2013 Florida State Preview - Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Florida State Seminole Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: The meteoric rise of new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is making a stop in Tallahassee. While disappointed to lose Mark Stoops to Kentucky, Florida State believes it's landed another rising star of the coaching ranks. Pruitt inherits one of the country's deepest and most talented defenses, a unit that led the ACC in scoring and total D in 2012. His primary objective will be to retool a D-line that lost more stars to graduation than any other FBS program. The openings will give NG Timmy Jernigan, DE Mario Edwards Jr. and DT Eddie Goldman, among others, a chance to flourish now that their path to increased playing time is no longer congested. Christian Jones and Telvin Smith head an active corps of linebackers, and few teams can boast a secondary as deep or as stingy as the one at Doak Campbell Stadium. Pruitt is preaching a more physical brand of defense, and plans to mix in some 3-4 looks. At the end of the day, he won't have to tinker too much for Florida State to once again sport a nasty and suffocating defensive group.
Star of the defense: Senior CB Lamarcus Joyner
Tackles: Christian Jones, 95
Sacks: Demonte McAllister, 3.5
Interceptions: Tyler Hunter, 3
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore DE Mario Edwards Jr.
Unsung star on the rise: Junior S Karlos Williams
Best pro prospect: Junior NG Timmy Jernigan
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Joyner, 2) Jernigan, 3) Senior LB Christian Jones
Strength of the defense: Depth of talent, the tackles, team speed, open-field tackling, pass defense, run D, third-down stops
Weakness of the defense: Proven pass rushers, takeaways
No D-line in America lost more talent than Florida State. And it's not even close. But in the wake of Bjoern Werner, Cornellius Carradine, Brandon Jenkins, Everett Dawkins and Anthony McCloud comes opportunity. It's time for junior NG Timmy Jernigan to get on the tarmac. Even as a reserve off the bench, No. 8 made his presence felt by parlaying 45 tackles and eight stops for loss into honorable mention All-ACC. Now that his minutes are about to increase markedly, few doubt he'll deliver a season that attracts undivided attention from NFL scouts. Jernigan explodes off the snap, and plays with shocking range and suddenness for a 6-2, 292-pounder, which is exactly what the ‘Noles need as they rebuild up front.
Benefitting from all of the attention that Jernigan will receive is 6-2, 291-pound senior DT Demonte McAllister, a valuable reserve over the past three seasons. He's smart and uses his hands well, knifing through blockers en route to making plays in the backfield. In his best season to date, McCallister made 33 tackles, five stops for loss and 3.5 sacks in 2012.
In 6-3, 285-pound sophomore Mario Edwards Jr., the ‘Noles feel as if they're harboring a budding star at defensive end. He'll need to be in order to cushion the losses of Werner, Carradine and Jenkins. Edwards was considered by many to be the nation's top prospect, regardless of position, in 2012. He did more watching and learning than contributing as a rookie, producing 17 tackles, 2.5 stops for loss and 1.5 sacks. It could be a big year for Edwards, provided he maintains his weight and conditioning.
A little less settled at defensive end, yet coming on very strong, is 6-4, 270-pound Dan Hicks who currently sits atop the depth chart. The senior is making the transition back to defense after briefly making a cameo at tight end during last year's injury-derailed campaign. His knee healthy again, Hicks is eager to showcase all of his strength and athleticism now that he finally has a change to play serious minutes.
Competition on the outside will come from 6-6, 280-pound Giorgio Newberry and 6-4, 248-pound redshirt freshman Chris Casher. Newberry is a former four-star recruit from the 2011 class, a high-motor strongside end who made 13 stops in 2012. Casher will provide the fastball off the bench, erupting off the snap and into opposing backfields. He was slated to play as a rookie, but injured his knee and was forced to take a medical redshirt.
The current second-teamers on the interior are both sophomores, 6-4, 313-pound tackle Eddie Goldman and 6-1, 306-pound nose guard Nile Lawrence-Stample. Goldman was a big-time recruit out of Washington D.C., whose impact will only be limited by the number of reps he receives. Powerful and uncommonly quick, he debuted in 2012 with eight tackles in 10 games. Lawrence-Stample is a space-eater, with just enough of a burst to exploit gaps. He had 10 tackles all of last year, but was virtually unblockable during the spring game.
Watch Out For … Jernigan to erupt into a household name. The junior is a monster talent, with a future as a first-round NFL Draft pick, but a deep rotation has prevented him from showing off his full array of talent. However, now that a few seniors have peeled away, Jernigan is set to put it all together for fans and pro scouts.
Strength: The rotation. The Seminoles like to use a lot of different players up front, keeping everyone as fresh and as healthy as possible. Even with the losses of so many contributors, the staff will get its wish of using many different players. Most of the young backups at Florida State, like Goldman and Newberry, would be starting for other ACC squads.
