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2008 Florida State Preview - Defense
Florida State DE Everette Brown
Florida State DE Everette Brown
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Apr 23, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Florida State Seminole Defense

Florida State Seminoles

Preview 2008 - Defense

- 2008 CFN Florida State Preview | 2008 Florida State Offense 
- 2008 Florida State Defense | 2008 Florida State Depth Chart 
- 2007 CFN Florida State Preview | 2006 CFN Florida State Preview 

What you need to know: This is Florida State, where Mickey Andrews’ kids are typically fast and nasty, but the defense showed cracks in the armor late last year allowing more than 30 points in four of the final seven games, while being especially vulnerable on deep passes. Andrews has the athletes and the focus to make sure the late-season letdown is an aberration. DE Everette Brown was the team’s sack leader as a part-time starter, LB Derek Nicholson led the team with 99 tackles, and S Myron Rolle should be ready to blossom into a star. The biggest area of concern is at defensive tackle, where Andre Fluellen and Letroy Guion leave gaping voids that need to be filled.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Derek Nicholson, 99
Sacks: Everette Brown, 6.5
Interceptions: Patrick Robinson, 6

Star of the defense: Junior DE Everette Brown
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DT Emmanuel Dunbar
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Dekoda Watson
Best pro prospect: Junior S Myron Rolle
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Brown, 2) Senior LB Derek Nicholson, 3) Rolle
Strength of the defense: Team speed, depth at defensive end
Weakness of the defense: Interior linemen, preventing the big play

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The biggest concern on the defensive line is at tackle, where part-time starters Andre Fluellen and Letroy Guion are off trying to make NFL rosters. The most experienced holdover is junior Budd Thacker, who started eight games, missing time in the middle of the year with a fractured toe. At 6-2 and 282 pounds, he’s a try-hard guy producing 23 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss in his first season as a regular. Now that he’s the senior member of the interior, the ‘Noles need him to get penetration more consistently.

Manning the nose will be senior Paul Griffin, a steady veteran and one of the strongest players on the line. A year after recovering from an ACL tear, the 6-2, 278-pounder was one of the unit’s most dependable reserves, making 24 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and a sack, despite not starting a single game.

The next big thing on the Florida State defensive line is junior end Everette Brown, who erupted in his second season making 37 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, and a team-high 6.5 sacks. Explosive off the snap at 6-4 and 246 pounds, he’s lived in opposing backfields the last two seasons and has worked hard to get even better in the offseason. With an eye on double-digit sacks, he could be off to the NFL after his junior year.    

At the other end spot, the coaches know senior Neefy Moffett has talent, but just want to see it on a more consistent basis. He has lettered in each of the last three years, topped by last season’s seven starts that produced 19 tackles, nine tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. A lock to be in the rotation, he’ll have to step it up in August to retain his starting job. 

Projected Top Reserves: Now more than ever, Mickey Andrews needs 6-5, 284-pound junior DT Emmanuel Dunbar to begin approaching and even surpassing his enormous potential. Plagued by back injuries throughout his career, he has the size, strength, and long arms to dominate when he can play pain-free. Almost two years removed from having surgery to correct two herniated discs, the staff is cautiously optimistic he’s ready to recapture his old form.

More depth on the inside will come from junior Justin Mincey, a 6-5, 265-pound hybrid who has also played extensively on the outside. In fact, a year ago, he started four games at defensive end, finishing the season with five tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. With a year of experience behind him, he has too much raw ability to not be more productive this time around.

The ‘Noles are welcoming back 6-2, 255-pound junior end Kevin McNeil, who sat out all of last season with off-field issues. As a freshman, he flashed some of the potential that made him such a coveted high school recruit. He gets out of the blocks in an instant and has the acceleration and lean coming around the edge that’s often too much for opposing tackles to contain. 

Watch Out For ... JUCO transfer DE Markus White. Depending on who you speak with, White was the country’s top-rated junior college transfer last year, abusing offensive linemen en route to 24.5 sacks. At 6-4 and 250 pounds, he has the speed to make a smooth transition to the ACC and an immediate impact for the Seminoles.
Strength: The ends. While Brown is on the brink of stardom, the additions of McNeil and White give the Noles tremendous speed and depth on the edge. It’s been years since the front four was able to frighten opponents with outside pressure, but that’s about to change.
Weakness: The tackles. Thacker and Griffin may be serviceable interior linemen, but they’re not going to dominate the way Fluellen and Guion did at times last year. While a lot is expected of Dunbar, he first needs to show that the back injuries are no longer an issue.
Outlook: Expect a role reversal from recent seasons with the ends providing a little more flash than normal and the tackles to be vulnerable against teams that pound away between the tackles. Brown is a special player who’s about to start making a national name for himself.
Rating
: 7.5

Linebackers

Projected Starters: While it hurts losing a player of Geno Hayes’ caliber to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the linebacking situation is still solid. Senior Derek Nicholson returns to the middle of the unit a year after breaking out with a team-high 99 stops and eight tackles for loss. All the way back from an ACL tear that ruined his 2006 season, he’s a 6-2, 234-pound beast in run defense with the instincts to track down ballcarriers all over the field. 

At strongside, 6-2, 222-pound junior Dekoda Watson is ready to author a breakthrough season after scratching the surface of his potential a year ago. A bona fide playmaker with blazing speed and a nasty streak, he started a dozen regular season games, delivering 50 tackles, eight tackles for loss, three sacks, and four passes broken up. His athleticism allows the coaches to use him as a pass rusher or as a pass defender covering tight ends and backs.

The departure of Hayes and transfer of Marcus Ball have created an opportunity for 6-3, 222-pound junior Toddrick Verdell to win the starting job at weakside. Fully healed from last year’s foot and ankle injuries, he’ll be looking to build on his 24 tackles, while enhancing his reputation as the linebacker with the best cover skills.      

Projected Top Reserves
: True freshman Nigel Bradham has already participated in his first spring and is quickly closing the gap on Verdell at weakside. One of the nation’s premier recruits in February, he’s a 6-2, 227-pound destroyer with the speed, power, and hitting ability to be a major factor early in his career.

Behind Watson at strongside will be 6-1, 224-pound sophomore Kendall Smith, the program’s defensive newcomer of the year in 2007. A speedy standout on special teams, he had 14 tackles and gradually earned reps on defense when injuries struck the unit.

Watch Out For ... Bradham to win the starting job at some point this season. He’s a rare and special athlete entering an ideal situation for immediate playing time. It’s early, and maybe unfair, but he’s got the early signs of becoming the team’s next superstar linebacker.
Strength: Speed and athleticism. Do you expect anything less from Florida State? All of the linebackers are terrific athletes with the next level speed to make plays all over the field and the tenacity to intimidate ballcarriers.
Weakness: Weakside. Relatively speaking, it’s the weakest area of the unit, even though Bradham has an enormous ceiling. Hayes left early and Ball left for another school, forcing a scramble at the position.
Outlook: As is often the case this time of year, Florida State will enter the season in good shape at linebacker. Nicholson is an all-league player, Watson is about to explode, and out of Verdell and Bradham, the defense will get the occasional big play from weakside.
Rating: 8

Secondary

Projected Starters: Four defensive backs with starting experience return to a secondary that has to be better. Led by 5-9, 166-pound senior Tony Carter and 5-11, 189-pound junior Patrick Robinson, a pair of veteran cornerbacks return coming off solid seasons.

A starter since his freshman year, Carter plays much bigger than his size, flashing some of the best open field tackling skills of the defensive backs. He had 45 tackles, four tackles for loss, and four picks a season ago, but needs to improve in man coverage and remains vulnerable when matched against taller receivers.

Robinson was a revelation in his first season as a full-timer, making 28 tackles in five starts and leading the conference with six interceptions. While still raw and, at times, too quick to jump the route, he has the 4.2 speed and 5-11, 189-pound frame that could begin attracting attention from NFL scouts.

