March 11, 2014
Florida State was really, really good in the backend of its defense a season ago as the ‘Noles cornerbacks and safeties registered 17 of the team's nation's-best 26 interceptions.
Despite the losses of star players Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks to graduation, the Seminoles should begin spring practices next week without much drop-off in talent in the defensive secondary. Joyner and Brooks will certainly be missed because of their elite ability and experience, but Florida State benefits from continued recruiting success as they revamp the roster.
Without Joyner, new defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach Charles Kelly has to find a trustworthy and playmaking nickel back this spring. Joyner excelled in that role a year ago, making plays behind the line of scrimmage as a blitzer, at the line in run support and in coverage guarding receivers.
Luckily, there are several candidates that could fit into that role.
Before making the move to safety and starting alongside Brooks at the start of the 2013 season, Tyler Hunter played nickel back and could potentially make the switch back to that position. Hunter played 2 1/2 games last year before sustaining a season-ending neck injury that put his career in jeopardy. His recovery has gone remarkably well after surgery, though, and FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said last week at 4th Quarter Drills that Hunter "hasn't missed a beat" since returning.
Without Hunter in the lineup lastyear, true freshman Jalen Ramsey, who became the first true freshman to start at cornerback since Deion Sanders, transitioned into a starting safety role and excelled next to Brooks. Could Ramsey make his way back to cornerback, thus allowing Kelly to shuffle his personnel at that position to find the best three guys? Maybe so.
Speaking of true freshman, Nate Andrews had a breakout season as a three-star, underrated rookie. Like Ramsey, Andrews played in all 14 games last year and he could line up safety or at nickel because of his playing style and ability.
Options are certainly aplenty when it comes to finding the right personnel.
Without Brooks, the trio of Ramsey, Hunter and Andrews will be in the mix for starting honors but Keelin Smith has a long frame and good experience. Tyrell Lyons is coming off a redshirt season his rookie year and Colin Blake and Lamarcus Brutus will also push for playing time at that spot.
The Seminoles also added highly-touted early enrollee Trey Marshall, who has been impressing coaches and teammates since he came to Tallahassee in January.
At cornerback, FSU boasts perhaps college football’s best one-two punch at the position. Juniors P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby are legitimate stars and both will be popular names in 2015 mock NFL drafts. With Williams and Darby locked into two starting spots, Kelly, who has made the move from coaching the ’Noles’ linebackers, has the luxury of fitting the best pieces around two trustworthy defenders.
Rising senior Nick Waisome also provides three years of experience — including a sophomore season in 2012 that saw him serve as a full-time starter. Marquez White showed playmaking flashes as true freshman in 2013 as well.
How the depth chart in the secondary shakes out will be one of the most important story lines of spring ball. With FSU only adding one freshman prospect to the roster this summer, the lineup among cornerbacks and safeties for the April 12 spring game could very well be the same lineup for the opener against Oklahoma State later this year.
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