Florida State Seminoles: Florida State

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jimbo Fisher likes to poke fun at the media, but it’s clear the Florida State coach has an affinity for prose and an artfully crafted metaphor. He’s likened to special teams to debt, reading defenses to driving and, most recently, team dynamics to the sociology of a family.

Maybe he isn’t channeling William Shakespeare, but Fisher got his point across when asked what he’s learned about his 2014 team so far, which has yet to emerge out of the shadow of the 2013 team that spent a January night making confetti angels on the Rose Bowl turf.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Rob Kinnan/USA TODAY SportsJimbo Fisher doesn't quite have the pulse of his team on lockdown quite yet but is encouraged by its fighting spirit in its 4-0 start.
“How many people in here have kids, raise your hand,” said Fisher, short a chalkboard and yard stick after passing on the lectern. “You have that first kid and you’ve got [parenting] down. Well, here’s the second one, it’s going to be just like [the first kid]. Errr wrong.”

OK, land this plane, Jimbo.

“It’s similar to that. You train it the same, I’m doing the same things I did with No. 1 but the results aren’t the same. [The second] doesn’t think or do the same. That’s kind of how a team is. A lot of coaching and success comes from judging the personality of the team and getting to know it. You don’t just get it and plug it in.”

Translation: Fisher is not entirely sure what he is coaching yet, but he knows this isn’t the 2013 team. It isn’t a slight to the current group either. That’s Fisher’s roundabout way of saying even he’s still sizing up his team entering Week 6.

The good news is the Seminoles remain undefeated even if their three FBS wins have come by an average of nine points. That’s far fewer than the average of victory of the other three teams to receive a first-place vote in the AP poll and more than 20 points fewer than their own margin of victory through the first three FBS games of 2013.

Through preseason camp, the fifth-year Seminoles coach harped on finding an identity for his team. He felt he had a finger on the pulse of his team, but top-ranked FSU has been a mixed bag through four games. This isn’t the balanced offense it was last season. This isn’t the top five defense that has been a Tallahassee tradition under Fisher. It’s not a team built on forcing turnovers while limiting its own.

What the heck is the 2014 Florida State team? Better yet, who are they?

“Great competitors [who] don’t flinch,” Fisher said, “but I think it’s evolving offensively and defensively to how we can play.”

The Seminoles deserve the credit for winning close games in which they were tested late in fourth quarters, which did not happen at all during the 2013 calendar year. But they’re walking a tightrope over shark-infested waters. Maybe it is more like mutated, ill-tempered sea bass with the nature of the remaining schedule, but the point still stands: An identity will have to crystallize over the final two months.

Right now, the Seminoles' identity is a team relying on an elite passing attack buttressed by arguably college football’s top quarterback and receiver. Maybe that will be its identity all season, and it very well might be good enough to repeat as national champion, but history suggests either a complementary rushing attack or defense will need to materialize.

Fisher isn’t worried yet, though, and that’s the benefit of gutting out wins even when a team is not playing up to potential. It’s equally frustrating and promising, Fisher said. The confidence in Florida State from pollsters, the Football Power Index, and Las Vegas has waned each week, but Fisher realizes only under the wildest scenario would an undefeated Florida State be left out of the four-team College Football Playoff. So he is keeping weekly stock reports of his team instead and, despite outside doubts, he contends FSU’s arrow is trending up. The Seminoles did in fact have a 100-yard rusher and a defense that allowed only 123 yards in the second half Saturday.

“I don’t worry. You take how it goes and play well enough to beat your opponent and you want to see it gradually going in that direction, and, as crazy as it sounds, I do,” he said. “We’ve improved tremendously from that opening game. I start to see it in my mind.”
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- NC State is third in the ACC in scoring offense, and Florida State doesn't own either of the spots ahead of the Wolfpack. That doesn't mean anyone is taking NC State's offense over Florida State's, but the Seminoles will need to score more points than previously thought before the season started.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Don Juan Moore/Getty ImagesAfter sitting out against Clemson, QB Jameis Winston returned to practice Monday, in preparation for the Seminoles' game at NC State on Saturday.
The offense has not hit on all cylinders yet, although a true Jameis Winston-led offense has only been seen against Oklahoma State in the opener. Winston was suspended from Saturday's game and did not take first-team practice reps the second half of last week. It showed in practice Monday.

"It's definitely a difference from not playing in a game and going [between] different quarterbacks," senior receiver Rashad Greene said. "We definitely have to get our timing back and it's already back, but Monday was a little off. It shows you if you miss a little time it makes a difference."

Fisher said Winston is leading the No. 1 Seminoles in the same fashion as he always has despite the suspension, which was handed down a week ago. The fifth-year coach did say Winston was a little more "appreciative of how quickly things can go away."

Senior running back Karlos Williams said Winston still has the respect of the Seminoles' locker room. Williams called the reigning Heisman Trophy winner Florida State's "emotional leader."

"The way Jameis loves the game is unlike a lot of people. He's going to be vocal, he's going to talk, he's going to express himself and he's going to show emotion," Williams said. "You can tell it hurt him down to the core of his soul because he could not play … but the way he responded to it brought attention to me like 'this guy really cares about this team and it's not just about Jameis Winston but Florida State as a whole.'"

The passing offense's production comes down to more than just Winston's re-emergence as the starting quarterback and one of the country's elite players. The offensive line was suspect in run and pass blocking against a talented Clemson front four. Left tackle Cam Erving was seen once again working at center with right tackle Bobby Hart sliding to the left side. Chad Mavety, a former junior college lineman, was playing right tackle.

Fisher said after practice he still plans to use the same starting five offensive linemen he has all season with Austin Barron orchestrating the calls at center. If the same starting lineup trots out against NC State, there is the potential Fisher could mix things up during the game if the offensive line, which consists of five seniors, once again isn't playing up to the level it showcased in 2013.

The Seminoles are still waiting on the emergence of a No. 2 receiver opposite Greene, who is fourth in the country in receiving yards per game. Christian Green is the other starting outside receiver, but Fisher said true freshmen Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph saw increased snaps in practice Tuesday.

