On the practice fields in mid-August, everyone looks good.
Ask Jimbo Fisher who has impressed thus far, and he might parse through the bulk of his depth chart before he runs out of compliments.
It makes reading the tea leaves on position battles particularly tough this time of year, but there are the occasional hints when one player has stood out above the rest.
And so it was when Fisher was asked about freshman cornerback Ronald Darby following Thursday's first scrimmage of the fall.
Fisher eyes lit up, a broad smile crosses his face, and the truth comes out.
"I've been very pleased with him," Fisher said. "I think he's going to be a very, very good player."
Sure, Fisher has offered praise for sophomore Nick Waisome, who has taken the majority of the reps with the first-team defense thus far. Fisher has even talked up Keelin Smith, despite a knee injury that has kept him sidelined for the past week of practice.
But things are different with Darby.
"The thing I see him doing, if he gets beat, he comes back and he can tell you what he did wrong," Fisher said. "That's rare for young guys. He gets it."
Fisher's praise has been echoed across the board by Florida State's veterans, too. EJ Manuel raved about Darby's fundamentals during summer workouts. Lamarcus Joyner touted Darby's speed and physicality.
In other words, everyone seems high on the potential for Darby, who might just play his way into the starting lineup at field corner by the time the season begins Sept. 1.
"It's still open," Fisher said of the job vacated by Greg Reid, who was dismissed from the team earlier this month.
Starting a true freshman at corner in a league filled with veteran quarterbacks isn't necessarily an ideal situation for Florida State, but Fisher said he's open to it.
A year after true freshman receiver Sammy Watkins torched the ACC for Clemson, Fisher said it's foolish to rule out the possibility of a first-year player making a big impact.
"We'll wait and see, because he's still got a lot to prove," Fisher said of Darby. "But we'll play our best players."
And through two weeks of practice, it certainly sounds more and more like Darby belongs in that mix.
Watson looks strong
Junior college transfer Menelik Watson took all the first-team reps at right tackle during Thursday's scrimmage, with Daniel Glauser sidelined with a mild strain in his foot.
Glauser will likely miss the next two to three days of practice, Fisher said, but Watson was already making a push for the starting job.
A former basketball player and boxer, Watson's physical skills and agility have impressed, and while he remains a bit raw fundamentally, he's acclimated himself well.
"I saw a couple missed assignments (Thursday)," Fisher said. "But he moved well, they ran behind him, he did some good things."
Defensive end Cornelius Carradine has spent the bulk of fall practice working against Watson, and he said that boxing pedigree is obvious at the line of scrimmage.
"He's hard to go against," Carradine said. "He's got quick feet, he's fast, and he's great with his hands. I feel it. It hurts."
Happy for the hits
After missing all of spring practice with back issues, running backs Devonta Freeman and Chris Thompson got their first taste of live action during Thursday's scrimmage, and they didn't exactly come away unscathed.
Thompson, who broke two bones in his back against Wake Forest last season, hadn't been tackled in nearly 10 months, so even though his first hard contact wasn't exactly intense -- a hard push from safety Karlos Williams -- he was glad to get it out of the way.
"We did a little toss play and he kind of hit me and ran me out of bounds," Thompson said. "That was good enough for me. Just to even say I was tackled, that was really one of the fears I've had for a while. Now that that fear is gone, I feel real good about it."
Freeman had it a bit rougher.
The sophomore tailback's first carry ended with a huge collision with linebacker Nick Moody, and both players felt the sting.
Moody's helmet popped off, and Freeman returned to the sideline rubbing his head -- but the hit proved to be a major hurdle overcome.
"Devonta really does love contact," Thompson said. "Just getting that first hit from Moody, it just did something to him mentally. … It's something for us to talk about from today on, and I think it's going to make him a tougher running back."
Fisher said both running backs -- along with third-stringer James Wilder Jr. -- performed well, and he was particularly pleased with their work in goal-line and red-zone formations.
Making the grades
No players missed Thursday's scrimmage because of academic concerns, and Fisher said he was told it should be smooth sailing for his team after the summer semester ended.
"Grade-wise, we're in great shape across the board, as of what they've told me now," Fisher said. "We had a really good summer academically."
Fisher didn't walk away from Thursday's scrimmage completely happy with how his team performed, but the slip-ups were expected and the overall effort was well ahead of this time last season, he said.
"First scrimmage has a lot of sloppy things," Fisher said. "I liked the way the offense came out early, very physical, made some nice runs. The defense gave up a few things, then bent back and did some good things on third down."
Fisher said he was concerned about diminished effort late in the scrimmage -- a product of the 90-degree temperatures and some mounting frustration among a handful of players -- but the physicality at the line of scrimmage was impressive, particularly on the offensive line.
"It's a battle, man," Fisher said. "It's you get me, I get you."
Trickett steps in
With starter EJ Manuel sidelined with a minor ankle injury for Thursday's scrimmage, Clint Trickett took the majority of the first-team reps and had a solid performance, Fisher said.
"I thought Clint did some real good things," Fisher said. "He drove us early, made some really good plays, then made a couple bad passes, got greedy. He had lots of success early but settled back down and made some nice throws and got us in the end zone."
Greg Dent suffered a minor elbow injury during Wednesday's practice and skipped Thursday's scrimmage. … Lineman Jacob Fahrenkrug will miss extended time with an ankle injury, Fisher said. … Tight end Dan Hicks will be out about three to four weeks with cartilage damage in his knee. Penn State transfer Kevin Haplea will step into the No. 2 spot on the depth chart.