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2009 Florida State Preview - Defense
Florida State LB Dekoda Watson
Florida State LB Dekoda Watson
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 1, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Florida State Seminole Defense

Florida State Seminoles

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Florida State Preview | 2009 Florida State Offense 
- 2009 Florida State Defense | 2009 Florida State Depth Chart 
- 2008 FSU Preview | 2007 FSU Preview | 2006 FSU Preview 

What you need to know: While the numbers looked pretty good a year ago, the 2008 defense wasn’t a classic, take-no-prisoners unit that used to be routine under Mickey Andrews. Holes in run and pass defense, which weren’t evident in September, began to appear against the rare quality offense. Now, Andrews must find replacements for much of his defensive line, half the secondary, and all three of his all-leaguers. The big worry is up front, where ends Everette Brown and Neefy Moffett are gone, heaping pressure on Markus White and Kevin McNeil to offset their production. If they fail, the secondary could get exposed as ordinary. The least concern is at linebacker, where Dekoda Watson, Nigel Bradham, and Kendall Smith have All-ACC skills and aspirations. The ‘Noles are fortunate they get two home games before having to travel to Provo to face Max Hall and BYU.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Dekoda Watson, 46
Sacks: Kevin  McNeil, 4
Interceptions: Multiple Players at 1

Star of the defense:
Senior LB Dekoda Watson
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DE Markus White
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Kendall Smith
Best pro prospect: Senior CB Patrick Robinson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Watson, 2) Robinson, 3) White
Strength of the defense: Team Speed, Linebackers
Weakness of the defense: No. 2 Cornerback, Takeaways

Defensive Line

Projected Starters:
Even at a school like Florida State, it’s not going to be easy replacing the meat of a defensive line that included sack specialists Everette Brown and Neefy Moffett on the outside. The onus to come through now falls on a handful of holdovers, namely 6-2, 257-pound senior Kevin McNeil. Now entering his third season of action, it’s time to start approaching the press clippings that preceded his arrival in Tallahassee. He’s not going to be Brown, but he does show good burst off the snap and an ability to get in the backfield, making 10 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and four sacks in limited duty last year.

Equally important is that 6-4, 261-pound senior Markus White can provide steady pressure from the opposite side. One of the nation’s premier JUCO recruits a year ago, he quickly got into the rotation and finished with 29 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and a sack. He has the closing speed and natural instincts to attract NFL attention, provided he can improve on finishing his rush and bagging a bunch of sacks.

After starting nine games in 2008, 6-2, 271-pound senior Kendrick Stewart has made a concerted offseason push to lock down that job. A three-tech interior lineman, who can slice in and get penetration, his modest size also makes him prone to getting engulfed by opposing blockers. In the most extensive action of his career, he appeared in every game and produced 22 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and a pair of sacks.

Clinging to defensive tackle is 6-5, 272-pound Justin Mincey, a four-game starter, who had nine tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and a sack a year ago. The most versatile of the defensive linemen, he also has the experience and the pass rush skills to shift outside if needed. A terrific all-around athlete, he has to guard against playing too high and getting tied up by thicker opponents, who’ll neutralize his quickness.

Projected Top Reserves: In the tight battle at nose guard, 6-2, 276-pound senior Budd Thacker lost a little ground when he sat out the spring to recover from shoulder surgery. A two-year starter and try-hard guy, he won’t be out worked, but he’s also not going to wow anyone with his overall skill set. Last year, for instance, he started 10 of the final 11 games, yet only produced just 18 tackles, three tackles for loss, and sack. As a second-teamer, however, he’d be a genuine luxury.

Sophomore Moses McCray is a big part of the future on the inside for the Seminole defensive line. The 6-2, 298-pounder didn’t play a ton in his first season, making eight stops, but really made his presence felt in the offseason. A cat-quick, intense competitor, he flashes the moves and pass rush ability of some ends, which will frustrate guards and centers.

If 6-5, 228-pound sophomore Toshmon Stevens plays in the summer the way he did in the spring, he’s going to be the first defensive end off the bench. While he’ll need to bulk up before becoming an every-down player, he showed enough quickness and pure athleticism to warrant lots of looks as a situational rush end.