"We need the legs and to bring them along," Fisher said. "We have to get more bodies. I'm very happy with the day they had."

Greene, who ESPN Insider KC Joyner recently ranked as college football's top receiver, said the onus is on him to develop a secondary receiving threat to open up the offense.

"As a whole we're not at our best but we're definitely coming along. I'm in charge of that and I'm doing my best to get everybody on the same page and the mindset of how to work," Greene said. "That's the first thing I have to do is show them and teach them how to work."
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It was the first question Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher was asked after the game. He greeted it with a face worn and weathered, insight into a stressful week. His joy during a five-minute opening statement was tempered, drained from a volatile week of fluctuating punishments and constant character-questioning columns.

[+] EnlargeSean Maguire
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesWith a strong team effort, Sean Maguire and Florida State showed they're still No. 1 until somebody beats them.
Minutes earlier the fifth-year championship coach, in a rare moment of vulnerability, wept in front of his team, besieged with emotion while expressing the pride he felt watching FSU pull off what seemed unimaginable minutes earlier -- a win against ACC rival and No. 22 Clemson in overtime.

"Do you think Florida State should remain No. 1 after this performance?" the reporter asked.

It was a superfluous detail in a game with layers of juicy plotlines that easily filled the four-hour telecast. And frankly, Fisher's answer can be tossed into the circular file with the rest of the minutiae from Saturday's game, which includes every page of team statistics and numbers with the exception of the final score.

Florida State won. It did it without its best player, Jameis Winston, for the entire game, and arguably its second-best player, Mario Edwards Jr., for the final half.

The Seminoles were tested this weekend, but the grades from the coaches and AP pollsters don't matter. We learned more about them Saturday than what any poll with waning belief in the reigning national champions could ever indicate.

"We challenged our guys to find out who we are," an emotional Fisher said. "We're not where we want to be, but we do know who we are."

The Seminoles know they're a group with the fundamental resolve required to earn one of the four College Football Playoff bids. On Saturday, they looked like a pumpkin instead of the horse-drawn carriage driven by a Heisman winner, but this is the fall season, the time when carved, misshapen pumpkins are celebrated.

The team was distracted. After the game, Fisher and his players copped to falling victim to the unavoidable lapses in focus that accompany a suspension (and a second one) to the star player for standing on a table in the busiest intersection of campus and unloading an obscene and profane outburst.

The backup quarterback completed six passes in the first half. Yet in the fourth quarter, he unleashed a 74-yard pass to the tie the score. Hero might be a strong word to frame Sean Maguire's performance, but only in the sense that the word is incessantly used to overstate the contributions of a player in a glorified game. Considering the pressures dropped onto Maguire's shoulders days before potentially the biggest game of FSU's season, he exceeded expectations.

The defense that has been under fire for mediocre early returns and already deemed unfit to succeed 2013's No. 1 national unit allowed 249 first-half yards. Yet in the second half, they lined up inches from national irrelevance only to hold Clemson out of the end zone and scoreless on that drive. When the Tigers tested the defensive line on fourth-and-inches in overtime, the maligned unit disrupted the play in the backfield. The only reason they were in overtime was because defensive tackle Eddie Goldman stripped C.J. Davidson of the ball as the Tigers bled the clock before setting up for a game-winning score.

The running backs had 38 yards in regulation. Yet in overtime, Karlos Williams ran the final 25 yards to ignite the celebration.

The punter, who has received the harshest criticism from fans, had his first kick go 37 yards; that was a half yard longer than his season average entering Saturday. Yet over his final seven punts, Cason Beatty pinned four of them inside Clemson's 20-yard line.

This wasn't a rag-tag group of players -- the Seminoles have possibly the country's most talented roster -- but it was a rag-tag performance driven by star efforts rather than star ratings. Certainly Clemson punctuated its #Clemsoning trademark with a comedy of errors, but they were often forced by Florida State. Two goal-line tackles before the bad snap. Davidson didn't just drop the ball. Adam Choice didn't trip on the 16-yard line and fall inches short of the first-down marker.

Before the game, we wondered if the top-ranked Seminoles, which looked beatable in their first two games, were a suitable No. 1 or a product of the country's best player calling the shots under center and rising to the situation weekly.

But it was the definition of a team win, and a gutty one at that. It was something we did not see at all during the regular season from the Seminoles last year, if only because they rewrote the handbook on dominance. It might be the prettiest Florida State win over the last two seasons considering the pregame Winston malady.

Maybe Florida State didn't look like the No. 1 team Saturday. But they looked like a championship-caliber team, and an undefeated one at that, which means they can still lay claim to the No. 1 ranking.

"We ain't lost in 19 straight games," Fisher said, answering the reporter's question. "We're No. 1 until somebody beats us."

Suspension matures FSU WR Jesus Wilson

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jesus Wilson boarded the plane for Dallas with an unsettling feeling. His pads, cleats and gloves were coming with him, mockingly almost. He knew there was little chance he would get the opportunity to knock off the out-of-the-box shine.

[+] EnlargeJesus Wilson
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsReceiver Jesus Wilson says he's ready to make an impact in Florida State's home game against Clemson on Saturday.
A potential starting receiver entering the summer, the sophomore was going to be on the sideline and dressed for No. 1 Florida State's opener, but he wasn't going to play, his suspicions confirmed upon arrival to AT&T Stadium. Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher told him his indefinite suspension in the aftermath of a scooter theft would end the same time as Florida State's first game.

"I had an idea," Wilson said. "I knew there was going to be some consequences."

Wilson was initially charged with a felony in July for stealing another student's motorized scooter, at which time resulted in a mandatory suspension from games. He was able to remain with the team and practice, and Wilson said he never felt support from teammates or Fisher waver as the legal process ran its course. Wilson pleaded down to two misdemeanors days before fall camp started.

"It's been kind of hard but my family and coaches and team, they always supported me and stood by my side through the whole situation. I had to grow up and be a man and learn what's right and wrong," Wilson said. "...Coach loves us. He treats us like his kids. He understood what I did was wrong but said I had to make smarter decisions in the future and learn from that and become a man."

His teammates and coaching staff needed him, though, and that was evident against Oklahoma State. Without a true No. 2 receiving threat, the hope at Florida State is Wilson will alleviate the pressure on Rashad Greene, who after recording 11 catches in Week 1, voiced his opinion that the Seminoles need to balance out the passing attack.

There were signs the offensive distribution was stabilizing Week 2 against The Citadel upon Wilson's return, and Wilson caught a touchdown against the Bulldogs. With the top-ranked Seminoles' game against No. 22 Clemson this week, Wilson will play a pivotal part in the passing game.

As Wilson watched film this week, he saw a lot of man coverage principles from Clemson, which owns the conference's No. 1 pass defense, and the undersized receiver feels that plays into his strengths -- speed and route running.

"I'm looking forward to it," Wilson said. "I'm ready. It's my first time playing in a big game like this."

Throughout the offseason, Wilson has received praise from quarterback Jameis Winston as a young player with the ability to replace the production lost from the departures of Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw. Although Wilson stands only 5-foot-9, Winston said Wilson is capable of turning any route into a long touchdown.

Fisher expounded on Winston's answer, and called Wilson the complete receiver that the offense needs opposite Greene.

"[Wilson is] extremely fast, can judge a ball, strong, got great body quickness, stick his foot in the ground and change direction," Fisher said. "He's becoming a very polished receiver."
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- All offseason, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher did not want to touch any question about comparisons between his 2013 national championship team and the 2014 version with its sights set on a repeat.

“Last year’s team ain’t on the schedule,” Fisher says.

The fifth-year coach began standard filibuster procedures Tuesday, deflecting a comparison question between last season’s defense and the current unit, one that allowed 250 rushing yards to The Citadel. (They’re an FCS team … and not a particularly good one.)

[+] EnlargeFlorida State defense
AP Photo/Steve CannonThe Citadel gashed Florida State's inexperienced defense on the ground last Saturday.
“Early in the season [the 2013 defense] wasn't that angry,” Fisher said. “I keep going back to that. Early in the year there were a lot of questions on this defense.”

The argument is solid that last year’s defense was better. Five starters from that defense were on NFL opening-day rosters. This 2014 team doesn’t have a single senior starter, and just two seniors are among the 23 players listed on the two-deep defense.

But the 2013 case study in dominant defense is a bigger file, a collection of evidence over a four-month and 14-game period. It’s only been two games into the 2014 season.

“Go back to the first games of last year,” Fisher said. “Bethune Cookman ran for 180 or 190 yards on us and everybody thought the sky was falling on us. Then Boston College ran for [200 yards].”

At Fisher’s behest, we looked at the early portion of Florida State’s 2013 season. Florida State was 42nd in yards allowed per rush (3.7) and 60th in rushing yards allowed per game (151.5) through September last season, but when you account for Florida State’s nine sacks during that timeframe, its yards allowed per rush jumps to 4.4. Bethune Cookman had 53 non-sack rushing attempts for 211 yards (4.0 yards per carry), and Boston College ran 42 times for 222 yards (5.2).

So far in 2014, Florida State is 84th in yards per rush (4.2) and 103rd in yards per game (205.5). When you account for Florida State’s one sack, however, it allows on average 4.4 yards per rush -- the same as last season. And those 2014 numbers are skewed by big rushing numbers for both Oklahoma State and The Citadel at the end of games. Oklahoma State ran 13 times for 79 yards in the fourth quarter, and all 13 runs came with Florida State leading by double digits. Nearly half of the Cowboys’ rushing yards came in the final quarter.

The Citadel totaled 250 yards rushing against Florida State, but 113 came against the second-string defense.

In 2013, Pitt ran just once in the fourth quarter and seven times overall in the second half. Nevada rushed the ball six times in the fourth quarter, and Bethune Cookman ran 14 times for 49 yards over the final 15 minutes.

There have been missed tackles through the first two weeks this season. Oklahoma State’s Tyreek Hill eliminated angles like few players nationally can do, and the Citadel outran and outmuscled would-be tacklers Saturday.

But that might be a common thread between the Florida State defenses. After the Bethune Cookman game, Fisher said: “We have to tackle in space better," Fisher said. “I wasn't happy with the way we tackled in space at times tonight. We have to do a better job.”

Third-down defense has been iffy for Florida State so far this season, too. The Citadel converted 11-of-17 third-down attempts, many of which came on rushing plays despite third-and-long situations. Against the starters, the Bulldogs converted 6-of-12 third-down attempts, including five that were at least five yards. All came on rushing plays.

However, over the course of last season, Florida State allowed 18-of-26 third-down attempts and 3.5 yards per rush on third-and-3 or less. When opponents ran on third-and-4-6, they converted 6-of-12 attempts.

It should be noted Florida State has been without linebackers Ukeme Eligwe (foot) and Matthew Thomas (suspension), and Fisher said those are among the most athletic linebackers he has coached during his tenure at Florida State. Eligwe practiced for the first time since the spring Tuesday and could play Sept. 20 against Clemson. Against The Citadel, the Seminoles were also without three of its five starting defensive tackles, including starters Eddie Goldman and Nile Lawrence-Stample.

There are realistic concerns on this defense -- few would argue otherwise -- although it is not as if the unit has played poorly eight consecutive quarters to start the season. But it’s unrealistic to assume a defense missing five NFL-caliber players and a single senior starter would immediately look like the top-five defense nationally it was the three previous seasons. It’s time to temper expectations, which were too high to begin with all things considered, and allow the defense time to evolve before a much tougher second half of the season.

Ultimately, the defense could be what prevents Florida State from repeating, but it’s too early to make that distinction.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jimbo Fisher is a football coach. That means he likes to talk about what he can control, and anything he can't is just wasted breath.

But he is a football coach, which means he knows injuries are a part of the sport. His Florida State team was lucky in 2013, avoiding the injury bug and remaining healthy over the course of a national championship season.

