Jimbo Fisher was pulling the non-contact jerseys from his Florida State quarterbacks, but he had one final piece of instruction for how his defense should treat the quarterbacks.
"Knock the piss outta his ass," Fisher said. "They're on the other team."
How many coaches are putting that bullseye on the program centerpiece? In a spring scrimmage, Fisher made his quarterbacks "live," meaning they were allowed to be tackled. Florida State was part of a common theme in the ACC this spring -- quarterbacks under friendly fire.
Clemson made its quarterbacks live twice, including Saturday's spring game, for the first time in 25 years. Miami and Virginia Tech, the two Coastal teams with the best odds to win the conference, made quarterbacks live in scrimmages.
"It makes it realistic. It's hard to judge a scrimmage -- is a guy going to get a sack or ain't he going to get sacked -- and it makes bad habits," Fisher said. "You got to play through stuff. As a team you got to learn to do that."
The question persists each season as to whether teams should risk making their quarterbacks vulnerable to hits. A promising season can abruptly end before it ever truly begins if a quarterback suffers an injury. Yet there is the belief that protecting quarterbacks, especially ones with little in-game experience, only steepens the learning curve once the season starts.
Clemson pegged Kelly Bryant as the favorite, but three other quarterbacks remain in the competition. Virginia Tech is looking at three options, and Miami has four scholarship quarterbacks working out this spring.
Those coaches want their quarterbacks to break a spring sweat. They want them to feel the threat of a defensive lineman with bad intentions stampeding toward them before September. Clemson plays Auburn and Louisville within the first three weeks. Virginia Tech opens with West Virginia, and Miami visits Florida State in Week 3.
It worked at Clemson. In a March scrimmage, offensive coordinator Tony Elliott was pleased with how Bryant ran the football. True freshman Hunter Johnson, the No. 1 high school quarterback in the 2017 class, was able to show his mobility in the pocket. Coach Dabo Swinney, who didn't tell his team until right before the scrimmage, said it was a positive for everyone.
At the end of Saturday's game, Swinney said he's sure the Tigers' quarterbacks are capable of leading them to another championship.
"Absolutely, absolutely," Swinney said when asked if he's seen enough from his quarterbacks.
If Jerod Evans returned to Virginia Tech, coach Justin Fuente wouldn't have put his starting quarterback in harm's way. Two of his three quarterbacks have never taken an FBS snap, though. The third is a Kansas transfer.
"When we're in the middle of three unproven guys we've got to find out," Fuente said. "As much as I've got to hold my breath when we do it and just hope that things work out, I feel like we still need to do those things."
Miami coach Mark Richt might still be holding his breath. Redshirt freshman Jack Allison, a former ESPN 300 quarterback, suffered a shoulder injury this weekend. The school said it is minor, and Allison is "day-to-day."
It's the risk coaches weigh, and Richt wanted to provide the quarterbacks an opportunity to escape pressure and make a play. He wanted to see who would melt under pressure and cough up a turnover, too.
"Somebody may show something in the scrimmage that they couldn't show in the 'thud' tempo," Richt said.
Florida State backup quarterback J.J. Cosentino suffered concussion-like symptoms when the Seminoles were live but recovered in time for Saturday’s spring game. There are suspicions as to how much Fisher allowed Deondre Francois to be hit this spring, if at all. Fisher said he makes all quarterbacks live every season, but former players dispute that.
When Fisher gives his defense the green light to hit the quarterbacks, they better do it. Former cornerback Marquez White said Fisher will yell at the defense for taking it light. Fisher wants his defense prepared to hit Jalen Hurts and Lamar Jackson this fall.
"You got to hit him, unless you don't want to play, and then I'll get someone who will," Fisher said. "That's your job when it's offense-defense, and it makes [quarterbacks] better."