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2012 Florida State Preview - Defense
Florida State DE Bjoern Werner
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Florida State Seminole Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Mark Stoops' coaching plus Jimbo Fisher's recruiting has Florida State on the short list of top defenses in the country heading into the summer. From a unit that ranked no lower than No. 8 nationally in run defense, scoring defense, sacks and total D, the ‘Noles return just about every one of last year's starters. Each level boasts an all-star caliber defender, and the rotation is SEC deep. Up front, ends Brandon Jenkins, Bjoern Werner and Cornelius Carradine form a downright scary trio of pass rushers for opposing tackles to handle. Athletic linebackers Christian Jones, Telvin Smith and Vince Williams are poised to step outside of the shadow of Nigel Bradham, who has graduated. And the secondary is virtually air-tight. SS Lamarcus Joyner and corner Xavier Rhodes are ball-hawks, with a nose for the back on running downs. Not only does Stoops have no holes on this side of the ball, but his kids have now had the time to fully digest and adopt his coaching philosophy. The potential is there for this to be the kind of vintage ‘Noles D that builds a bridge to the glory days when coordinator Mickey Andrews was a coaching icon in Tallahassee.
Star of the defense: Senior DE Brandon Jenkins
Tackles: Christian Jones, 56
Sacks: Brandon Jenkins, 8
Interceptions: Lamarcus Joyner, 4
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior LB Christian Jones
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT Timmy Jernigan
Best pro prospect: Jenkins
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Jenkins, 2) Junior DE Bjoern Werner, 3) Junior SS Lamarcus Joyner
Strength of the defense: The D-line, pass rush, run defense, the secondary, third-down defense
Weakness of the defense: Depth in the secondary, red-zone D
Busting at the seams with talent, the Florida State D-line is the antithesis of the program's O-line. Leading the charge for one more year will be 6-3, 260-pound DE Brandon Jenkins. After finishing the past two seasons on the All-ACC squad, the senior has his sights set on even more prestigious company in his final year in Tallahassee—the All-America Team, for instance. He is one of the nation's premier pass rushers, explosive off the snap, and refusing to quit until the whistle blows. Jenkins is ideally built to circle around the edge, using his long arms, improving technique and closing speed to whip opposing tackles. Despite seeing frequent double-teams, Jenkins still collected 41 tackles and a team-high 12 stops for loss and eight sacks.
Joining Jenkins in the starting lineup at end will be 6-4, 272-pound junior Bjoern Werner, the honorable mention All-ACC pick in 2011. Although he doesn't get the same attention as his tag team partner, he was the program's best lineman at times last year. The former German soccer player is still learning the game, but managed to make 37 tackles, 11 stops for loss, seven sacks and eight pass breakups a year ago. He's outstanding at shedding blockers with his upper body strength, and operates on a motor that just doesn't quit.
The first defensive end off the bench will be 6-5, 264-pound senior Cornellius Carradine. The elite recruit from Butler (Kans.) Community College did not disappoint in his debut, producing 38 tackles, eight stops for loss and 5.5 sacks. He has the ideal size, get-off and unbridled intensity inherent to all great pass rushers, and would be an every-down player at all but a handful of programs across the country.
Senior Everett Dawkins is the veteran leader of a group of tackles enjoying an embarrassment of riches on the interior. The 6-2, 301-pounder moves tremendously well for his size, busting through gaps to penetrate the pocket. Although his numbers were down a bit last year to 25 tackles, three stops for loss and two sacks, few in Tallahassee doubt his contributions to a D that yielded just 2.3 yards per carry.
For now, 6-2, 302-pound senior Anthony McCloud has the edge to start at the other tackle position. The one-time transfer from Itwamba (Miss.) Community College chipped in with 25 tackles, five stops behind the line and two sacks as a regular member of the lineup. Boasting the desired mix of quickness and power, he is tough for one man to block.
McCloud ought not to get too comfortable in the starting lineup; not with Timmy Jernigan playing the same position. The 6-3, 301-pound sophomore worked his way into the lineup as a rookie, contributing 30 tackles, six stops for loss and 2.5 sacks. He was instantly successful, displaying rare quickness and unrelenting pressure for an interior lineman. It's obviously early, but Jernigan already looks like the type of active force from the inside who will someday make NFL scouts gush about his next-level potential.
