Jan. 18, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Technically there's not much room for improvement as far as end-of-season statistical rankings go when you finish fourth in the entire nation in a specific category.
But for a Florida State football team that accomplished such a feat in total defense in 2011, there's a sense that defensive coordinator Mark Stoops' squad can be a whole lot better moving forward.
How much better depends a lot on how well the 'Noles can replace a trio of starters lost to graduation. Linebacker Nigel Bradham, safety Terrance Parks and cornerback Mike Harris each are no longer part of the program as they prepare for their professional football careers.
Despite the losses of the team's leading tackler the last three seasons in Bradham, the mistake-free play of Harris and the savvy veteran leadership of Parks, the amount of quality defensive players returning for the 'Noles in 2012 should counteract that trio's absence.
But adding quality depth is still important.
FSU will infuse the returning players with a batch of highly-regarded newcomers this summer when the 2012 signing class joins the mix. 'Noles head coach Jimbo Fisher will officially unveil his program's new defensive weapons on Feb. 1 at the Jimbo Fisher National Signing Day Party at the Tallahassee Antique Car Museum.
Until then, let's take a look at each positional unit on FSU's defense and make an educated guess at how many newcomers the team may add come National Signing Day.
The Southeastern Conference has won six consecutive national championships for good reason. The elite teams in the SEC are known for possessing the ability to rush the passer with big, athletic players on the defensive line.
The state of Alabama has owned the college football world the past three seasons primarily because of that trait. Three seasons ago, Alabama won the national championship because of a ferocious defense paced by its front four and the Crimson Tide followed that same blueprint this season en route to a Bayou beatdown of LSU in New Orleans, La. A year earlier, Cam Newton carried Auburn to the title game and then defensive tackle Nick Fairley and his teammates on the defensive line sparked the Tigers' win over Oregon for the national title.
Fisher has made it no secret that he wants his FSU football team to fit that same mold. And entering his third spring as the head coach in Tallahassee, it sure looks like the Seminoles are moving in that direction.
Brandon Jenkins is the star of the defensive line and the news earlier this month that he will return for his senior season bodes well for the Seminoles' pass-rush hopes. He and Bjoern Werner will continue the anchor the defensive end spots this coming season with Cornelius Carradine probably getting even more minutes than he did this past season -- his first in Tallahassee after coming to FSU from the junior college ranks.
With Jenkins, Werner and Carradine as the top three at their position on the roster, Dan Hicks is the lone returner at defensive end that played frequently in 2011. Toshmon Stevens didn't figure into the rotation but instead found his role as a special-teams nightmare for opposing kick returners.
Despite the fact that Giorgio Newberry will be added to the rotation next year after he redshirted as a true freshman, FSU needs to load up on quality defensive ends in this signing class -- not just for added depth this season but to maintain the strong level of play in 2013. Jenkins and Carradine will both be gone at season's end as their eligibility gets exhausted and Werner will likely have the opportunity to be a high draft pick as an early-entrant with another big year.
Like the defensive ends, FSU has the luxury of returning all of its defensive tackles in 2012 -- including budding star Timmy Jernigan, who captured freshman All-American honors in his first season with the 'Noles.
Jernigan became a household name as a rookie by making the most of his opportunities when it was his turn to bat in the rotation. Fellow freshman Cameron Erving also made the most of his first-year opportunities and will be relied upon even more in his redshirt sophomore year.
After losing him to a season-ending ankle injury against Duke, Jacobbi McDaniel is currently undergoing rehab and could possibly be back in time for the spring. He is one of four defensive tackles -- including Anthony McCloud, Moses McCray and Everett Dawkins -- that will be seniors in 2012.
Considering that Nile Lawrence-Stample and Derrick Mitchell will shed the redshirts they wore as freshmen last year and rising juniors Darious Cummings and Demonte McAllister both return, FSU has tremendous depth along the interior.
But again, adding depth for the future is key.
Losing Bradham hurts because of the yearly production that is lost (he was the first player to lead the Seminoles in tackles in three consecutive seasons since the great Marvin Jones) but Florida State has some talented guys that should help ease the transition.
Telvin Smith provided a nice one-two punch at middle linebacker last season along with Vince Wiliams but Smith could still prove to be an option at the outside linebacker spot vacated by Bradham. Ideally, Jeff Luc will take the next step in his development and take over for Bradham after he backed him up last season.
In addition to Luc, Williams and Smith, FSU also returns its starter at weakside linebacker, Christian Jones. Youngsters Terrance Smith and Nigel Terrell also factor into the rotation as well for the new season. The same is true for Holmes Onwukaife if he is healthy.
Because FSU lost Arrington Jenkins, the overall depth isn't quite what it was expected to be by this time of year at the start of the 2011 season. Because FSU isn't overly deep at linebacker, brining in "impact-now" types of players is important. A freshman linebacker on next year's 'Noles team may be asked to step in and play right away -- whether that's in the linebacker rotation or on special teams.
Because Stoops likes to cross-train his defensive backs, its appropriate to lump the safeties and cornerbacks together when looking at what Florida State needs to add to its defensive backfield.
Young guys like Keelin Smith, Lamarcus Brutus and Tyler Hunter could all line up at any spot in the secondary and rising junior Terrence Brooks could potentially be a starter at safety in place of Parks this season or could even fill the nickleback role left by Harris. Even the group's most consistent -- and perhaps most talented -- player, Lamarcus Joyner, can play either safety or cornerback so some depth concerns are masked because of that versatility.
Nick Moody, Brooks and Karlos Williams will all be competing for starting honors at safety alongside Joyner, although there have been rumors circulating on the Internet that Williams could be a potential candidate for a switch to the offensive side of the ball.
It will be the final year for Reid and Moody and perhaps Rhodes and Joyner will be able to leave for the NFL if they choose to do so in early 2013.
*Stay tuned for a look at the offense before national signing day. On Feb. 1, be sure to stick with Seminoles.com as we provide real-time updates on Florida State's 2012 recruiting class as each member's National Letter of Intent (LOI) reaches the FSU compliance offices.
Throughout the day, we'll have live interviews, a live web show, highlights of the new 'Noles and much more.