March 10, 2014
No position on Florida State’s spring roster will feel the effects of personnel loss more than the linebacker corps.
Without Telvin Smith and Christian Jones, the Seminoles have a noticeable void in vocal leadership and playmaking ability (Smith) and four seasons of steady playing-time experience (Jones). Smith and Jones were versatile, athletic, understood the defense and could be counted on in any situation.
Without them, rising redshirt junior Terrance Smith is the most experienced ‘backer on the roster.
“To be a veteran this year it’s a new role for me,” Terrance Smith said. “And I just had to step into it myself and get my confidence right so I can lead the defense and make all the calls and do everything that Telvin Smith did so we can have a vocal leader on this defense this year.
“[I learned] from Telvin Smith and Christian Jones, watching them last year, seeing how they were able to motivate guys and lead guys and get us to do what we had to do to get where we were going that helped me out a lot.”
When Jones transitioned into a defensive-end role early in the 2013 season, Terrance Smith saw his opportunities dramatically increase as he moved into a starter’s spot alongside Telvin Smith in FSU’s two-linebacker defensive formations.
He’ll utilize that experience — and the team fourth-best 59 total tackles he registered as a result — to help ease the transition of a new era at linebacker for the ‘Noles. Not only is Florida State replacing two key veterans, it has a new coach.
With Jeremy Pruitt’s defection to Georgia and Charles Kelly’s move from FSU’s linebackers coach to defensive coordinator/secondary coach, Jimbo Fisher hired veteran assistant Bill Miller, who has 36 years of experience. Most recently the linebackers coach at Minnesota, Miller has been on the staffs at both Florida and Miami and has worked previously with Fisher mentor Nick Saban and current FSU defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri at Michigan State.
“Bill Miller has been a great addition and he fits right in and he knows everything about the whole system,” Fisher said. “How we do things and is a tremendous recruiter and has a reputation for recruiting this state.”
Miller’s experience within the defensive framework put in place by Fisher last spring and guided by Pruitt bodes well for the Seminoles’ ability to maintain its dominance defensively as reigning national champions.
Despite the loss of Pruitt, the defense won’t lose its identity as an opportunistic, punishing group of 11 that pressures the backfield and makes game-changing plays at the second and third levels.
“Nothing has changed too much as far as our defense and our scheme and the way we call things,” Terrance Smith said. “It’s been a pretty smooth transition overall.”
Including Terrance Smith, Miller has an exciting group of linebackers to teach.
Rising junior Reggie Northrup notched 46 tackles while playing in all 14 games a season ago. Ukeme Eligwe played in 13 games as a redshirt freshman and registered 28 tackles and two sacks. Rookie E.J. Levenberry added 39 tackles and a memorable pick-six that helped FSU set the school record for total points scored in a single game.
Matthew Thomas played in four games before sustaining a season-ending shoulder injury and fellow freshman Ro’Derrick Hoskins redshirted. Both have bulked up considerably since arriving on campus last summer.
“This offseason they’ve just been working on getting bigger, stronger, and faster and they’ve really been dedicated to the program,” Terrance Smith said.
Like last year, Eligwe, Thomas and Hoskins could also be considered factors in the competition at defensive end because of their size and pass-rush ability. With starting spots open at linebacker and the possibility that some of these 'backers could pay with their hands in the dirt, competition will be fierce at multiple spots in the lineup when practices kick off March 19.
Florida State added one player to the spring roster in four-star early enrollee Kain Daub. But Fisher announced at the conclusion of 4th Quarter Drills that Daub is not eligible for spring practices due to an NCAA Clearinghouse issue that is out of Daub’s control.
Daub is expect to join be eligible for competition in the near future.
2014 Seminoles.com Spring-Practice Preview Series: