense returns seven starters and 22 lettermen.
"I don't think there's a lot of changes," Bowden said. "Maybe some change in attitude just wanting to be more aggressive offensively. But it's also feeling that you can be more aggressive than we were at times last year. We have some numbers now. I want those freshmen to get in here and get to working around these guys. Numbers will allow us to do that."
It also remains to be seen how much freedom Bowden and quarterbacks coach Daryl Dickey give Rix in terms of being allowed to audible at the line of scrimmage. Bowden admitted that he and Dickey also continue to feel more comfortable in their roles after working together for the first time last season.
"That was really big as the year went on," Bowden in reference to Rix's ability to audible. "It's something that we've done more of than we've done in the past and we got some fine-tuning between me and Daryl with how we are doing it. Just knowing Chris is getting more comfortable with it. You have to decide what you want to allow him to go to. Those are some things that Daryl -- I think as the year went on we got a lot smoother with it, too. The better off we are it's going to make it a lot better for Chris."
While Bowden stressed that Rix's ability to change a play behind center was limited by design last season, Rix was given more freedom as the season progressed, much in large part because of his development. Coach Bobby Bowden said earlier this week that Rix probably audibled "30-percent" of the time in the Seminoles' victory over the Hokies in the Gator Bowl.
"At the start (there) wasn't doing much checking off at all," Bowden said.
"Some teams don't require you to because they pretty much play like they've always played. Miami was a good example. You knew how they were going to line up and play. But I don't know if we felt uncomfortable with either one, from run to pass. We haven't turned him loose as much as I think we can get to as far as going from run to more passes. We can do that more. They got to show us that if they are going to check to a pass, they have to be successful."
Appearances alone, Bowden has been successful watching his diet, ignoring milk and bread and playing plenty of racquetball since January. Naturally, Bowden is hopeful that fresh start also carries onto the field for the Seminoles.