2012 FSU Preview: Defensive Backs & Special Teams

By David Botello
College Football Editor

History Lesson:

"Prime Time" Deion Sanders

We all know the name “Prime Time,” and if you don’t, you shouldn’t even be reading this. Go do your football homework and come back when you’re ready. “Prime Time” or if you prefer, “Neon” Deion Sanders revolutionized the cornerback position at while at Florida State.  You know the term “shutdown corner?” You can thank Deion for that. Sanders went on to become a two-time Super Bowl champion, eight-time Pro Bowler, two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and was named to the 1990s NFL All-Decade Team. He is also the only athlete to ever play in both the Super Bowl and the World Series. The all-time punt return leader in Florida State history, Sanders is widely regarded as the greatest cover corner to play the game. He also made this gem.

Playing in the same defensive backfield as Deion Sanders at the other corner spot was FSU great LeRoy Butler. Butler might be best known among Seminole fans for his role in the infamous “Puntrooskie” play against Clemson in 1988. All Butler did after college was go on to win a Super Bowl, become a four-time Pro Bowl selection, be named to the 1990’s NFL All-Decade Team and get inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame. Oh, and he was also the first defensive back in NFL history to record 20 sacks and 20 interceptions in a career. That’s all.

After Butler left in 1990, Terrell Buckley followed in the tradition of great Seminole defensive backs. Buckley would win the Jim Thorpe award for the nation’s top defensive back in 1991, a year which saw him become the FSU all-time interceptions leader (21) and set an NCAA record for interception return yards (501). “T-Buck” would also go on to win a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens and is credited for inventing the “Lambeau Leap.” Not too shabby.

Corey Sawyer was a hard hitter and defensive leader who helped the Seminoles win their first national title in 1993. Antonio Cromartie was a first-round draft pick in 2006, was a Pro Bowler and NFL interceptions leader in 2007, and he holds the record for the longest play in NFL history, when he returned a missed field goal 109 yards for a touchdown in 2007. Old time Seminole fans will no doubt also remember the names J.T. Thomas and Monk Bonasorte, some of the greatest defensive backs in FSU history.

Xavier Rhodes is next in line.

Outlook

Xavier Rhodes

Rhodes (6’2”/217) has first round NFL talent but decided to come back to Tallahassee this year for his redshirt junior season. He has been as consistent a corner that FSU has had in a while, and he has gained a reputation for being a lockdown defender when it comes to the pass coverage. Rhodes was named to the preseason watch lists for the Bednarik Award and Nagurski Trophy given to the nation’s top defensive player as well as the watch list for the Thorpe Award given to the nation’s top defensive back.

With opposing quarterbacks likely staying away from Rhodes’ side of the field, the attention shifts to sophomore cornerback Nick Waisome. Waisome (5’10”/170) was tagged by Coach Jimbo Fisher earlier this week as the starter opposite Xavier Rhodes for the opening game against Murray State. Waisome will be filling the position left vacant by senior game-changer Greg Reid, who was dismissed from the team this summer for violation of team rules. The departure of Reid was a blow to the Seminole secondary, but there is still plenty of talent behind the starters at cornerback.

Figuring to be heavy in the rotation is true freshman standout Ronald Darby. Darby (5’11”/187) rolls into Tallahassee as the #2 rated cornerback in the country according to Rivals.com and ESPN. I almost forgot- he also runs a 4.37 in the 40-yard dash. According to reports coming out of camp, Darby is ready for big-time college football, stands a close second behind Waisome and figures to be a key contributor for an already loaded defense. Another talented freshman, Colin Blake (6’3”/194), will add depth behind Waisome and Darby at the field corner spot.

On the other side of the field, versatile redshirt freshman Keelin Smith (6’3”/187) will be backing up starter Xavier Rhodes at boundary corner. Smith gained valuable experience this past spring, stepping in with the first team defense while Rhodes was recovering from injury. Sophomore Tyler Hunter slides in to the rotation behind Smith, although Hunter will primarily back up starting safety Lamarcus Joyner.

Speaking of safeties, (I know, my segue skills are impeccable) junior Lamarcus Joyner (5’8”/195) returns to anchor one of the top secondary units in college football. Don’t let his size fool you- the kid is a straight up beast. Don’t believe me? Watch the video and get back to me. Joyner has been named to the preseason watch lists for the Bednarik Award and Nagurski Trophy given to the nation’s top defensive player as well as the watch list for the Thorpe Award given to the nation’s top defensive back.

Backing up Joyner at strong safety will be the aforementioned sophomore Tyler Hunter (6’0”/194), who should see significant time in the rotation, junior Justin Bright (6’1”/193) and true freshman Lamarcus Brutus (6’0”/197).

Holding down the free safety spot opposite of Joyner will be junior Terrence Brooks (5’11”/195). Brooks had the game-clinching interception in the end zone against Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl last season. Pushing Brooks for the free safety spot is explosive, hard-hitting sophomore Karlos Williams (6’2”/229). Williams was the #2 ranked safety and #8 overall player in the nation coming out of Davenport, Fla. in 2011. He will figure prominently in the defensive rotation and as a starting kick returner opposite Lamarcus Joyner. Redshirt junior Gerald Demps (5’11”/197) adds experience and depth to the free safety position for the Noles.

Special Teams

Dustin Hopkins

Kickers

Dustin Hopkins wears golden shoes.  With a nickname like “The Golden Toe,” the footwear had better match the hype. The senior from Houston, TX, has a booming cannon of a leg not seen around Tallahassee since the days of “The Polish Cannon” Sebastian Janikowski. Janikowski went on to win the Lou Groza award for the nation’s top kicker in 1998 and 1999. He left for the NFL after his junior season and was the first kicker in history to be drafted in the first round when he was selected by the Oakland Raiders.

Hopkins was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award last season as the nation’s top kicker, and he returns as a favorite to win the award in 2012. Hopkins stepped into the starting role as a freshman in 2009, replacing departed senior and 2008 Groza Award winner Graham Gano. Hopkins is only 68 points and 11 field goals away from becoming the FSU all-time leader in points and field goals, respectively. He also enters the season with 130 consecutive PAT conversions, also a school record. Hopkins is backed up by true freshman and Rivals.com #3 rated high school kicker prospect in the country, Roberto Aguayo.

True freshman Cason Beatty takes over punting duties for the departed Shawn Powell. Powell was a weapon on special teams for the Seminoles last season, while Beatty, the #3 rated punter coming out of high school, has never taken a snap in a college game. It’s always hard to replace experience, but Coach Jimbo Fisher has confidence in the freshman from Charlotte, N.C.

Returners

With the dismissal of All-American returner Greg Reid, the biggest question surrounding the FSU return game was who would step up and take his spot. Earlier this week, Coach Jimbo Fisher announced that talented sophomore wide receiver Rashad Greene would be fielding punts for the Noles this fall. It’s always wise to get the ball into the hands of your play makers in any way possible, and Greene should make a huge impact on special teams. We may be saying “Greg, who?” by the end of the season.

On kickoffs, it’s much of the same from last season. Expect the explosive sophomore safety duo of Karlos Williams and Lamarcus Joyner get the nod in the return game for the Noles.

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