FSU Spring Practice Breakdown: Defense
Jameis Winston and the high-powered FSU offense received most of the headline last season. The real strength of the team lies on the defense though. Led by three former five-start recruits, Eddie Goldman, Mario Edwards Jr., and Jalen Ramsey, the defense looks poised to continue its streak of dominant play. The team must fill the holes left by All-Americas Lamarcus Joyner and Timmy Jernigan, but there is a laundry list of young players ready to step into expanded roles and make the defense one of the top in the country once again.
Defensive tackle: Other than wide receiver, defensive tackle is the biggest question mark for the Seminoles as they prepare for the 2014 season. All-American nose tackle Timmy Jernigan elected to forgo his senior season at FSU and declare for the NFL draft and top reserves, Jacobbi McDaniel and Demonte McAllister, graduated. The nose tackle is very important in FSU’s base 3-3 nickel defense because the ability to fill gaps in the center of the offensive line allows the linebackers to roam free and make plays. Florida State has a host of talented players at the position, but it remains to be seen whether any can fill the sizeable gap left by Jernigan. Redshirt-junior Nile Lawrence-Stample has taken the majority of the first-team reps at nose tackle throughout the spring. He also briefly filled in for Jernigan during the National Championship game after Jernigan left with an injury. Lawrence-Stample will miss the spring game though after having surgery on his shoulder. Junior Eddie Goldman, a former five-star recruit, has spent much of the spring working at defensive tackle after starting at defensive end last season. Goldman is a big physical lineman and the most naturally talented out of the tackles currently on the roster. Redshirt-freshman Keith Bryant, has received praise from Jimbo Fisher during the spring and defensive tackle coach Odell Haggins has been pushing Bryant to improve his technique. Rounding out the group are senior Desmond Hollin and redshirt-junior Giorgio Newberry. Hollin has spent time working on the edge in 3-3 sets, the same role Goldman played last season, and as the second tackle when the defense switches to a 4-3 scheme. Newberry spent last season as a tight end, but switched back to defense before the spring. He should provide depth, but his technique has a long way to go.
Defensive End: Both of last year’s starters at defensive end, Goldman and Mario Edwards Jr., are back for another season. As mentioned above Goldman has spent a lot of time working at tackle during the spring, but he has still taken most of the first-team reps at end in 3-3 sets. Edwards Jr. is one of the most physically talented players on the roster and is a favorite to have a breakout season in 2014. Defensive tackle Desmond Hollin has spent time working on the edge when Goldman moves inside and sophomore DeMarcus Walker has the potential to contribute after starting in three games last season.
Linebacker: From top to bottom linebacker may be the deepest position group on the team, even with the loss Telvin Smith and Christian Jones, two of last season’s starters. The lone hold over with experience as a starter is redshirt-junior Terrance Smith. He started at middle linebacker last season, but will switch to weak side in place of Telvin Smith. Junior Reggie Northrup took most of the reps at middle linebacker early in spring, but since missing a few days with an injury he has been relegated to the second team. Redshirt-sophomore Ukeme Eligwe has received a lot of praise from Fisher throughout spring practice before being sidelined with a foot injury. In his place sophomore Mathew Thomas has been working at middle linebacker. Converted defensive end Chris Casher has spent the majority of spring working in the hybrid strong-side linebacker/edge rusher position that Jones played last season. Redshirt-sophomore Ro’Derrick Hoskins has taken most of the second-team reps at the position. Sophomore E.J. Levenberry has the ability the ability to fill in at a variety of positions including behind Terrance Smith at the weak side spot.
Defensive back: The strength of Florida State’s defense is the secondary. The defensive backs made FSU the most dominant pass defense in the country last season. They lead the nation in both pass defense (156.6 yards per game) and interceptions (26). Even with the loss of key starters Terrence Brooks and Lamarcus Joyner the unit looks poised to be dominant once again. Juniors Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams make up one of the top cornerback tandems in the country. Both are true shutdown corners and have the ability to take the opponent’s top wide receiver completely out of the game. The rising star of the secondary is sophomore Jalen Ramsey. Last season he became the first true-freshman to start at corner since Deion Sanders. Ramsey then made the move to safety following an injury to Tyler Hunter. Hunter is back and ready to retake his starting role so Ramsey has made the switch back to corner where he will replace Joyner in the nickel back role. Hunter will be joined at safety by Nate Andrews who proved to be a diamond in the rough for FSU last season. Darby and Andrews missed most of the spring forcing the coaches to shuffle the line-up some, but it may just pay off in the long run with the creation of added depth. Nick Waisome took the corner reps in place of Darby, Tyrell Lyons, a converted linebacker, worked at safety in place of Andrews, and Lamarcus Brutus worked as the dime back in dime packages.
Coaches: For the second year in a row FSU will have to adapt to a new defensive coordinator. Jeremy Pruitt left for the same position at UGA. Fisher chose to replace Pruitt with an in-house candidate promoting linebacker coach Charles Kelly to coordinator. Kelly will also switch over to coaching the defensive backs. To replacing Kelly as linebackers coach, Fisher hired Bill Miller who served in the same position at Minnesota last season. Miller has also previously served as a defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, Miami, Michigan State, and Arizona State.