For good measure, the ‘Noles will also have a couple of quality vets coming off the bench, 6-2, 290-pound junior Demonte McAllister and 6-1, 301-pound senior Jacobbi McDaniel
. McAllister is a penetrator, with a letter at the end of each of the last two seasons. McDaniel's junior season came to a sudden halt when a teammate rolled up on him last Oct. 15. The resulting dislocation of his ankle required surgery, but isn't expected to impede his pursuit of playing 2012 at full strength. The injury snapped a streak of 20 consecutive starts for an interior lineman who'd just begun to find his groove as a multi-threat defender. McDaniel can clog running lanes, yet is athletic enough to get penetration. How athletic? He was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2009 for his prowess as a slugger.
Watch Out For … even more elite talent to flood the roster. As if Florida State isn't already loaded up front, here comes 6-4, 305-pound DT Eddie Goldman and 6-4, 290-pound DE Mario Edwards, considered by many as the nation's premier defensive prospects of the 2012 class. Neither has to play this fall … but both may be good enough to avoid a redshirt season.
Strength: Depth of talent. The Seminoles aren't just deep on the front wall. And they are not just talented. They're rich in a level of depth that could go unmatched this fall. How deep? Carradine is going to get drafted next April, yet won't even start on this team. Oh, and Jernigan is one of the game's budding young defensive stars, yet might begin the season behind McCloud on the depth chart.
Weakness: Health. It's an absolute splitting of hairs, but that Florida State depth could be compromised somewhat if McDaniel is slow to return or Jernigan' spring knee injury has a lingering effect in the summer.
Outlook: It's taken a couple of years, but Florida State is back to being dominant up front, much the way it was during the glory years under Bobby Bowden. There'll be no one way to neutralize the Seminoles. If Jenkins, Werner and Carradine attract too much attention on the outside, then the tackle rotation will make opponents pay the price. And if the interior draws a crowd, those pass rushers will haunt the quarterback. The ‘Noles are poised to make a statement that they're home to the premier D-line in America in 2012.
Unit Rating: 10
The top priority among the linebackers will be to replace current Buffalo Bill Nigel Bradham, who led the team in tackles the last three years. In order to address the void, junior Christian Jones has made the shift from strongside to weakside. At 6-4 and 237 pounds, he's an all-around impressive physical specimen on the brink of a breakthrough campaign. At times lacking consistency, he still finished third on the team with 56 stops to go along with six tackles for loss and three sacks. Jones runs well, hits hard and already looks as if he'll be continuing his career on Sundays.
Taking over Jones' old strongside spot will be senior Nick Moody, the former safety who now goes 6-2 and 242 pounds. He's the headhunter of the group, prowling the field looking for someone to hammer. Proving throughout his career to be a valuable backup, he appeared in nine games off the bench last season, making 23 stops.
In the middle, the Seminoles plan to employ two players in order to get the job done. In the lead to start is 6-3, 209-pound junior Telvin Smith. He plays the game very fast, and with a sudden burst, flying all over the field in an attempt to make things happen. Testament to his range and versatility, Smith delivered 42 tackles, 8.5 stops for loss, three sacks and an interception last season.
When the staff wants to use a more traditional run stopper in the middle, it'll turn to 6-1, 245-pound senior Vince Williams. He's built better to take on blocks, sift through the traffic and diagnose the flow of a running play. Getting his fair share of reps in 2011, he finished fifth with 54 tackles, adding five stops for loss and two sacks.
Watch Out For … Jones to flourish at weakside. The new digs are a better fit for a stellar athlete who should not be tied by the other guy's tight end. If No. 7 is given an opportunity to freelance and makes plays, he has a ceiling that won't stop until it reaches the 2012 All-ACC team.
Strength: Run defense. No one—not even Alabama—allowed fewer yards per carry than the Seminoles did in 2011. The D-line was a major factor, but so were the linebackers, who consistently do an outstanding job of filling lanes, disengaging from blocks and wrapping up before a back can get beyond the second level.
Weakness: Pass defense. While the ‘Noles are certainly not awful against the pass, they have shown some hints of vulnerability in recent seasons. Quick to go for the de-cleater, the eagerness of the Florida State linebackers can make them vulnerable to a pump fake from opposing quarterbacks.
Outlook: The linebackers are going to be the weakest link of Florida State's defensive chain. Of course, that's not so bad when the ‘Noles D-line and secondary are the comparative standard. While there's not a lot of star power, Jones aside, on the second level, the unit remains athletic, experienced and capable of leaving its mark, especially on running downs.
Unit Rating: 8
Both cornerbacks could have opted for the NFL Draft. Both instead returned to Tallahassee, giving the Seminoles the cornerstones of a terrific secondary. Junior Xavier Rhodes is the next-level prototype at the position, a 6-2, 208-pounder who loves to hit, yet also has good instincts in coverage. He's eyeing a rebound after nagging injuries limited him to 43 tackles, one pick and five pass breakups a year ago. Rhodes has all the motivation he needs to deliver a monster year, but needs to prove he can stay on the field without incident for an entire season.
The graduation of Mike Harris, now a Jacksonville Jaguar, leaves the ‘Noles without that third quality corner in the rotation. The new first man off the bench will be 5-10, 165-pound sophomore Nick Waisome. The nation's eighth-ranked cornerback of 2011 played sparingly in his debut, but has a promising future ahead of as the likely successor with Greg Reid now booted from the team.
Leading the charge from strong safety will be 5-8, 193-pound junior Lamarcus Joyner, a returning Second Team All-ACC performer. One of the most underappreciated defenders in America, he made a seamless transition from cornerback a year ago, collecting 54 tackles, four picks and seven total passes defended. He performs much bigger than his size, really packing a punch in run defense, and playing with maximum physicality and aggression. Joyner is also a natural ball-hawk, as evidenced by the team-leading interceptions, who also happens to be one of the fastest Seminoles on the roster.
Free safety Terrence Brooks is the least known of the regulars, but certainly not a weak link. The 5-11, 189-pound junior was getting more comfortable off the bench as the season wound down, finishing with 17 tackles and six passes defended. He possesses the good instincts and fearlessness to be ready for an expanded role, and will get ample support from the top-notch teammates surrounding him in the secondary.
While sophomore Karlos Williams has all kinds of potential and incredible measurables, he's just not as polished as Brooks at free safety at this time. The 6-2, 229-pound burner will have to get on the field somewhere, including on special teams, where he can make an impact with his unique combination of size and speed.
Watch Out For … the lure of a paycheck to motivate Rhodes to his best season as a Seminole defensive back. With pro types watching closely, there's more motivation than ever before to deliver an all-star campaign.
Strength: Ball-hawks. Although the results didn't always show it last fall, the Florida State secondary is dotted with game-changing athletes who will stick to receivers, jump routes and get their hands on the ball. Joyner and Rhodes are explosive players, the types of defenders who are going to make quarterbacks think twice about testing their mettle.
Weakness: Consistency in pass defense. As an aggregate, Florida State was fine in pass defense last year. In fact, over the final eight games, the ‘Noles allowed just seven touchdown passes, while picking off 13. However, the secondary did experience costly breakdowns, such as yielding seven touchdown passes in back-to-back losses to Clemson and Wake Forest early in the season.
Outlook: After playing well in 2011, the Seminoles are aiming to significantly raise the bar in pass defense in 2012. And they have the players needed to meet the challenge. Joyner and Rhodes may get beat over the top from time to time, but they have as much ability as any trio of defensive backs in the FBS. The defensive backs figure to make a lot more noise than they did last fall, ranking among the ACC's leaders in batted balls and takeaways.
Unit Rating: 8.5
The Seminoles will sorely miss strong-legged P Shawn Powell, who has graduated, but the special teams remains one of the ACC's best units. Senior PK Dustin Hopkins, another boomer in Tallahassee, has one more season of eligibility left with the program. The first team all-star and Lou Groza Award candidate is among the best in the country at his position. Not only did he hit 22-of-27 field goals, including a 53-yarder, but he's also a field position ace with his touchbacks and long kickoffs.
Replacing Powell will be a recent signee, Cason Beatty, who graduated early to take part in spring drills. Already 6-3 and 235 pounds, it's no surprise that the coaching staff feels as if he has the pop to become a regular weapon over the next four years.
The return game will once again be lethal. Big sophomore Karlos Williams and junior Lamarcus Joyner
are expected to share kickoff duties, with the
former averaging more than 30 yards an attempt last
Watch Out For … Williams to wind up getting more touches on returns than Joyner. The program is intrigued by the sophomore's size, a 6-2, 229-pounder who has enough giddy-up to take kicks the distance. Both are talented, but the explosive package possessed by Williams is going to be impossible to ignore.
Strength: Field position. Hopkins averaged more than 67 yards a kickoff in 2011. The return game will rank among the best in the FBS. And Beatty was hailed as one of the top high school punters back in February. The Seminoles have the right ingredients to dominate field position throughout the season.
Weakness: A new punter. Beatty is going to be just fine, but that doesn't mean that there won't be an awkward transitional period. A drop-off from Powell, who averaged 47 yards in 2011, is inevitable, and likely to put a little more pressure on the defense this season.
Outlook: For the second straight year, Florida State will be home to one of the most complete special teams units in the ACC, if not the entire country. Beatty will be a question mark until proven otherwise, but Hopkins is terrific, and the return men are going to tee up the offensive attack all season long.
Unit Rating: 9
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