TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- No position on the Florida State roster has taken as many losses as the defensive line over the past two seasons.
Four linemen were drafted a year ago. Another, tackle Timmy Jernigan, is projected to become the second straight Florida State defensive lineman to be drafted in the first round. The last time Florida State had at least five defensive linemen selected in consecutive drafts was 1998-99.
At many programs, losing so many players would be a major cause for concern and, as you'd expect, the defensive line has drawn some of the biggest questions this spring and last. FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, however, looks at the situation differently.
Rather than lament potential depth issues, Fisher looks at the pure talent he has available for this upcoming season -- and the versatility they provide. Though only three scholarship defensive ends were available during the spring, two of them were consensus top-10 players at their position out of high school -- Mario Edwards Jr. and Chris Casher.
“It’s kind of fun,” Edwards said. “The offense can’t pinpoint where I will be -- right or left side, inside or out. I feel I can go and play any one of the positions the coaches put me in at and be a factor.”
For Edwards, the process of not only becoming a master at his own position, but also learning several others, has meant more time studying the playbook and game tape. That has allowed the former No. 1 high school player in the country to feel even more comfortable with the defense.
The road has not necessarily been smooth for him. He was out of shape as a freshman, and last spring he had to learn an entirely new defensive scheme while following a strict diet and weight program. Edwards ended up starting, but he did not feel comfortable until midway through the season. That is when the results started to show.
Now that more of the pressure is on him to perform, Edwards says he is ready to dominate.
“I’d like to think this is a big year for me,” Edwards said. “I watched film of last year but not only was I looking at the good things I did, I looked at how many plays I left out there, just because I wasn’t aligned right, I wasn’t doing my job, I may have forgotten what I was supposed to do. I felt like I left tons of plays out there I could have made. This year, it’s reacting more than thinking.”
To help at end, Florida State might end up using linebackers Matthew Thomas and Ukeme Eligwe, whom Fisher called “dynamic rushers.” He did something similar with Christian Jones a year ago, and Jones thrived in that role.
Tackle Eddie Goldman, slated to replace Jernigan inside, was a five-star defensive tackle out of high school. Fisher said Goldman will end up being one of the team’s spring award winners because he has made such drastic improvement. Though not as powerful as Jernigan, Goldman is more athletic and a more natural pass rusher.
“Him and Mario -- it’s hard to handle them one-on-one,” Fisher said. “Eddie, his upside is ridiculous. It’s ridiculous how good he can be.”
Will he meet that potential this year?
“The way he’s playing right now? No doubt,” Fisher said.
Fisher also will play some of his true freshmen, the way he has done with guys such as Edwards, Jernigan and Casher. The Seminoles loaded up on the defensive line to make up for the heavy losses they have taken recently. Four of the seven players Florida State signed were rated four-star prospects out of high school. Two incoming ends -- Lorenzo Featherston and Rick Leonard -- are both 6-foot-7. They will not be tied exclusively to end, either.
“We like that hybrid guy, the versatility,” Fisher said. “You can go 3-4, 4-3, and create a matchup where they get locked on a back, where a back has to block them, that kind of stuff.”
Florida State took advantage of the versatility it had last season to great success. Despite more personnel losses, Fisher expects more of the same in 2014.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- At SEC media days last summer, someone asked Alabama head coach Nick Saban if he wears any of his four national championship rings.
"To me, it doesn't make any difference how many game-winning shots Michael Jordan made," Saban said. "The only one that matters is the next one. So there doesn't seem to be any purpose to me. I have them. They're there."
You put that championship in a velvet-lined box and store it in your closet. It has no effect on the future.
Florida State, which plays its Garnet and Gold Game on Saturday, will start next season as No. 1, just as the Seminoles ended last season. The Seminoles have 14 returning starters from the team that won the BCS National Championship three months ago. That includes the best player in the country, quarterback Jameis Winston, and the best defensive lineman in the country, end Mario Edwards Jr., and other talented players too numerous to mention.
Jimbo Fisher is a graduate and espouser of the Nick Saban Institute of The Process. Fisher coached for Saban for seven seasons at LSU. The tenets that Saban preaches in the meeting room at Alabama -- smart choices and personal development, focus and discipline -- are heard from the pulpit at Florida State, too.
For all of these teams -- including Florida State -- the quarterbacks will be among the most-watched players on the field. In Tallahassee, fans will get a chance to see the Heisman Trophy winner, returning starter Jameis Winston. At every other school, there is an ongoing storyline and competition with the quarterbacks. We’re giving you one additional thing to keep an eye on that might not be so obvious.
