Jan. 18, 2013
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Bjoern Werner, Brandon Jenkins, Everett Dawkins, Cornellius Carradine, Xavier Rhodes and even Mark Stoops and D.J. Eliot. All familiar names across the college football world, all no longer at Florida State.
On the heels of another dominating fall, the FSU defense is going to look a lot different entering the 2013 season and the revamping of one of the country's best units statistically the last few years continues on signing day.
New defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's first recruiting class in Tallahassee is one he hopes looks a lot like the ones he, Nick Saban, Kriby Smart and the Alabama coaching staff consistently ink each February and it all starts with adding depth to a depleted depth chart. In addition to the afore mentioned names, the Seminoles also lose Vince Williams, Anthony McCloud, Toshmon Stevens and Nick Moody to graduation. Linebackers coach Greg Hudson is also gone.
But it's not all doom and gloom as far as losses go for Pruitt and new defensive assistants Sal Sunseri (defensive ends) and Charles Kelly (linebackers and special teams). Star juniors Lamarcus Joyner and Christian Jones flirted with entering the NFL Draft a year early before ultimately electing to return for one more go-around in a garnet and gold uniform.
Timmy Jernigan, Mario Edwards, Jr., Demonte McAllister, Telvin Smith, Karlos Williams, Ronald Darby, Nick Waisome and Terrence Brooks, among many capable others, are all back for a defensive cupboard that is far from bare. But they need help and, most importantly, depth behind them.
Let's take a look at what FSU needs on all three levels of the defense from defensive line to the linebackers and then the secondary in preparation for National Signing Day 2013 on Feb. 6.
One of the main reasons why Florida State has been so good defensively the last few years is certainly coaching, successful recruiting and development of players. And just as important as each of those reasons has been the play of the defensive line.
FSU's ability, size and strength at the point of attack on defense helps set the tone for everything else that the Seminoles do on that side of the football. The relentless pressure and run-stuffing ability makes everyone's job that much easier each Saturday. But without Jenkins, Werner, Carradine, McCloud and Dawkins in 2013, things could be a bit more difficult.
A season after the Seminoles didn't lose a single player to early entrance to the draft or through graduation, losing four players at defensive end alone means depth will be a real issue. Edwards, Jr. showed flashes of why he was the nation's top recruit last year after he replaced the injured Carradine as a starter after the Florida game and is expected to maintain that role in his sophomore campaign. Giorgio Newberry's repetitions were limited because of the talent ahead of him on the depth chart but he enters his redshirt sophomore season with the chance to earn a starting nod, too.
But beyond those two there is no experience returning. Chris Casher is the only other scholarship player on the roster at defensive end from 2012 and he is coming off a medical redshirt in his first season at FSU.
With so few returnees at the position, FSU will try to stock up on quality pass rushers by the time the ink dries on signing day. The 'Noles have already accomplished part of that task by securing the services of early enrollee defensive end DeMarcus Walker. The consensus four-star prospect from Jacksonville stunned the recruiting world when he switched his commitment from Alabama to FSU on the same night the Crimson Tide capture the national title earlier this month. His enrollment at FSU was officially announced Friday morning.
Walker's addition gives the Seminoles a much needed fourth defensive end for spring practice but adding at least two more - perhaps even three would be ideal -- is critical come Feb. 6.
At defensive tackle, the losses of Dawkins and McCloud sting but they don't deplete the depth chart quite as dramatically as those losses at defensive end.
Jernigan returns with the opportunity for a breakout season as a full-time starter and McAllister has improved in each of his three seasons of play at FSU. The 'Noles also boast rising sophomores Eddie Goldman and Nile Lawrence-Stample that should see their respective roles increase greatly this coming season. Highly-touted run-stopper Justin Shanks is healthy and has his weight under control after a redshirt in his first year and Derrick Mitchell is expected to return after a back injury cost him all of last season.
And then there's Jacobbi McDaniel. The former five-star recruit and veteran leader for the Seminoles will make his triumphant return as a redshirt senior after missing all of last season while rehabilitating the ankle injury he sustained at Duke in 2011.
With seven returners at the position, defensive tackle isn't a huge position of need this recruiting cycle but adding at least one or two more bodies to the rotation would bolster depth and help ease the losses of McAllister and McDaniel to graduation at the end of the year.
One of the most important recruiting efforts that Fisher and his staff conducted this off-season wasn't for a high school or junior-college player but for a current Seminole.
Having Jones return was of the utmost importance for a defense that very nearly lost all three of its starters as well as its coach at the linebacker position.
Jones' return and the implementation of Kelly's philosophy and teaching helps make the losses of long-time players Vince Williams and Moody easier. Now it's time to determine the third starter as Smith slides into a full-time No. 1 role and the roles of the reserve players.
Karlos Williams could be a factor in this discussion as he moved from safety to linebacker for the ACC Championship game and had perhaps his best game as a Seminole. If he makes that position change he'd have competition from rising sophomore Reggie Northrup, reshirt sophomore Terrance Smith, redshirt junior Nigel Terrell and redshirt freshman Ukeme Eligwe.
Depth-wise, FSU would probably like to add at least three more linebackers to avoid having just two scholarship players at the two outside spots and in the middle. Early enrollee Freddie Stevenson gets FSU one-third of the way there but signing a couple more to join Kelly's crew would give the 'Noles good depth and increase the competition come fall camp in August.
Pruitt's reputation as a top-notch defensive backs coach and ace recruiter makes the Seminoles' efforts at the cornerback and safety positions leading into signing day much more interesting. After recently helping players like Mark Barron, Dre' Kirkpatrick, DeQuan Menzie (and soon Dee Milliner) earn NFL contracts while he was at Alabama, Pruitt has a lot to offer prospects considering FSU.
Pruitt is faced with replacing Rhodes, who effectively shut down one side of the field during his time at Florida State because opposing quarterbacks chose not to test him too often. Nick Waisome's breakout season as a first-time starter makes things easier for Pruitt in his first season and he also has potential superstar Ronald Darby, who should step in and replace Rhodes. Tyler Hunter is also a nice piece of the puzzle at cornerback after he became virtually an every-down players as FSU's nickel back in Stoops scheme last season. Hunter is also a contributor at safety.
Beyond those three players, however, are some question marks -- not because of lack of talent but rather lack of experience. P.J. Williams played quite a bit on special teams as a true freshman last season and could see an expanded role in year No. 2. Keelin Smith could could earn more playing time, too, and Colin Blake is coming off a redshirt.
At safety, Joyner's return is undoubtedly huge and he'll combine with Brooks to give the 'Noles continuity at safety. How will Karlos Williams factor in to that discussion with a new coach will be something to watch as well. Gerald Demps and Justin Bright are veterans behind them on the depth chart and Lamarcus Brutus will be a redshirt sophomore.
Signing three or four prospects would likely help FSU's depth in the defensive backfieldy, especially moving forward with Joyner and Brooks set to graduate.
*Final numbers at each position will ultimately be decided by Fisher and his staff so these figures are not set in stone but rather educated guesses on what would help FSU fill its roster. Stay tuned for a preview of the signing day offensive needs next week and be sure to get your tickets now to the Jimbo Fisher National Signing Day Party Feb. 6 at the Tallahassee Antique Car Museum.
On signing day, make sure to check Seminoles.com frequently for confirmation of each signed National Letter of Intent as soon as each prospect is cleared by the FSU compliance staff, release of official biographies for the new 'Noles, instant analysis on each signing, video highlights and much more.