What wasa weakness on last year's USF team, the second-string offensive line, is turning into a point of comfort, due in part to the consistent play of T Damien Edwards, G John McGhin and C Austin Reiter, among others.
"(The second-string offensive line) was a weakness for us coming in and one of the biggest concerns we had coming into camp," coach Skip Holtz said. "I think Damien Edwards is doing some very good things. Obviously, we came out of spring and you had John McGhin was on that two-deep, he's still there. I talked about the emergence of Austin Reiter, and that's given us the opportunity to move (Kevin) McCaskill to guard, which gives us that much more stability as we're trying to build it."
McGhin, a redshirt sophomore, says the reserve line is in a much better position to help this season than it was last year.
"It's been a thrill ride," McGhin said. "Especially with the transition from last year to this year, we've improved dramatically, so hopefully this year we can help the first team, rotate in with them during games, give them breathers. 'If one goes down,' (offensive line) coach (Steve Shankweiler) says, 'the next one pops in.' "
FINAL "PRESEASON GAME": USF will hold its final scrimmage of the fall season today as Holtz gets his final look at players in a game situation before the season opener.
"We'll probably end up going about 100 plays, about what we have (in prior scrimmages)," Holtz said. "This is our last preseason game. This is the last time really we're able to go at it really hard and get something out of it. I don't know exactly how I'm going to break the format down at this point, but everybody will be in full pads."
The team will then have Saturday off before entering a regular season game week beginning Sunday.
WALK-ON TRYOUTS: Holtz spent the last 30 minutes of Thursday's practice running a walk-on tryout session as he tries to fill out the roster.
"We did have walk-on tryouts at the end," Holtz said. "I think there were about 50 young men that were trying out for probably about eight or 10 spots."
DT Easley showing new maturity
For much of 2010 there were questions about whether sophomore DT Dominique Easley would make it to a second season in a Florida uniform.
Rumors that he was considering transferring were rampant, and his four tackles and appearances in six games didn't match the hype that followed the player Rivals.com called the No. 2 defensive tackle recruit in the country.
But Easley stuck it out, and now he's taking advantage of a fresh start under coach Will Muschamp.
"He's definitely more mature," junior DT Omar Hunter said. "He has the right mind going into the season."
Easley said he felt homesick during his freshman campaign and admitted to considering leaving UF, but he decided to persevere.
"I just wouldn't let myself give up," Easley said. "That's a personal pride thing that I took upon myself."
ELAM LEADS SECONDARY: Matt Elam is expected to step into a bigger role in 2011, and so far he appears ready.
As he attempts to fill the shoes of Ahmad Black — the defense's vocal leader and leading tackler a season ago — Elam has become the player Easley called the "quarterback of the defense."
"He's the best thing out there," Easley said. "He works hard at everything. Basically, he's relentless on every play."
Easley and Hunter both praised Elam for his football smarts, and Hunter compared his hitting ability to that of former Gators safety Major Wright.
"He just has the timing for it," Hunter said. "He covers a lot of ground."
BOUNCING BACK: Although Muschamp ripped his team Wednesday following what he called a poor scrimmage, players seemed less concerned.
Hunter, Easley and senior RB Jeff Demps gave reviews ranging from "OK" to "good."
However, each emphasized the need to stay mentally focused, something Muschamp felt was missing from Wednesday's practice.
Freshman RB Freeman could play big role
Florida State's depth chart for its season opener against Louisiana-Monroe might not be released for a couple of more days, but it's clear that at least one newcomer will figure prominently.
Freshman Devonta Freeman, who wasn't as heavily recruited as many of his classmates, has emerged as one of the Seminoles' top tailbacks at the conclusion of preseason camp.
With junior Chris Thompson sidelined by a back injury, Freeman likely will be the third-string tailback when FSU takes the field next Saturday. And if anything were to happen to seniors Jermaine Thomas or Ty Jones (Middleton), FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said he would have no reservations about leaning heavily on Freeman.
"He could be 1 or 2 (on the depth chart) if he had to be," Fisher said. "He'd be up in that top mix."
Freeman, who is compact and powerful at 5-foot-8, 200 pounds, was able to get a jump on fellow freshman running backs James Wilder Jr. (Plant), and Eric Beverly by graduating early from high school and enrolling in January.
Just a couple of weeks after leading Miami Central High to the Class 6A state championship — Freeman rushed for 308 yards in the title game — he was on campus preparing for spring football.
"He had 15 (more) practices than James Wilder," FSU running backs coach Eddie Gran said. "When you get here in January, it's fantastic for a freshman."
"He kind of knows more than what the other guys know," junior fullback Lonnie Pryor said. "So when he goes in … he doesn't have to think as much as he used to. He can just go on and run what he has to, because he's been there. He understands the offense a little better."
NOTEWORTHY: FSU practiced twice Thursday and worked primarily on installing offensive and defensive schemes for the Louisiana-Monroe game. … WRs Willie Haulstead and Kenny Shaw were held out of practice with minor injuries. Shaw has a sprained ankle, and Haulstead was shaken up by a jarring hit in Tuesday's scrimmage.
Ira Schoffel, Tallahassee Democrat