Check it out, and enjoy the games this weekend!
When: 4 p.m. on Saturday (ESPNU) and on WatchESPN
Where: Death Valley
One thing to watch: The true freshman wide receivers. Artavis Scott, Demarre Kitt and Kyrin Priester were all highly touted recruits who enrolled early to help Clemson try to replace Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant (a combined 2,292 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns in 2013).
When: 3 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN) and on WatchESPN
Where: Doak Campbell Stadium
One thing to watch: The wide receivers. They haven’t exactly earned high praise from coach Jimbo Fisher, who called the receivers out last week for not getting open and making catches. Rashad Greene is the most experienced option as the Noles try to replace Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, but the staff also needs to see more from players like Bobo Wilson and Kermit Whitfield.
When: 7:30 p.m. on Friday
Where: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium
One thing to watch: The safeties. Louisville lost Hakeem Smith, who started 51 straight games, and projected first-round draft pick Calvin Pryor. Jermaine Reve, Gerod Holliman and Chucky Williams are the leading candidates for those spots, but Reve is out for the spring with an injury. Reve and Holliman are the only players with game experience.
When: 6 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN3)
Where: Sun Life Stadium
One thing to watch: Defense, defense, defense. It’s been an area of concern, but the defense showed signs of progress this spring. The Canes return eight starters and 16 players from the two-deep depth chart. Denzel Perryman is now playing middle linebacker, and Dallas Crawford moved to safety to give that position a boost. Those within the program have said repeatedly that the defense has made strides since last season, and overall it was a good spring for the defense. We’ll see if they can punctuate it in the spring game.
When: 3 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN3)
Where: Kenan Stadium
One thing to watch: True freshman running back Elijah Hood. The four-star recruit was rated the nation's No. 9 running back in the Class of 2014 by ESPN.com and No. 80 overall in the ESPN 300. The early enrollee has had such a good spring that he could see some immediate playing time, even though the Tar Heels are deep at the position.
When: 1 p.m. on Saturday
Where: Carter-Finley Stadium
One thing to watch: More young wide receivers. NC State has to replace Quintin Payton and Rashard Smith, both starters from last year. The talent pool to choose from includes a host of sophomores and freshmen, including two early enrollees. The leading sophomore candidates are: Jumichael Ramos, who finished the last three games of 2013 strong; Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who led the team in receiving at one point last year as a true freshman; and Bra'lon Cherry, who suffered a season-ending injury against Duke. Freshmen Bo Hines and Stephen Louis enrolled early, and redshirt freshman Gavin Locklear is also in the mix.
When: 1 p.m. on Saturday
Where: Scott Stadium
One thing to watch: Improved wide receivers. This is a group coach Mike London has praised this spring, for both its height and athleticism, as the staff has moved toward a longer, leaner look. London recently singled out Miles Gooch, Keeon Johnson and Kyle Dockins -- all listed at 6-foot-3 -- as players who have excelled this spring. Unfortunately, fans won’t be able to see starter Jake McGee, the Hoos’ star tight end who moved to receiver this spring, as he’ll be sidelined with a hamstring injury.
PITT (No spring game)
When: From 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, Pitt will host its “Pitt Football Field Pass”
Where: The UPMC Sports Performance Complex
One thing to watch: Instead of a game, Pitt will hold a public event that will include a kids’ clinic, an offensive strategy session with coordinator Joe Rudolph, a defensive strategy session with coordinator Matt House, a recruiting session with coordinator Dann Kabala and a strength and conditioning session with assistant coach Ross Kolodziej.
- Florida transfer Ian Silberman gives "O-Line U" a boost at BC, Rich Thompson writes in the Boston Herald.
- Clemson's O-line is seeking answers, Aaron Brenner writes in the (Charleston) Post and Courier.
- Could Brandon Connette be transferring from Duke? CBSSports.com's Jeremy Fowler has more.
- Jameis Winston had some fun during a rain delay.
- Broderick Snoddy's transition to A-back at Georgia Tech may be complete, Ken Sugiura writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
- Former Georgia safety Josh Harvey-Clemons could be on his way to Louisville.
- Athlon's Steven Lassan looks at which ACC unit is a bigger concern in 2014: Miami's defense or Virginia Tech's offense.
