TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It's the first snap in a contact running drill, on the first day in pads, in the first full practice. When the play, a basic handoff from quarterback Drew Weatherford to fullback Joe Surratt, concludes, hell, to a minor degree, breaks loose. Whistles are blowing, faux-refs in zebra tops and shorts are throwing flags -- because Florida State's offensive line is fighting, literally, with the defense. A team staff member in the end zone video tower leans down toward the practice field and yells, in jest, "Can't we all just get along?"
The answer: not yet. Not until the Seminoles' O-line is done making the case that it's not going to be the weak link in FSU's run at a national title. Forgive the unit -- which was wracked by injuries in 2005, with only two starters playing all 13 games -- if it entered camp in a combative mood. That's a natural byproduct of being constantly reminded that the 'Noles gained a pathetic 94 rushing yards per game in '05, and that many of their opponents were able to get a sufficient pass rush with just three or four defenders. A summer's worth of aggression was pent up inside guys like guard Jacky Claude, and on Thursday, it came spilling out in the oppressive Panhandle heat.
After Surratt was tackled, Claude made a display of plowing nose tackle Paul Griffin off the line. Griffin, a juco transfer junior, took umbrage at this, waited a few seconds, then charged at Claude and slammed him in the back -- and was quickly clobbered to the ground by 6-foot-7 offensive tackle Mario Henderson, an emerging force as Claude's partner on the left side. It was an intense (although brief) interruption to a serene summer morning, and a telling look into the psyche of FSU's new, healthy O-line. "We're just like a kid who keeps getting picked on by a bully," Henderson said of the O-line's old rep. "Everybody says we can't run the ball. Well, we worked hard in the summer. That kid has to keep going to school every day, and he's not having that anymore. Nobody is going to be pushing us around."
While the FSU coaches were lukewarm about the incident (Bobby Bowden said, "We'll put up with a little bit of it, but you can't call off practice to watch them fight"), one guy was loving what he saw: Weatherford. Wouldn't you, too, if you were the quarterback who threw as many picks (18) as touchdowns in your freshman season, partially because you didn't get adequate protection, and had to throw into pass coverages of seven and eight men? "They don't encourage fighting, but still, it was really nice to see that," said Weatherford. "In the past, an O-lineman would get pushed down and nobody would do anything. This just shows how much chemistry they have now. As long as they stay healthy, we're going to be good -- and teams are not going to be able to rush three and drop eight on me again."