Nittany Notes: Bowl Prep

With finals wrapping up and the team just days away from departing for the Sunshine State, the staff has had the team preparing for the Seminoles. Get an update on some pressing questions around the Nittany Nation.

With finals wrapping up, the players are leaving Friday to head home to spend some time with their families before they head to Florida on Dec. 20 for the bulk of their Orange Bowl preparations.

What is the status of Derrick Williams? Will he play?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions since the season concluded. Derrick Williams is participating in the "normal course of preparations." He has been participating in conditioning drills and team runs since early December. He has also been drilling with the team since the bowl prep sessions began on Dec. 5.

"Derrick has been on a normal practice routine all month. He is catching balls and running routes," one practice observer shared. "He looks great and you can't tell he missed the latter half of the season."

As to whether he will see action in the Orange Bowl, "I think the odds are that he will see some action; how much is debatable. He looks and says he's ready to go. The bottom line, though, is what the med[ical] staff says. The practices have been limited this month and he has seen limited contact in drills as a precaution."

What is the offense focusing on for FSU?

The individual offensive units have been running a lot of drills on their own over the past three weeks, like pass, shift, pull and tansition drills (transition drills to practice "transitioning the ball," like center to quarterback snaps and quarterback to running back handoffs). These player-run practices have focused on "fundamentals and working the rust out."

In full team practices "the team is not changing too much at this point." They are building the offense off the spread formation. However, as one obsever described, "The staff is looking at some backfield additions to mix some things up. Those will really be worked out in Florida, but they have a lot of weapons to work with and have had some ideas they have wanted to try with guys like King, Hahn and Sargeant."

The team's practices have been limited to Saturday and Sunday sessions prior to finals week. The bulk of the practices will be conducted in Florida. The weekly schedule has been:

Monday: Lifting
Tuesday: Conditioning
Wednesday: Lifting
Thursday: Conditioning (optional)
Friday: Lifting

Again, there have been several unit player-run practices throughout this schedule.

Where is Lydell Sargeant in the lineup?

Sargeant has had ups and downs this season. He has shown solid consistency with his catching ability, but at wideout his "size and speed on outs have posed some challenges." At 5-foot-9 he has had issues creating separation and showing an ability to create a window for the ball to be delivered in.

With the great speed and overall abilities of guys like Deon Butler, Derrick Williams, Jordan Norwood and Justin King, "it isn't really surprising Lydell saw second-team reps for most of the year. He just isn't built for the position like those guys," an observer explained.

Sargeant has seen some reps out of the backfield and in the slot as a weapon on the intermediate passing game. He has the hands and good quickness out of the backfield, but has to "show Coach [Galen] Hall some better consistency."

How has Michael Robinson been preparing?

"I know it is cliche, but Mike has been like another coach for the team — he was reviewing his own film prior to the bowl matchup's announcement ," an observer said. "After the opponent was named he was back in reviewing more film. He's been running the unit drills and is focused on finishing his job for this team."

Robinson has been working with the wide receivers, offensive line and backs on "refining the details of their game." He has also been working with the coaches on providing his assessment of Florida State's defensive tendencies and helping to devise the approach and game plan with the offensive staff.

What is the status of Mark Rubin?

Rubin tackled his physical theropy this year to rehabilitate his ankle injury sustained in late August and is back in action. As one observer explained, "He has been catching balls througout the season to work on is hands."

Rubin has been participating in drills since early December at wide receiver. Although he will not sacrifice his redshirt by playing in the Orange Bowl, he is working to get back up to speed for spring drills.

"Mark has shown he has great hands, but he adds a nice size element to the unit to supplement the speed," one observer explained. "He's obviously not the fastest on the unit, but he is quicker than he looks and should add even more depth to an already deep set of players."

What is the defense focusing on?

Pressure. Again, the practices have been limited, but the front seven have been working on a variety of schemes to pressure the pocket, "bringing different looks to confuse the quarterback."

As one observer shared, "Scrap knows that Weatherford is a big factor in the Noles success. Virginia Tech had problems applying pressure against an offensive line that played them well head-to-head."

The coaches are working on a game plan that brings a variety of "pressure points" to the offensive line. "We joke that it is like that scene in Jurassic Park where the raptors test the electric fences to see where the weak point is," another observer explained.

Will there be any changes in personnel on defense?

The starters are set. However, the staff is looking for opportunities to get some of the younger guys who could be replacements next season into the rotations. "They are giving guys like Josh Gaines, Tony Davis and Mike Lucian a lot of reps so far."

The game — whether or not it is tight — will dictate how much time these younger backups see on the field in Southern Florida.

Who is handling kickoff return duties?

Williams has seen some time in drills on kickoffs, but King and Rodney Kinlaw are expected to be the likely candidates. "They don't want to give too much to Williams out of the gate. They will give hm what he can take, but if he is able to play I doubt they risk him taking some big hits on returns."

King and Kinlaw have handled the returns since the Illinois game. Between them they pulled in eight kickoffs for 230 yards (28.8 YPR). Kinlaw had 91 percent of those return yards with 209 yards.

Is the staff concerned with the extended amount of time during which the team has not seen game action?

Yes, it is a concern. However, every observer we spoke with stressed the leadership, focus and determination of this team. "I know there has been a lot of concern around the team not getting up for FSU. This team has been up for every team they have played, except maybe Northwestern out of the gate — but they learned that lesson," one observer said. "This is a team who has broken the huddle saying 'Rose Bowl' since the spring. This is a quarterback who gave up drinking until they won a title. They have the leadership and focus and are determined to finish the season out strong."

The staff is concerned with the extended delay since Michigan State, but they will focus on building the team's intensity once they are in Florida. "This team will have a lot of time to work on the game plan down there."

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