Sophomore free safety Kyler Hall suffered a fractured right hand in Wednesday's morning practice and underwent surgery this afternoon. Senior B.J. Ward, who played wide receiver last season and has been slowed by a slightly separated shoulder, and junior Yohance Buchanan are listed behind Hall on the depth chart.
The injury could also accelerate the learning curve for true freshman Pat Watkins, a Parade All-American from Tallahassee Lincoln High School.
Hall, a first-year starter and one of 12 true freshman to earn playing time last season, believes he suffered the injury when his hand hit the helmet of running back Nick Maddox in drills. Fourth-ranked FSU practiced in pads for the first time Wednesday but the sessions were not full contact.
"It's nothing that's going to keep me out too long. I will back in a week," said Hall, who had a metal plate and four pins inserted into his hand. Hall made a quick appearance at FSU's second practice Wednesday night.
"It was during 11-on-11 and I hit Nick Maddox," Hall said. "Give me about a week and I will be back out at practice. Now, we have to get better every practice because we have a game coming up pretty soon. I will be able to run. I'll be fine."
The Seminoles were decimated by injuries last preseason, losing stellar receivers Anquan Boldin and Robert Morgan to season-ending knee injuries. While well aware of the Seminoles' history, coach Bobby Bowden felt he couldn't approach drills any differently, saying the Seminoles simply needed better luck.
FSU's two practices Wednesday did not feature full contact and the players were in shells – helmets, shoulder pads and thigh pads. The practice is commonly referred to as "Thud" and players are permitted to bump each other aggressively without tackling.
After suffering the injury, Hall reentered himself back into the drill before being removed by a trainer. In Saturday's first practice, walk-on receiver Greg Moore, a former scholarship player who didn't play last season after flunking out of school, tore his right Achilles tendon while running a pass route. Moore underwent surgery Tuesday.
Ward, who moved back to the secondary during spring drills, says he plans to participate in practice Wednesday in order to test his shoulder. Ward, who wants to make the best of his opportunity during Hall's absence, has been wearing a blue non-contact jersey.
"Things happen – you never know," Ward said. "You just have to step up and be a warrior like coach Andrews says. I am just trying to go out there and do my job. I have to do my part. My shoulder is getting better. I am going to try to go out tomorrow and test the waters. Ww were young last year so it's just a matter of getting it all down so the coaches can depend on us. Things have been going well so far."
The aggressive Hall, one of 12 true freshman to earn playing time last season, entered drills as the starter following a splendid spring. He earned most dependable honors for the defensive backs and shared the defensive big hitter award with fellow safety Jerome Carter.
Hall and rover Claudius Osei, who tweaked an ankle during the morning session but practiced tonight, are penciled in to replace longtime starters Abdual Howard and Chris Hope in the secondary. That duo combined for 177 tackles last season.
Andrews said he's simply looking a player to produce while Hall is sidelined.
"B.J. is the next guy but he's in a blue jersey -- he doesn't even have pads on, so he can't be the guy until he can get out there," defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said.
"He's no better than Kyler right now with Kyler not practicing. If he don't have pads on, he can't do anything -- he's just running around. Yohance Buchanan is the next guy, and freshman Pat Watkins -- those guys are still learning what to do."
TheTerritory talked to Hall, who had a bag of ice on the top of his right hand, following the morning practice. The secondary has looked sharp thus far, and Hall felt the unit was progressing nicely. Hall and Osei are expected to provide run support as well deep coverage. FSU expects to play more press defense (man-to-man) this season due to talent and experience in the backfield.
"The first day in pads, we were a little rusty but it feels good to get in real football," Hall said. "Everybody was flying around, everybody has fresh legs. Now we are in pads, we have to get the physical part of it, but that will come."
Despite the new faces at free safety and rover, Hall believes the unit has made noticeable improvements in the communication department as well.
"It's going good," Hall said. "Everyone has to learn their responsibilities, their checks. The better we learn our assignments, the better we are going to be. A big key to football is communication, and we are getting a good feel for each other. If you don't have communication, you are in trouble and that has been part of the learning experience."
HAVE TO HUSTLE
Still, not all was good at cornerback either Wednesday morning.
"We started them on the first day – all of them – based on how they did coming in," Andrews said of summer workouts. "You know that story. Once we get started, and every day, every practice, is a change. We will have a change from this morning because we had a guy who got beat on a play and he just quit. Is the play over because you got beat deep? Not hardly. You better run 400 miles per hour and catch that guy and make a tackle before he scores. He demoted himself. That's not permanent. He got himself down and he will have to move himself back."
Andrews stressed that his unit will be evaluated after each practice.
"Who the real first team is? We are not sure right now," Andrews said.
"We have an idea. Today is the first day we simulated football and we didn't have but half the pads on today. When we get our full gear on and start scrimmaging, I think you can get a more clear-cut picture who the first-teamers are and who are the second-teamers. But we are so close I'd like to think we have two first teamers instead of a first team and a second team. If the second team is as close to the first team as we think it is, then we are not going to have a big drop-off when twos come in and ones come off. Because twos have to learn how to play at ones.
Andrews also likes his unit's toughness.
"Probably the biggest thing we got now is we don't have many guys that you would throw in a coward category," Andrews said. "Hopefully, none of them. The guys with metal toughness is more important than the physical toughness. If you can find toughness in a player, you take mental first every time. Because when you are mentally tough, the physical will come."
IN FOR A VISIT
Kyle Wright's tour of the country's top football program continued Wednesday, when Wright and his father arrived in Tallahassee. The pair watched the Seminoles' morning practice and then headed for a tour of the athletic facilities. The duo also attended Wednesday's second practice.
Wright, a 6-4, 200-pounder from Danville Monte Vista, Calif., made his first stop in Miami. Wright completed 182 of 302 pass attempts for 3,015 yards and 26 touchdowns and earned first-team All-State and Student Sports Junior All-American honors. He's widely considered the nation's top prep quarterback.
"It's going to be wild," Wright said prior to leaving California for Miami. "I can't wait though, it ‘s going to be a lot of traveling, just me and my dad. After the Florida schools, we're driving to Tennessee and we'll spend two days there. I wanted to check out Notre Dame too but we just can't fit it in.
"After Tennessee we're driving to Okalhoma and I'll spend a day visiting the Sooners and then we're off to Austin where I'll spend three days at Texas. We'll fly home on the 18th and I start practice the next day."
Wright said Miami and USC are in a virtual dead heat right now with Texas close behind.
"Once I'm done with all my visits, I'll sit down and think about where the best place for me is," Wright said. "I want to have a press conference at my school to make my decision public. That way I can have my team and coaches all there with me. It's going to be tough but I'm confident I'll make the right decision."