Junior Myron Rolle is the prototype at rover, a smart and physical 6-2, 218-pounder with two years of starting experience already behind him. While not one of the team’s fastest defensive backs, he takes good angles, plays with keen instincts, and rarely misses an assignment. Last year’s 67 tackles and two fumble recoveries don’t paint an accurate picture of how good he can be, or his pro potential.

The lone hole in the defensive backfield is at free safety, where reliable Roger Williams is gone.  His likely successor will be senior Darius McClure, a career backup who has seen plenty of time on defense and special teams over the last three years. At 5-11 and 217 pounds, he can deliver the payload, but still needs to prove himself in coverage.           

Projected Top Reserves: A seasoned veteran with off-the-charts speed and eight starts from a year ago, senior Michael Ray Garvin is running neck-and-neck with Robinson at one cornerback spot. Far more physical than his 5-8, 185-pound frame might indicate, he’s led the corners in tackles in each of the last two years, topped by a career-high 49 stops a year ago.

In order to bolster the situation at free safety and provide competition to McClure, talented junior Jamie Robinson is making the move from cornerback. At 6-2 and 187 pounds, he has the speed, size, and cover skills to make this decision look like a stroke of coaching genius. He played sparingly during the regular season, finishing with 17 tackles, but could use this opportunity as a springboard for the second half of his college career.     

Watch Out For ...
Rolle to do more freelancing than in the past. On some levels, he’s been underutilized the past two seasons, prompting the staff to create more ways for him to be involved in the defense and closer to the ball. If the coaches are successful, he could be in store for a monster junior season.
Strength: Ball skills. Yeah, they’ll bite a little too easily, but when these athletic playmakers break on the ball, they instantly go from defensive backs to dangerous receivers. Florida State had 17 interceptions last season and could do even more this year.
Weakness: Softness in coverage. The ‘Noles were one of only four ACC teams that allowed more than 12 yards a completion, yielding 24 touchdown passes overall and more than 245 yards a game. Things, stat-wise, really got out of hand down the stretch against some of the game’s better quarterbacks, such as Matt Ryan, Tim Tebow, and Andre Woodson.
Outlook: There is way too much talent and athletic ability for this group to be sketchy in pass defense for a second straight year. Things will be fine against a schedule featuring just one opponent that finished in the top 25 in passing a year ago. The real litmus test won’t occur until the ‘Noles face Clemson’s Cullen Harper on Nov. 8 and Florida’s Tebow three weeks later.
Rating: 8

Special Teams

Projected Starters: The graduation of PK Gary Cismesia means senior Graham Gano is likely to be handling double-duty. He has already proven himself as a punter, earning All-ACC honorable mention with an average of 43.4 yards, highest by a Seminole in over a decade. Although leg strength isn’t a concern, he has yet to attempt a field goal, let alone with the game on the line.  His backup will be sophomore Nathan Ojibway, a 6-3, 253-pound kicker in the body of a linebacker.

In junior Preston Parker and senior Michael Ray Garvin, the Seminoles will have a couple of return men with the speed and wiggle to be extremely dangerous with the ball in their hands.  Parker averaged more than 10 yards on punt returns a year, while Garvin managed just under 20 on kickoffs, a poor number he’s capable of surpassing.

Watch Out For ... Gano the kicker. Only two kickers in the country attempted more field goals than Cismesia last year, so the offense needs a reliable kicker who can split the uprights when drive stall.
Strength: Gano the punter. He made a quantum leap in his second year as the starter adding almost three yards to his average and improving his directional kicks.
Weakness: Kickoff returns. Garvin is way too explosive to be averaging less than 20 yards on kickoffs. The ‘Noles were 107th nationally and last in the ACC, which needs to be addressed in the name of better field position.
Outlook: The special teams unit is a mixed bag that needs a lot more from the return name and a kicker who can deliver with a degree of consistency. Florida State has played in a ton of close games over the last few years, meaning improvements here could add a win or two.
Rating: 7