Justin Shanks
AP Photo/Steve CannonFlorida State's been fortunate with regard to injuries but its defensive tackles were hit hard Saturday.
The Seminoles have been able to manipulate injury luck quite a bit with their GPS tracking system, but there is no guard against the inherent dangers of a game predicated on high-speed collisions and 300-pound men wrestling 130 times in 40-second intervals.

That became evident Saturday night as top-ranked Florida State lost three defensive tackles to lower leg injuries, including starters Eddie Goldman and Nile Lawrence-Stample. Fisher did not disclose any specifics on the injuries or the amount of time, if any, that will be missed, but Goldman's left foot was in a boot and he needed the aid of a walking cane to gingerly limp to the locker room after the game.

"When I rub that crystal ball I can't ever figure it out," Fisher said after the game about planning for more injuries in 2014. "Sometimes you do, sometimes you don't. That's the thing about football -- you don't [know]. ... That's just ball. You keep your fingers crossed."

While Florida State has arguably the country's most talented roster, there was concern at defensive tackle leading up to the season. Timmy Jernigan declared early for the NFL, leaving the Seminoles thin on the interior of the defensive line. And by halftime Saturday, Florida State was without three of its top five defensive tackles.

The schedule offers a brief reprieve for Florida State as they enter a bye week, which could allow for all three to return. The Seminoles' next game is Sept. 20 against Clemson, and they might need all the defensive linemen they can get to combat the Tigers' up-tempo offense.

The 6-foot-4, 320-pound Goldman was one of the better defensive tackles in the conference, and his presence would almost certainly be missed most if he is forced to the sidelines. Junior defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. said the defense would have a much different feel without Goldman, who he calls "the big man in the middle."

"He can two-gap it, he can hold up the blockers so that a lot of linebackers can scrape over the top, and with Eddie missing it'd be a big piece missing," Edwards said.

Linebacker Reggie Northrup said Goldman's presence often draws double teams, which frees him up to make tackles. He is confident in the backups, and defensive tackle Derrick Mitchell Jr. could see a bulk of the snaps in Goldman's stead. Mitchell, a redshirt junior, is 20 pounds lighter than Goldman, however.

"It's definitely going to affect [the defense] because Eddie's a big part of our defense," Mitchell said. "He's in a lot of our defensive packages. We're going to have to make some changes if he can't go. He's a very important part of our defense."
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Last season, Jimbo Fisher said a No. 1 ranking wasn’t ever on Florida State’s collective mind. Maybe that is because the Seminoles didn’t earn the top ranking until the postseason and didn’t garner a first-place vote in either poll until Week 9.

As the preseason No. 1, there is no steady climb to the top. A performance worthy of a top-ranked team is expected every week, and Florida State is learning that lesson as it prepares for The Citadel on the heels of a 37-31 win against Oklahoma State, a sizable Las Vegas underdog.

“Last year we didn’t care about being No. 1. We cared about playing well,” Fisher said. “You have to remind yourself if the process is right, the results will come. If we’re worried about the results, we won’t get the results. Make no mistake about it.”

[+] EnlargeBrandon Sheperd
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesFSU didn't wear the target of being the nation's top-ranked team too well in the opener.
The fifth-year coach said he hopes the Seminoles still act like a team chasing No. 1, but he admitted Saturday night that is not what he saw.

“It is a wake-up call,” junior defensive tackle Eddie Goldman said. “We didn’t expect to have that many mistakes.”

The Seminoles are saying the right things, calling the game a learning experience. However, they said all the right things this preseason on the pressures of being the top-ranked team, too. That is not saying the team was insincere, but it’s hard to predict how this Florida State roster would react with the national target on its back for the first time.

Fisher said “no doubt” the close call was a positive for Florida State, but it has to result in a change in practice.

Sophomore All-America candidate Jalen Ramsey told the Tallahassee Democrat last week’s practices were not on par with the standards set at Florida State. “That’s what happens when you don’t practice like a champion,” he told the newspaper.

The practices last week were not poor, Fisher said, but he saw inconsistency in his team play to play during the week. It showed up in the final three quarters at AT&T Stadium, as the Seminoles did not play with the consistency they showed in the first few drives against the Cowboys.

So, how will Fisher know if the team has taken the wake-up call to heart?

“Your actions speak so loud that I can’t hear what you’re saying,” he said, relying on a tried-and-true Jimboism. “… We play a lot like we practice. We weren’t consistent enough. When pressure comes, your habits come straight to the surface.”

With each week, that pressure is only going to intensify. Fisher hopes those actions are enough to drown it out.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- When Jimbo Fisher is asked about his 2014 class -- and he’s been asked a lot -- he smiles and cracks a joke, one that has become part of the fifth-year Florida State coach’s preseason vernacular.

“I'll put it this way: We may get caught by the game warden for having our [fishing] live well too full,” he cracks, “but I'm not throwing any of them back.”

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY Sports"That's the kind of guys you want here, guys who want to get on the field quickly," Jimbo Fisher said.
Maybe he’s just happy this offseason he’s being asked about newcomers instead of a quarterback competition or whether the Seminoles are “back.” Or maybe it is possible Fisher really does expect greatness out of this 2014 class, which RecruitingNation ranked No. 3 in February.

Through summer workouts and the first two weeks of preseason camp, Fisher said this class is far along as physically as he has ever seen. That is due in large part to 13 linemen Fisher signed, seven of whom tip the scales at 290 pounds or more. While linemen are usually relegated to a redshirt season upon arrival, Fisher said he sees a use for several of the newcomers to play early. Over the course of the last three classes, nine freshman linemen have been letterwinners, and Fisher has played junior college transfers immediately, as well.

Mentally, however, this group of 28 is as far along as any of the five classes Fisher’s recruited. There wasn’t a single academic casualty among the signees, and the 2014 signees began studying the playbook as soon as possible. The coaching staff has commended the Seminoles’ upperclassmen throughout camp for tutoring the younger players, too.

