March 14, 2014
Who replaces Timmy Jernigan? That’s question No. 1 facing Florida State as the reigning national champions enter spring practices next week.
When Jernigan elected to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft (where he'll likely become a first-round selection May 8), FSU was left with a glaring hole in the heart of its defense.
The ‘Noles finished third nationally in defense a season ago in large part because of Jernigan’s efforts during a career season. The powerful defensive tackle could take on double teams and free teammates to make plays and on the rare occasions that he was in one-on-one battles, made short work of overmatched offensive guards and centers.
Without him, the Seminoles are missing a key ingredient in their defensive scheme. Without him, someone has to step up.
Eddie Goldman returns with the highest expectations among interior linemen. He’s big, he’s powerful, and he’s shown flashes of that five-star potential he brought with him to Tallahassee from Washington D.C. Now he has to take that proverbial next leap in his development.
The same is true for Nile Lawrence-Stample, who, like Goldman, has starting experience. Stample is built similarly to Jernigan with a shorter, powerful frame. He’ll be expected to utilize his strength like Jernigan did so well the past three years. The Seminoles also have highly touted youngster Keith Bryant, who is coming off a redshirt rookie year, and Derrick Mitchell and Justin Shanks — two players that, when healthy, have the chance to contribute meaningful snaps.
But perhaps the biggest wildcard in the depth-chart shakedown at defensive tackle this spring is Desmond Hollin.
The former junior-college standout played sparingly in his first year at FSU last season but has had a terrific off-season since the 34-31 victory over Auburn two months ago. Hollin was considered a defensive end prospect when he joined the ‘Noles but has increased his body size dramatically and physically looks able to handle the duties expected of an interior defensive lineman.
“I tell you what, Hollin has been off the charts,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Nile [Lawrence-Stample] has been really good and Eddie Goldman has been solid — needs to get in a little bit better shape but he’s been looking good. Desmond Hollin, he’s almost 290 pounds and he’s running better than he’s ever run. I expect him to have a great year. I’m extremely happy with his progress right now. Derrick Mitchell has done some nice things inside, but Desmond has jumped off the charts.”
On the outside, Mario Edwards, Jr. had a breakout sophomore campaign and this spring could be the jumping off point for special season. Edwards is considered one of the top run-stopping defensive ends in the nation and as his pass-rush ability becomes mre consistent, his national stock will only increase. Last year, he played 12 games and finished with 28 tackles, 9 1/2 tackles for loss, 3 1/2 sacks, an interception and two fumble recoveries.
Because FSU doesn’t boast much depth at defensive end this spring, Edwards is one of the most important players on the roster heading into spring practices.
While Edwards saw his game elevate in his second year of playing, a similar trajectory for Chris Casher and DeMarcus Walker would be a huge plus for the Seminoles. Both Casher and Walker played meaningful snaps at defensive end last year and will be in competition for a starting job in 2014.
With just three scholarship defensive ends on the roster right now, Edwards, Casher and Walker must perform at a high level. The competition at defensive end — like it did last year — could also potentially include linebackers Matthew Thomas, Ro’Derrick Hoskins and Ukeme Eligwe.
The versatility of all the FSU defensive linemen and those linebackers will allow the coaches to tinker with the roster and help mask some of the deficiencies in depth.
This summer, the ‘Noles add seven defensive linemen: defensive ends Rick Leonard and Lorenzo Featherston and defensive tackles Demarcus Christmas, Frerick Jones, Derrick Nnadi, Adam Torres and Arthur Williams.
2014 Seminoles.com Spring-Practice Preview Series: