March 18, 2010
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - No unit on the Florida State football team is facing a steeper learning curve over 15 days of spring practice than the defense, which will be completely different under new coordinator Mark Stoops.
The switch from a predominantly man coverage team for the past quarter century under Mickey Andrews, to one that will play zone as its base will test all the defensive position segments. There's a need to learn both new terminology, as well as new techniques.
And there's also the matter of some take-home work that is completely foreign to veteran Seminole defenders.
"Right now we're focusing on executing; learning the new defense," said rising junior linebacker Nigel Bradham. "We just want to execute every play...
"We've got a playbook to take home now. We didn't have a playbook in the past. The scheme is totally different, but it's exciting. It's set up where you can make a lot more big hits and stuff like that. We're really excited about it and we're going to hit it running."
That's a notion that excites Bradham, who closed the 2009 season as the team's leading tackler with 93 stops. And he's not alone.
FSU's defensive players came off the field at the conclusion of Thursday's practice seemingly giddy with the early results. While Bradham's eyes lit up at the possibility of unleashing his 241 pounds on ball carriers, defensive end Markus White - who is known for his boundless energy - excitedly talked about dropping into pass coverage.
"(Tuesday) was a hesitating day, in my opinion," said White. "I wasn't confused on what to do. I was just confused on how to do it. Today, it felt like it was more on emotion and I could do whatever I wanted to do. As long as I'm having fun with it, then my motor is going to run, and that's how it was today. There was a little less hesitation today and tomorrow there's going to be a little less."
Co-dependency is critical to improving a defensive unit that ranked as one of the most porous in the nation last season. That means everyone must work together - perhaps even more so in the new scheme - to be most effective.
Rising sophomore defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel has already seen evidence that the coaches are emphasizing working side by side, especially up front.
"Last season there was very minimum work with defensive ends and defensive tackles together," said McDaniel, the leader in tackles among interior defensive linemen. "Now, we're working together. We're getting off the ball together, we're running plays together. Everybody is on the same page and that's a good thing."
The same is true in the secondary, where the bulk of the players are of the first- or second-year variety. Veteran cornerback Dionte Allen, with one career start under his belt, suddenly finds himself in a leadership role along with a couple of teammates, all of whom are trying to get a grasp on Stoops' coverage schemes. Allen said Stoops has shown great patience with his new charges after two days of practice, but he's anxious to step up and assert himself.
"(Ochuko) Jenije, Terrance (Parks) and me - we're the oldest - we've got to represent and lead by example," said Allen. "I look at it like I'm a senior instead of a redshirt junior. We've got new coaches now, so we're starting over. ...
"I think (the scheme) is a little better now because we're able to read (the receivers). Our position is already hard because we've got to come up and stop the run and defend the bomb. That's the number one thing he's been emphasizing to me and all the corners, to read (the receivers)."