Watch Out For ...
can’t-miss freshman DT Jacobbi McDaniel. Considered by many to be the top interior lineman in this last recruiting cycle, he signed with a program that’s light at the position. In other words, the opportunity to play right away is there for the taking. While not ideal size, he has the speed, balance, and determination to abuse much bigger opponents.
Strength: Getting penetration. All of the sacks and tackles for loss from last season aren’t going away just because the line was hit hard by graduation. This is Florida State, where the defensive linemen are always quick and always capable of disrupting the tempo of an offense. The production may not be the same as 2008, but the ‘Noles are going to get their big plays behind the line.  
Weakness: The tackles. New year. Same concerns. No one really stepped up in the spring and looked like he was headed to a spot on the All-ACC team. The interior linemen are relatively small and prone to getting bullied, like they did last year in games with Georgia Tech, Boston College, Florida, and Wisconsin. You can hurt this defense by running right at it.   
Outlook: While this is not a vintage Florida State defensive line, that does not mean that a few new playmakers aren’t about to be born. The ‘Noles adopt a next-man-in mantra up front, so figure on at least one or two players having career years. The best candidate? White, who could pick up some of the slack left by Brown and Moffett.
Rating
: 7.5

Linebackers

Projected Starters: While it’s never easy to replace your top two tacklers, Florida State feels it has the replacements to move on without skipping a beat. A lot, however, hinges on the health of 6-2, 226-pound senior Dekoda Watson, who sat out spring to recover from elbow surgery. Arguably the best all-around athlete on defense, he has the potential to wreak havoc from strongside, using his blazing speed and nasty streak to harass quarterbacks and hunt down backs. Health issues aside, he’s the type of playmaker, who can blow past last year’s 46 tackles and eight tackles for loss.

The rising star of the unit at weakside is 6-2, 238-pound sophomore Nigel Bradham, the blue-chip recruit from the 2008 class. He’s got it all at the position, including a full season of work and the 29 tackles that went with it. Now that he’s a starter, his rare blend of speed, power, and big hits are about to become more evident to fans outside of Tallahassee.

One of the pleasant surprises of the spring was delivered by 6-1, 230-pound junior
Kendall Smith, who was consistently cited as one of the peak performers of the month. Making the move from strongside to middle linebacker look smart, he showed keen instincts for the position and didn’t miss a tackle. More steady than spectacular, he’s played in every game since arriving, making 24 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and a pair of sacks.

Projected Top Reserves: With Watson out for the spring, 6-3, 230-pound sophomore Nigel Carr received most of the first-team reps at strongside. Even when the incumbent returns, he’s expected to have a bigger role in the rotation than a year ago, when he had just four tackles in 11 games. Another top recruit from 2008, he has the size and closing speed to be an every-down player in 2010.

The caddy for Smith in the middle will be 6-0, 245-pound sophomore Vince Williams, who had 10 tackles and two tackles for loss in his rookie debut. A punishing hitter and classic run defender, he’ll provide solid depth at the position, especially as he gains more of a comfort level in the system.

Watch Out For ... Watson to erupt. It’s a classic case of the rising senior finally getting a chance to showcase his skills to the NFL. As the physical and emotional leader of this group, he’s capable of being a playmaker, creating turnovers and altering the tempo of a game.
Strength
:
Speed and athletic ability. Would you expect anything less from the Seminoles? All of the linebackers are outstanding athletes, with the next level speed and range to make plays all over the field, and the tenacity to intimidate opposing ballcarriers.  
Weakness: Proven players. There’s lots of potential, to be sure, but there are also plenty of young players dotting the two-deep, who will be to mistakes and inconsistencies. After Watson and Smith, just about everyone else is a sophomore, most of who have only been on campus for a year.
Outlook: While even better days lay ahead in 2010 and 2011, the Seminole linebackers will still be plenty good in 2009. The return of Watson from injury and seamless transition inside by Smith will provide a solid foundation as Bradham, Carr, and Williams take another step closer to becoming dynamite players.
Rating
: 8

Secondary

Projected Starters: A couple of starters and all-stars need to be replaced in the defensive backfield, leaving the program concerned about pass defense heading into the season. The ‘Noles were solid here a year ago, but staying that way will require an infusion of new talent. The top holdover—and cover corner—is 5-11, 194-pound senior Patrick Robinson, a part-time starter the last two seasons. After making 26 tackles, two tackles for loss, and just a single pick, he’s expected to emerge into a bona fide NFL prospect in his final year. He’ll also be counted on to use his 4.4 speed and loose hips to cut off half the field for opposing passers.

On the other side, 5-10, 188-pound junior Ochuko Jenije better be prepared to get pick on…a lot. It remains to be seen whether he’ll be up to the challenge, as quarterbacks look to avoid Robinson. Mostly a special teams player up this point, he did get on the field some as Tony Carter’s backup, making 11 tackles and breaking up a pair of passes. His development will be a key part of the entire defense in 2009.

The Seminoles’ top safety figures to be 6-2, 188-pound junior Jamie Robinson, who looks ready to have his much-anticipated breakthrough season. A gifted all-around athlete, with ideal size, he brings the ball-hawking skills of a corner with the physicality to support in run defense. After making 37 tackles and starting six games as a sophomore, don’t be at all shocked if he finishes the season on the All-ACC squad.

The staff is a lot less excited about 6-0, 206-pound senior Korey Mangum, who has been slotted in as the replacement for Myron Rolle at rover. More of a company man than a playmaker, he’d probably be better served as a reserve, where he’s spent most of his career. A heavy hitter, with experience at cornerback, he started five games last fall and had 27 stops and seven pass breakups.

Projected Top Reserves: The coaching staff really likes the upside of 6-1, 196-pound sophomore Terrance Parks, who could wind up being the first man off the bench at either free safety or rover. Although injuries kept him from making a move in the spring, there are few doubts that he has the size, range, and aggressiveness to be a defensive asset before to long.

The charge for that all-important third cornerback spot is being led by 5-11, 172-pound sophomore Dionte Allen. Although he played sparingly a year ago, making five appearances, he would have gotten on the field more had it not been for ankle problems. A star recruit from 2007 and one of the fastest members of the team, he gets in and out of his breaks quickly and could start making an impact in 2009.

Watch Out For ...
the newcomers. The Seminoles had their usual February haul at cornerback and safety, bringing in one of the best classes in the country. With a serious need for depth, CB Greg Reid and safeties JaJuan Harley and Willie Downs, provided he doesn’t play on offense, will get every opportunity to climb the two-deep.  
Strength: The Robinsons. Patrick and Jamie will give the secondary a potential all-star and pro-caliber defender at cornerback and safety, respectively. Both are big, athletic, and capable of making game-changing plays.
Weakness: Softness in coverage. Yeah, the numbers said otherwise last year, but the defensive backs were helped immensely by the pass rush and a schedule that featured few quality hurlers. Against some of the decent opponents, like Colorado, NC State, Clemson, Florida, and Wisconsin, the ‘Noles allowed 11 touchdown passes and picked off just a pair. For the season, they had a paltry nine interceptions, which was next to last in the ACC.
Outlook: Don’t be fooled by last year’s No. 6 national finish in pass defense. The Florida State secondary isn’t quite that good, especially with Rolle and Carter needing to be replaced. Unless the true freshmen are way ahead of schedule, expect a repeat of 2008, when the team was stingy versus poor passing teams and vulnerable against the likes of BYU and Florida.
Rating: 7.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters:
There’s no overstating the loss of Graham Gano, the team’s punter and Groza Award-winning placekicker. At least for the time being, the favorites to replace him are a pair of sophomores, James Esco and Shawn Powell at kicker and punter, respectively. Esco showed good dependability on field goals in the spring, but has no live experience and, like just about everyone, won’t have Gano’s range.

Powell actually filled in for Gano for seven games as a true freshman and performed extremely well. Setting the table for a long run as the program’s punter, he averaged more than 41 and showed good hang time. At 6-5 and 217 pounds, leg drive and distance is not going to be a problem.

Gano isn’t the only All-American, who ran out of eligibility. Combustible kick returner Michael Ray Garvin is gone as well. Looking to succeed him will either be sophomore Bert Reed or senior Louis Givens. The two receivers are also expected to handle punt return duties for the ‘Noles.

Watch Out For ... incoming freshman PK Dustin Hopkins. Widely considered the nation’s premier high school kicker, he has the rare combination of accuracy and booming leg to compete for this job shortly after arriving on campus.
Strength
: The coverage units. Fueled by some of the best athletes in the country, Florida State perennially does a great job of getting downfield to cover punts and kicks. If it keeps getting support in a post-Gano world, the program will continue to be among the league’s best in net punting and kickoff coverage.
Weakness: Uncertainty among the kickers. Yes, there’s loads of potential in Powell, Hopkins, and Esco, but between the three, there is also precious little experience. Can Esco or Hopkins deliver in the clutch the way Gano did in 2008? No one will know for sure until after the season gets going.
Outlook: After being home to one of the nation’s sharpest special teams units, Florida State will endure an inevitable hit after losing Gano and Garvin to graduation. Still, it’s a formidable group, which could begin developing its next wave of young star kickers in Powell and Hopkins.
Rating
: 7.5