“All of those guys have been very coachable and they’re willing to learn. That’s been huge,” first-year defensive coordinator Charles Kelly said. “The whole class in general, size speed and athleticism has been very impressive.

Expect some of the 2014 praise to subside as fall camp ends and preparations for Oklahoma State begin, but there should be more than a handful of freshmen who make significant contributions as freshmen. Receivers Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph were in the top six among receivers nationally in the 2014 class, and in practices freshman defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi has been “that dude,” according to end Mario Edwards Jr.

Over the last three seasons, 29 freshmen have earned letters and 14 were named to at least one freshmen All-America team. Those numbers should continue to grow in 2014. Sophomore Jalen Ramsey, a Thorpe Award watch list member in 2014, said Florida State embraces its freshmen like few programs, and there is rarely a grudge if a younger player earns a starting job from an upperclassman.

“As a team, we want the best people on the field beside us. When you have the best people on the field, you don’t have to worry about doing extra roles,” Ramsey said. “If they’re the best, then definitely play them.”

Ramsey said he entered his freshman season with a mindset that he was not going to be outworked and would secure at least a spot in the defensive backfield’s rotation. He ended up starting every game.

“It inspires [the freshmen],” Fisher said. “That’s the kind of guys you want here, guys who want to get on the field quickly.”
Boston College coach Steve Addazio remembers an era when players wanted to redshirt as true freshmen to better prepare them for the final four years of their college career.

"Now it's 'I want to play,' " Addazio, 55, said. "If you're talking about not playing them early, the majority are like 'What do you mean?'"

So, the ability to play or possibly even start as a true freshman has become a regular sales pitch for coaches from the Power Five to the Group of Five. It's certainly a tool in the belt for Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. Last week, Fisher alluded to the number of freshmen All-Americans he's coached the last four seasons. Twenty-four hours later, it was on the program's official recruiting Twitter page.

"The last [four] years we've had 14 freshmen All-Americans," said Fisher, condensing multiple outlets' freshmen award teams into one, concise Florida State propaganda poster. "If you come in ready to play, we're willing to put you on the field. It's critical for guys to come in saying 'When I'm the best, I'll play.'"

Fisher has the goods to back up his claims, even if the numbers are obviously skewed to best represent his program. But how does his résumé compare to those coaching some of the country's other top programs?

I tried to come up with a way to accurately discern which schools play the most freshmen and decided true freshmen letterwinners was the simplest and most effective way to crunch the numbers. To earn a letter, a player has to actually play consistently through the season. The disclaimer is each program can use different benchmarks when awarding letters, but there is never going to be a perfect way.

I began with Florida State's, looking back at the 2011-2013 classes. To properly quantify the data from Florida State, I decided I'd look at the five schools ranked highest in the preseason polls that have had its coach in place at least five seasons. Oregon's Mark Helfrich was offered an exemption because he was promoted from within and is in his sixth season with the Ducks. Coaches in place at least five years was the stipulation since an incoming coach might be susceptible to playing the prospects he recruited or having a number of transfers that could open up starting or rotational spots.

The criteria: Each class was looked at and the total number of signees was pared down to just those who enrolled as members of the football team in the fall. Junior college signees were excluded, as were any recruits who were academically or medically disqualified before playing a game. That explains why the total number of freshmen for our purposes might look different than what might be seen on RecruitingNation. Any true freshmen who spent a year at a post-graduate or prep school was also excluded. Redshirt freshmen were disqualified, too.

Bottom line is if the player was not a part of the football team the fall following his high school graduation, he was excluded.

Nearly all of the data was collected after poring through media guides and archives, although the communications departments at some of the schools were also helpful providing numbers and deserve recognition.

So, here is the actual data:

 

It is hardly a coincidence that Fisher and Alabama's Nick Saban, who mentored Fisher at LSU, have identical percentages of true freshmen earning a letter. Fisher and Saban arguably have been the two best recruiters over the last few cycles, and, the data shows those two are not going to keep young talent off the field simply because of age. Nearly half of the true freshmen at Alabama and Florida State lettered over the last three seasons.

Mark Dantonio has built Michigan State into a national title contender in a different manor, relying on experience. Only 12 percent of true freshmen lettered over the last three seasons. Recruiting to Michigan State is not the easy task it is at some other top-10 programs, and the Spartans are not recruiting as many ESPN 300-level players as the likes of Alabama and Florida State.

It should be noted Michigan State, Oklahoma and Oregon don't have quite the recruiting base Alabama and Florida State do.

Inquiring minds want to see how that 45 percent stacks up to some of the other top programs in the country, so even though they did not fit the criteria I looked at a few other schools with coaches in place at least five seasons and lately in the top half of the rankings. LSU was worth a look considering it's Les Miles' 10th season in Baton Rouge and, like Fisher and Saban, has recruited exceptionally well for a long period of time. Mark Richt is in his 14th season at Georgia and, like Miles, usually has a highly-regarded recruiting class. Steve Spurrier is in his 10th season at South Carolina and has steadily improved the Gamecocks' class to the point that the 2015 class is No. 5 nationally. Dabo Swinney has turned Clemson from a perennial disappointment into a two-time BCS bowl participant. And Ohio State and Texas A&M, mainly because it's worth seeing how third-year Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer fares considering he frequently voices his preference to avoid redshirting. Kevin Sumlin is also in the process of trying to build an SEC power that can compete with Alabama and LSU in the SEC West.

 

For the Buckeyes, out of the 69 true freshmen to land in Columbus, Ohio, from 2011-2013, 31 lettered -- the same 45 percent. Looking at just Meyer's two seasons, however, he is decimals ahead of Fisher and Saban at 46 percent (21 out of 46), thanks in large part to 14 freshmen letterwinners in his first season.

Georgia's Mark Richt has a percentage of nearly 50 percent, but the Bulldogs' numbers might be the most skewed. Along with South Carolina, the Bulldogs had several recruits that either did not qualify or spent time at a prep school or junior college. Also, Georgia's long list of dismissals and transfers is well documented, and all of the departures has opened up spots for freshmen to earn immediate playing time.

It is Miles, though, who plays a higher percentage of freshmen than all of the others. Twelve true freshmen lettered for LSU in both 2012 and 2013, and another nine earned a letter in 2011. There were a total of 65 applicable freshmen to enter LSU during that span and 33 of them lettered. That's a percentage of 51 percent.

Certainly the numbers will fluctuate year to year, and coaches at every single program are playing freshmen more frequently than ever before. When taking into account the timeline is over three years, LSU averages just one more freshman letterwinner per season than Alabama and Florida State. For our intents and purposes, though, the data shows which top programs consistently play the most freshmen in this new era of freshmen phenoms.

And, uh, FYI, Alabama has 19 ESPN 300 players prepping for their freshmen season this fall. LSU has 16, and Florida State isn't far off with 13 of their own.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Odell Haggins has been Florida State’s defensive tackles coach since 1996, a total of 19 consecutive seasons. As far as stability goes on the defensive staff, it begins with Haggins. It ends there, too, as the remaining three assistants have been on staff a combined five seasons.

Charles Kelly is in his second year on staff but shifts from linebackers coach to the secondary while also adding the title of defensive coordinator, a position he’s never held for an entire season at the FBS level. In his stead coaching the linebackers is Bill Miller, who was hired away from Minnesota.

Early returns indicate Kelly, who received rave reviews when he was hired, has hit the ground running as the new leader of a defense that finished No. 1 in points per game during their 2013 championship run.

“He stays positive. He gets on you when you mess up but he explains it when you do,” cornerback Ronald Darby said. “If I’m going to do something, he asks why you did it, and if I explain why, he’s more understanding as a coach instead of ‘Shut up I don’t want to hear that!’ He’s a great coach.”

Despite switching defensive coordinators, Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said not much has changed schematically. Kelly worked under 2013 coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, and the players have said the changes have been minimal. The terminology and the scheme remain largely intact, which could foster an easier transition this season for a defense replacing its best player at every level of the unit.

Kelly said there will be small differences, though, simply because he and Pruitt are not clones of each other. Kelly said he will have his own identity, which is really just a mosaic of the knowledge he’s gained in his 23 seasons of coaching.

Over those 23 seasons, Kelly has coached nearly every position group, and that is not limited to just the defense. There are challenging aspects to that, but Kelly said a good coach is able to adapt to any position and it’s prepared him to coordinate the entire defense.

“I grew up wanting to be a coach, so if you can coach and communicate and teach, you should be able to coach any position,” Kelly said. “Coaching different positions, sometimes the personalities at positions are different, so it teaches you how to handle people differently.”

Kelly acknowledges the potential issues of adding a new coach in the mix, but he welcomes the addition of Miller, who began coaching in 1978 and has coached six first-round draft picks, including Ray Lewis.

“Change is good sometimes because it’s new blood, new ideas. It’s a different way of looking at things,” Kelly said. “When you’re the only one doing it, you get tunnel vision. When you trust people you work with, then you trust what they say.”

Helping facilitate a smooth transition for Miller is his familiarity with Fisher’s coaching philosophies. Fisher is a protégé of Nick Saban, and Miller was on Saban’s staff at Michigan State.

“There’s kind of an unwritten club of guys that worked for Nick Saban,” Miller said. “What helps me a lot is I’ve been in this defensive system before. Sal [Sunseri] and I were together at Michigan State, and having that kind of background and knowing what this system is all about has been a great aid to me.”

Fisher said E.J. Levenberry is working with the first team at linebacker, and the sophomore said during fall camp that Miller has helped him with his fundamentals.

Florida State held its first scrimmage this week, and throughout the defense the fundamentals were not lacking. Fisher was upbeat following the scrimmage, and defensive lineman Mario Edwards said the players are comfortable in the system. Any mistakes were attributed to tired legs, Edwards said.

“We know the defense,” Edwards said, “and we know where to be.”
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- When Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher was asked who stood out to him during the team's first preseason scrimmage, he listed nearly one-fifth of his roster, 15 names and an entire position group total.

It's quite the stark contrast from how Fisher felt at the end of March following the first scrimmage of the spring, when the fifth-year coach, sounding like a let-down parent, expressed no anger but disappointment in the Seminoles' effort.

"Our kids know how to work. We know how to do things and what's expected," Fisher said Tuesday. "They know what's tolerated and not tolerated, and we're doing a very good job of staying above that line."

Fisher said Florida State, ranked No. 1 in the USA Today Coaches Poll, covered "everything from A to Z" in practice -- which was the longest of camp thus far -- mixing in full drives with the first-team offense playing against the first-team defense and working on situation football -- third downs, red zone and short-yardage to name a few examples.

The practice's physicality, a topic covered at length the last few days in the wake of Jalen Ramsey's dismissal from practice Sunday, was where Fisher wanted it to be. While a few healthy players wore the blue non-contact jersey, the rest of the team was in pads and hitting full speed.

"There were some good licks," said Fisher, who added Ramsey had one of his best practices for a second straight day.

A handful of projected starters did not participate -- Ukeme Eligwe, Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams to name a few -- the coaching staff learned enough about the Seminoles on Tuesday to see evidence that the 2014 team's identity is forming. Florida State has a starting lineup that could be the best in the country, but the team's depth was on display through much of the scrimmage. The freshmen have received rave review throughout camp, and Fisher once again was pleased with how his young players performed.

"You can visualize who can begin to help you, and the next three or four days will be interesting to see how they recover and how they play after this scrimmage," Fisher said.

The defense is in the midst of replacing its leader at every level of the unit, and there were some mental miscues during the scrimmage. However, junior defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. said those were largely because the starting defense was not used to a high-intensity, 12-play drive. Through much of the everyday practices, Edwards said the defense usually is on the field for only a few snaps before rotating with the second team.

The positive for the defense is the veterans are jelling with the inexperienced underclassmen.

"I would say the chemistry of the defense," was the biggest difference between the first spring and summer scrimmage, Edwards said. "We know where to be. We still had mental busts and brain farts, but for the most part we know where to be."

Florida State has its first day off Wednesday, and Fisher can rest comfortably knowing the Seminoles have earned one.

"I'm pretty pleased where we're at," Fisher said. "We got a lot of work to do but I'm not disappointed at all. We know where we're going."
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State is not deviating from company line that the Seminoles have moved on from 2013, but forgive FSU fans if they’re still reveling in the past.

Levonte Whitfield gave Florida State its first lead of the national championship game with a 100-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter, and, seven months later, it’s still a talking point for Seminoles fans when interacting with the player affectionately known as Kermit.

“It’s like every day, I get a lot of [Twitter] mentions about it,” Whitfield said. “I try not to think about it. They can’t take it away from me but I try not to think about it. It’s time to move on.”

Whitfield still has the play burned in his memory, though. With the Seminoles trailing 24-20 with 4:42 left in the game, the then-true freshman fielded the kickoff from about two yards deep in the end zone. Eleven seconds later, he was in the end zone.

“As soon as I got the ball I see Chad Abram kicked out, got his block and Karlos [Williams] made a cut and I see a big hole and I see nothing but daylight,” Whitfield said.

With his sophomore season on the horizon, though, Whitfield wants to be remembered as more than just the kick returner from the national championship. The 5-foot-7, 183-pound receiver said he is working with the first-team offense in practice, and he could be relied upon in the passing game more often this season as a slot receiver, especially with fellow diminutive receiver Jesus Wilson (5-9, 177) indefinitely suspended.

Whitfield is one of the fastest players in the country, but Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said Whitfield needs to display that speed even when the ball is not in his hands. Whitfield said he is working on his route running, too.

“I want to be an All-American,” Whitfield said, “and do what I need to do to help the team win."
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It’s the double-edged sword of having a wildly talented team but with nearly a month's worth of practices still standing in the way of the season opener. There are not many question marks in the starting lineup for Florida State, which means the uncertainties at those few positions are squarely under the microscope.

[+] EnlargeDoak Campbell, Christian Green
Phil Ellsworth/ESPN ImagesSenior Christian Green is among a group of Florida State wide receivers looking to complement Rashad Greene.
That’s why Jimbo Fisher, Rashad Greene, the offensive line and even the Seminoles’ secondary are being asked about the inexperienced group of receivers. It’s understandable why the receiver corps has been a debated and scrutinized, and it is a legitimate question to ask which receivers will step up to complement the senior Greene, the team’s leading receiver. Especially when considering Fisher’s frustration with the receivers boiled over this spring.

A lack of consistency drew the ire of Fisher in March, but through three practices this fall, Fisher has been much more measured and complimentary of the receivers. However, consistency is still a concern during preseason practices for a unit that, outside of Greene, combined for 23 catches in 2013.

“Consistency, guys knowing what to do, where to be when that ball is thrown to you,” Fisher said when asked what will separate the jumble behind Greene. “I’ve been pleased with the younger and older receivers.”

The younger receivers, for only practicing three days and none with full pads on, have been the stars among the corps so far. At this point, though, that is more a product of the vast hype and media and fan intrigue rather than on-field performance.

Ermon Lane was the No. 2 receiver nationally in the ESPN 300 and stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 206 pounds. Travis Rudolph was not far off in the recruiting rankings, registering as the sixth-best receiver in the 2014 class. Four-star Ja'Vonn Harrison rounds out the highly regarded freshman trio.

“Travis and Ja’Vonn, those two really do have good routes. Ermon is more of a physical type guy, he can go up, get off the jam. That’s what separates those guys,” senior receiver Jarred Haggins said. “By the time they all take their role, they’re going to be awesome."

Haggins missed the entire 2013 season with a stress fracture in his knee but is healthy and competing for the No. 2 spot. With Kermit Whitfield and Jesus Wilson -- who is still indefinitely suspended -- likely filling the slot receiver role, Haggins, Christian Green and Isaiah Jones are competing with the freshmen for the starting outside receiver position.

The 6-foot-2, 204-pound Green caught 13 passes last season, second most among returning receivers, but he caught more passes as a redshirt freshman (26) than he has the rest of his career combined. A member of the 2010 recruiting class, Green arrived in Tallahassee with the same national acclaim as the current freshmen, as he ranked No. 53 in the ESPN 150.

Despite the limited action and attention he has received the first four years of his career, Green is determined to make a senior jump similar to the departed Kenny Shaw, Green’s freshman roommate and a receiver who caught nearly as many passes a senior (54) as he did his first three seasons (70).

“It’s something I’ve been waiting for,” Green said. “I’ve been patient and playing my role and doing whatever they asked me to do. Now is the time.”

Green said he is doing his best balancing his own ambitions with mentoring the younger receivers, but this offseason they were all under the tutelage of Jameis Winston. Last summer, Winston was still embroiled in a quarterback competition. During summer 7-on-7 workouts and throwing sessions that coaches couldn’t watch, it was Winston who took the lead role of developing his young receivers.

“Jameis really understands what he wants and how he wants it,” Fisher said. “It’s something he picked up this summer from Peyton Manning. I always talk to him about taking two routes a day and running it 100 times. Make those guys understand how to do it.”
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State had the No.1 pass defense in 2013. It’s hard to believe it, but the secondary could be even better in 2014, with four possible first-round picks starting in the backfield.

Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher knows what he is going to get out of his defensive backs. However, the front seven is looking for players to emerge to alleviate the burden of losing tackle Timmy Jernigan and linebacker Telvin Smith. The defensive line needs a handful of role players to complement the starters, and the linebacking corps doesn’t have a definitive first-team unit just yet.

“I want to see those [starting linemen] take responsibility, and I want to see the quality depth behind it so we can get a quality rotation,” Fisher said. “I know we have plenty of guys capable.

[+] EnlargeEddie Goldman
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsEddie Goldman will start at defensive tackle, but Jimbo Fisher is hunting quality behind the junior.
“The leadership role at linebacker, Terrance [Smith] is there but who steps up at Mike linebacker? Who’s going to become the pass rushers, who’s going to be the DPR [designated pass rushers], who’s going to be the nickel ’backers, who’s going to be the first- and second-down ’backers?”

Standing at the podium for his first fall camp news conference, Fisher still displayed a palpable confidence as he elaborated on the defense’s questions, but he was cataloging them so he could return to them in another two weeks to see which have been answered.

Florida State has what looks to be a clearly defined set of starters on the defensive line with Mario Edwards Jr., Eddie Goldman, Nile Lawrence-Stample and Chris Casher. Defensive line inherently is a position that requires a bevy of fresh bodies, though, which is why Fisher is determined to uncover quality rotational players who will allow his starters to come off the field without the defense taking a step back.

There is no shortage of options behind Florida State’s starters. There are 10 backups along the line who are either freshmen or sophomores, and they average almost 6-foot-4 and 293 pounds. Keith Bryant, Justin Shanks and DeMarcus Walker were blue-chip recruits out of high school, and the defense needs those three to become primary rotational players with the idea they could be the starters in 2015. Florida State also brought in a number of freshmen, and Fisher said, physically, they already fit the Florida State defensive lineman archetype.

The luxury Fisher has is the younger players will all be able to learn from Edwards, who is in his second year in this defensive system but in his first as the unquestioned leader of the defensive line. The former No. 1 high school recruit, few players nationally are as physically gifted as Edwards.

“He’s so daggone big and athletic. He’s still 300 pounds, but we played a lot with those guys at LSU, 300-pound ends,” said Fisher, calling upon his days as an assistant in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “When you can do a standing back flip and a run a 5-flat [in the 40-yard dash] and bend like he does, you don’t worry.”

Behind the defensive line, Smith returns as a starter in the linebacker corps, but it is a tossup as to who will partner with him. Ukeme Eligwe, who is recovering from a Lisfranc injury, E.J. Levenberry and Reggie Northrup all played at least 13 games last season, and Matthew Thomas was shelved after four games in 2013 to repair a balky shoulder and preserve his redshirt. Thomas was a five-star recruit and one of the top players during the spring. When a player has a good practice, Fisher likes to say he “flashed,” and routinely this spring Fisher said “No. 6 flashed,” referring to Thomas.

As Fisher balances each player’s talents and weaknesses, the potential deciding factor ultimately could boil down to chemistry. Fisher said it’s often overlooked, but certain players raise their level of play when lining up next to certain teammates.

“We’ll mix and match and also see who plays well together,” Fisher said. “Sometimes people don’t look at that. Some guys play better beside certain guys, and creating those packages is going to be critical.”
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Preseason camp begins with five days of heat acclimation, but that doesn't mean there is a nearly week-long grace period for Florida State. Not when the Seminoles are in pursuit of consecutive national championships.

New linebackers coach Bill Miller was already adjusted to head coach Jimbo Fisher's "attitude of domination" standard at the onset of the Seminoles' first practice of fall camp. When a freshman linebacker didn't perform a warm-up drill correctly, Miller sent him back to the front of a line with a not-so-subtle message to do it better next time.

"I liked the intensity of practice. It was very good competition, guys getting after each other, competing with each other, for the most part knowing what to do," Fisher said.

Although players were not in pads Monday, Fisher was encouraged by what he saw. With the mandated restriction on pads -- Florida State's first two-a-day will be Saturday -- the first day of practice was an opportunity for the Seminoles to work on alignments, assignments and execution.

Fisher expressed a little disappointment in how the passing game performed -- he called the quarterbacks' execution "very average" -- but he acknowledged it was the first time the group had a defensive line charging at them in four months. And when you return Jameis Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, there is little reason for long-term concern.

Once baseball season ended, Fisher forced Winston to take a couple of weeks off to ease the demands on his star player's body. The result was a Winston who is much fresher than he was entering the 2013 season and a smarter player under center. When Winston was kept from the field, he used it as an opportunity to fine-tune his mechanics.

"He was very anxious to get better fundamentally. He did a lot of film study with his footwork and working on his release and quickening things up," Fisher said.

Coupled with an energized Winston, the first few days of practice should go smoother this season because of the lack of roster turnover on the offense line and a defensive scheme that remains largely unchanged. The offensive line has five seniors and more than 100 starts among them, and new defensive coordinator Charles Kelly is executing the same defensive scheme as predecessor Jeremy Pruitt. Kelly was the Seminoles' linebackers coach in 2013. While Florida State has to replace defensive leaders Timmy Jernigan, Lamarcus Joyner and Telvin Smith, there is a knowledge that should allow the new starters to transition quickly to their roles.

"It's the second year on defense of exactly the [same] system we're running, so I think the knowledge is increased," Fisher said. "The young guys will know more because the older guys can help them. Last year early, the older guys couldn't help them because they were learning it for the first time, too."

There is a belief those younger players will crack the rotation and make an impact at some point in 2014, possibly for the Aug. 30 opener against Oklahoma State. Freshman receivers Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph, recovered from offseason foot surgery, look physically impressive, and there is an opportunity for playing time on the defensive line; the Seminoles have seven freshmen defensive linemen, and Fisher said "there's not one you'd throw back."

Linebacker Terrance Smith smiled when asked about the big bodies accompanying their new faces.

"This is probably the biggest group of freshmen we've had in a long time," he said. "Me as a linebacker, I'm not complaining because we got some big D-Linemen in front of me."

Notes: Sophomore receiver Jesus "Bobo" Wilson remains indefinitely suspended following a Monday meeting with Fisher. Wilson is practicing and should return during the season, but Fisher sounded as if Wilson will not play in the opener. ... Linebacker Ukeme Eligwe (Lisfranc injury) is not practicing, but Fisher said Eligwe is ahead of schedule. Nile Lawrence-Stample (shoulder surgery) is practicing but will be eased back into contact. ... A few players wrote on Twitter that Sunday would be their last day tweeting until the season ends. Fisher said it was a team initiative and he did not ask his team to quit social media until the season ended. However, Fisher did say Florida State does monitor what its players and the athletes it is recruiting say on social media.

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