Jan. 15, 2014
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State has some big shoes to fill on the defensive side of the ball — both on the field and on the coaching staff.
Tuesday’s news that defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt had accepted the same position at Georgia means that FSU coach Jimbo Fisher has to do more than just replace key players like Telvin Smith, Christian Jones, Terrence Brooks, Lamarcus Joyner and Timmy Jernigan. He also has to figure out how to rework his staff with a vacancy now at both coordinator and defensive backs coach.
Fisher showed a year ago that his eye for talent extends to the coaching ranks when he plucked Pruitt from Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama. Thirteen months later, Pruitt was the hottest assistant coach in the country having just guided the nation’s best defense to a championship.
Without Pruitt, Fisher will have to decide now whether to promote from within — defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri and linebackers coach/special teams coordinator Charles Kelly both have defensive coordinator experience — or hire someone new. Fisher has said in the past he prefers his defensive coordinators to have experience coaching the secondary and both of his previous hires for the position have reflected that: first Mark Stoops and then Pruitt.
Either way, there will be at least one new defensive coach on the staff when spring practices kick off in March.
While we won’t know for some time who that hire is, we do know what players will step in and replace a group of star seniors and one standout junior in Jernigan. Let’s take a look:
Analysis: Replacing Pruitt is obviously item No. 1 on Fisher’s off-season to-do list but finding someone to step in for Jernigan is undoubtedly “1b.” Jernigan made the FSU defense go in 2013, whether he was eating up blocks to free up his teammates to make plays or destroying offensive linemen in one-on-one battles and making his mark in the backfield.
Simply stated: Jernigan was a monster and his decision to forgo his final year of eligibility in favor of the NFL Draft leaves FSU dangerously thin on the interior. The pressure is now on Goldman, Lawrence-Stample, Mitchell, Shanks, Hollin and Bryant to take the next step in their respective careers.
On the ends, Edwards’ return is huge as he has turned himself into a consistently dominant player. Linebacker Christian Jones had moved into a pass-rusher role in his final year so Casher or Walker could be in line for even more snaps in their second years.
Analysis: Jones’ and Telvin Smith’s exit to the NFL leaves vast playmaking and leadership voids on the FSU defense and rising veterans like Terrance Smith and Northrup will be asked to be team leaders in 2014.
Terrance Smith’s development into an every-down ‘backer keeps some continuity at this position but new starters will have to emerge. Jones’ role as a pass rusher could be filled by either of the afore mentioned defensive ends but Eligwe and Thomas have both shown the ability to get into backfield.
Levenberry is a nice young player that has the potential to be a star, too.
Ro’Derrick Hoskins will get his chance after redshirting.
Losing proven players always hurts, but stellar recruiting has left the cupboard stocked full of talent at the linebacker position with various pieces that can be moved around to find the best rotation.
Analysis: You want to talk about a loaded depth chart? Goodness. Joyner and Brooks are two more sure-fire NFL players that are no longer on the team but FSU has more than a few capable players ready and waiting in the wings for their respective moments.
Joyner starred as the team’s nickel cornerback in 2013 and that role could be filled by a variety of players. Does Hunter, who had neck surgery last season but is expected to make his healthy return in 2014, move from safety back into that spot where he played in 2012? Could Darby or Williams slide over, which would allow Ramsey to move back to cornerback full time? Lots of questions but all of the answers are good ones.
Andrews’ emergence as a rookie has him firmly in line for a starting role in the back end of the secondary and the Seminoles also boast veterans in Brutus, Keelin Smith and Waisome that could earn bigger roles.
Whoever Fisher decides to let be in charge of the defensive backs will surely enjoy the weapons at his disposal.