Weakness: Proven pass rushers. Yeah, the program has recruited the D-line extremely well in recent years, but there's just no easy way to replace Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine, two high NFL Draft picks this past April. Of the new projected starters, Edwards is in just his second year, and Hicks is coming off an entire season of inactivity following knee surgery.
Outlook: Who's ready to step up and turn an opportunity for playing time into a potential NFL audition? As expected, the Seminoles are loaded with potential up front, the residue of dynamite recruiting classes from the past few years. Jernigan is closest to exploding into a very special player. Everyone else, including Edwards and Hicks at defensive end, is being counted on to deliver their best seasons in Tallahassee.
Unit Rating: 8
The staff is ecstatic that Christian Jones decided in January to return for one final year to spearhead the linebacker corps. Last year's leading tackler will once again be a force as he moves to the middle from weakside, where he flourished in the spotlight and was named to the All-ACC Second Team. He posted 95 stops, seven for minus yards, and recovered a pair of fumbles, playing with far more electricity than he did as a strongside linebacker during the first half of his career. Jones is a chiseled 6-4, 232-pounder, with the range and closing speed to be a major factor as both a blitzer and a pass defender.
With Jones in the middle, 6-3, 212-pound senior Telvin Smith is expected to slide outside to the weakside position. The part-time starter in the past is coming off his best season with the ‘Noles, making 64 tackles, 9.5 stops for loss and three pass breakups. Smith is one of the team's most explosive all-around defenders, a natural to come hard off the edge on blitzes, or to hunt down ballcarriers from sideline-to-sideline.
Taking the lead at strongside is 6-4, 215-pound Terrance Smith, who earned his first letter by making nine stops as a backup defender and special teams contributor. The sophomore is long and very athletic, using his wingspan and huge stride to cause problems in coverage as well as against the run.
Bucking to become the successor to Telvin Smith is 6-1, 223-pound sophomore Reggie Northrup, the former four-star recruit who opened his career by making 10 stops and earning a letter. Terrance Smith will continue to be challenged at strongside by redshirt freshman Ukeme Eligwe. At 6-2 and 235 pounds, he's already one of the biggest of the linebackers, bringing a little more of a presence to the unit. Eligwe still has plenty to learn, but the base of talent is there for him to gradually earn more snaps as the season unfolds.
Watch Out For … the mindset of five-star recruit Matthew Thomas. One of the more intriguing Signing Day soap operas of the offseason, Thomas signed with Florida State, but flirted with switching to USC until mid-June. He eventually stuck with his commitment, and clearly possesses the talent to earn playing time off the bench at outside linebacker.
Strength: Range and athleticism. The Seminoles will once again cover a lot of ground from the second level, especially now that the safety-sized Smiths are manning the two outside positions. More than just fast and athletic, the Florida State linebackers change direction suddenly, while diagnosing plays with outstanding instincts.
Weakness: Size. Jones is a well-sized run defender, but the Smiths are longer than they are thick. Neither weighs more than 215 pounds, trading athleticism for the ability to stand up opposing players. If the more physical opponents on the schedule can get past the first line of defense, they'll have a chance to run through the tackles of the linebackers.
Outlook: While not the strongest unit of the D, the linebackers will hardly be pushovers. Jones is a standout, whose career will continue on Sundays in 2014, and Telvin Smith could wind up being one of this season's biggest surprises on defense. If Terrance Smith proves he can handle a full-time gig, and the young backups blossom into contributors, the ‘Noles will have regrouped from the graduations of a couple of key seniors.
Unit Rating: 8
Lamarcus Joyner could have gone pro following his junior year, opting instead to return to Tallahassee. Great news for the ‘Noles. The 5-8, 190-pounder is one of the premier defensive backs in the league, making 51 tackles and earning a spot on the All-ACC First Team as a strong safety a season ago. This season, Joyner is slated to shift to cornerback to help fill the void left by the early departure of Xavier Rhodes to the NFL. The senior may be small in stature, but he can really pack a wallop, and plays with a level of speed, aggression and violence in the defensive backfield that'll cause fits for opposing wide receivers. Joyner is the most complete defender in Tallahassee.
Partnering with Joyner at corner is 5-10, 175-pound junior Nick Waisome, a starter in all 14 games after Greg Reid's dismissal last year. While not very big, Waisome operates with the swagger and the tenacity of a much bigger defensive back. In 2012, he was responsible for 21 tackles, a pick and seven passes defended, numbers he's capable of blowing past in his second year as a starter.
Now that Joyner has vacated his old strong safety job, there's a battle to fill it between 6-1, 230-pound junior Karlos Williams and 5-11, 194-pound junior Tyler Hunter. Obviously, the contenders play at very different weight classes. Williams is a thumper, a safety in a linebacker's body. However, he can also fly, possessing the unique physical characteristics of a potential breakout star. He started the ACC Championship Game, his best performance of the year, and finished with 32 stops. Hunter will provide less support against the run, but is the better cover guy. He started three games in 2012, collecting 26 tackles and a team-high three interceptions. Hunter is a full-timer just about anywhere but Tallahassee.
Capping off a terrific starting secondary will be 5-11, 200-pound FS Terrence Brooks. The senior is coming off his first season as a starter, making 52 stops and a pair of interceptions. Arguably the most versatile defensive back at Florida State, he'll be bringing cornerback experience to his new job as the leader of the safeties. Brooks is experienced and highly instinctive, making it tough for the opposition to outsmart him.
Florida State's depth in the secondary can be described in two words: Ronald Darby. The 5-11, 183-pound sophomore is one of the better backup cornerbacks in the country, a young player with a tremendous future in Tallahassee. He arrived as a can't-miss recruit, and promptly turned 22 tackles and eight passes defended into being named ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year. Darby might have to bide his time a little, but he has an exciting future with the Seminoles. Behind Waisome at the other cornerback spot is 6-0, 190-pound sophomore P.J. Williams. Williams laid a solid first-year foundation, making 14 stops and appearing in all 14 games.
Watch Out For … Darby's presence to be felt, somehow or someway. The sophomore may technically be listed as a backup, but he's no usual second-teamer. He's a budding star in pass coverage, which means he'll play nearly as many minutes as the starters. Darby is the clear-cut heir apparent to Joyner, and he's just getting started with his development as a shutdown corner.
Strength: Air-tight coverage. The ‘Noles didn't just lead the country in pass efficiency D, they suffocated opposing passing games. Returning virtually intact is a defensive backfield that held teams to a 48.7% completion percentage and only 13 touchdowns in 14 games.
Weakness: Picks. Florida State got its mitts on plenty of passes a year ago, but only turned 11 of those throws into interceptions. With the ball skills and athleticism of this unit, there's absolutely no excuse for the Seminoles to not rank among the most opportunistic defensive backfield in the ACC.
Outlook: After leading the nation in pass efficiency D a year ago, more of the same stinginess is expected in 2013. The Seminoles are loaded with talent, experience and toughness on the last line of defense. Joyner is an unlikely headliner, but one who'll gradually begin to get more publicity outside of just the ACC. The real mettle of this group, though, will be tested by Tajh Boyd and Clemson, who've accounted for seven touchdown passes against Florida State over the last two seasons.
Unit Rating: 9
The first order of business on special teams will be to mine a successor for Dustin Hopkins, one of the country's top placekickers. Next up at the position is redshirt freshman Roberto Aguayo, one of the nation's top prep kickers from the 2012 recruiting cycle. The 6-1, 212-pounder explodes through the ball, showing off his pop with a 58-yard field goal during the spring.
Sophomore Cason Beatty returns for his second year as the team's punter. Sure, he only averaged 38.3 yards an attempt in 2012, a number that needs to rise, but just eight of his 47 punts were returned, and 23 were downed inside the opponents' 20.
The Seminoles promise to be dangerous in the return game once again this season. Junior Rashad Greene ranked third nationally in punt returns, while taking two back for touchdowns. Junior Karlos Williams and senior Lamarcus Joyner collaborated to help the ‘Noles finish No. 15 in the country n kick returns. Senior Kenny Shaw will also figure prominently on punt returns this fall.
Watch Out For … Aguayo's ability to deliver in the clutch. The Seminoles already know that their latest blue-chip kicker can reach the uprights from darn near 60 yards. But how will he respond from 42 yards when the outcome hangs in the balance? Therein lies the difference between passing and failing in Year 1 for the rookie.
Strength: The return game. Florida State is flush with electrifying returners, exciting athletes who'll positively impact field position. From top to bottom, this unit is fast, quick in the open field and decisive once they've made the first guy miss.
Weakness: The punting game. While Beatty should be better than his debut, he's only building off of a 38-yard average. The Seminoles were 107th nationally in net punting in 2012, a feeble result that was only overcome because the team's defense was so darn nasty.
Outlook: Yeah, there'll be a slight decline now that Hopkins is kicking for the Buffalo Bills, but Tallahassee will still be home to one of the ACC's better special teams units. Aguayo is a future all-star, Beatty has a year under his belt and the return game will again be like an adjunct to the offense. Florida State will have an edge in close games simply because the special teamers are capable of tipping the scales.
Unit Rating: 8
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