- UNC came in like a wrecking ball. (I'll see myself out, thanks.)
- Pitt's backfield injuries have provided Rachid Ibrahim an opportunity, Jerry DiPaola writes in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
- Syracuse added a commitment Wednesday from 2014 kicker/punter Evan Jakubowski, Nate Mink writes in the (Syracuse) Post-Standard.
Year in and year out, the “big three” Florida schools always battle for the top in-state high school prospects. Last year was one of the wildest in recent memory for Florida, Florida State and Miami.
The Gators were able to land commitments from three prospects -- Ryan Sousa, C.J. Worton and J.C. Jackson -- who were previously committed to Florida State. The Noles responded by flipping Florida commitments Ermon Lane and Dalvin Cook. Miami was able to flip former FSU running back commit Joseph Yearby and Florida defensive tackle commit Anthony Moten. The Gators then flipped athlete Brandon Powell the day he was supposed to enroll at Miami.
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- Our KC Joyner makes the case for drafting Teddy Bridgewater .
- AthlonSports' Steve Lassan ranks every FBS coach, including by conference. (No surprise at the top.)
- BC defensive back Dominique Williams shares a Brockton bond with Jay McGillis, Glen Farley writes in the (Brockton) Enterprise.
- Vic Beasley welcomes double-team treatment, plus Clemson's coaches defend their decision to make the QBs live Monday, Aaron Brenner writes in the (Charleston) Post and Courier.
- SportsOnEarth's Matt Brown looks at FSU's repeat chances.
- Kevin Olsen and Gray Crow took snaps at QB Tuesday as Miami returned to practice, Christy Cabrera Chirinos writes in the (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel.
- The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Chris Adamski looks at the importance of spring games, in light of Pitt's decision to not hold one.
- Former Syracuse lineman Justin Outten, now a high school coach in Houston, got his team to help him propose to his girlfriend, as Nate Mink writes in the (Syracuse) Post-Standard. (Video included)
Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston, less than two years removed from finishing his senior year, will have his No. 8 jersey retired by Hueytown (Ala.) High School this summer, according to a report.
Winston graduated in 2012, red-shirted at FSU that fall and has since led the Seminoles to the national championship while winning the Heisman Trophy.
Hueytown coach Mark Stephens told AL.com that the school would retire Winston's jersey this summer so there would be no conflicts with his football or baseball schedules at FSU. Winston also is a pitcher and an outfielder for the Seminoles.
"Him playing football and baseball makes it tough," Stephens said. "I spoke with that gentleman a little over a month ago and he said that Jameis has had one weekend off since football started last fall. But we're going to get it done."
"Center is like quarterback,” Fisher said. “You can move guards, tackles, receivers. Centers and quarterbacks, that's a learned profession and you have to have as many as you can. We’re just doing things to develop backups and get other guys snaps.”
Through the spring, Fisher has mixed and matched his offensive line so his five starters have at least an elementary knowledge of playing more than one position on the line. It’s not limited to just the maulers up front either, as Fisher routinely cross-trains his linebackers and defensive backs.
Jalen Ramsey could play three positions in the secondary this fall. The same goes for defensive back Nate Andrews. Several Seminoles linebackers are receiving work at multiple positions.
Cross-training his players is not simply Fisher guarding against a series of injuries that would cause him to revamp his offensive line or back seven on defense. Fisher contends it makes a player better at his starting position. The constant formation and personnel changes opponents present necessitates a comprehensive awareness of the entire unit.
Redshirt sophomore Ukeme Eligwe is campaigning for a starting position this spring. He played in 13 games last season, mostly out of position at outside linebacker. A natural inside linebacker, he was uncomfortable and out of his element flanked to either side of the defense. But this spring he is once again playing inside linebacker and is doing so with a better appreciation and understanding of playing in the middle.
“Whatever the call is I know exactly what the outside man is doing and that makes it easier for me to know ‘I don’t have to go over here because he has the flats, and I can drop,’ so I’m glad I moved to the outside last year,” Eligwe said. “Now it’s a little easier. I know the defense a lot more.”
The 15 practices permitted during the spring are the optimal time for Fisher to explore. Coaches have a limited amount of hours of on-field practice time during the fall. Fisher said the hope is he can build a strong enough base in the spring that if and when a player is called upon in a meaningful situation, he can reach back into his library to bring forth the information he filed away five months earlier.
“It’s demanding on them because they have to learn quickly in a short amount of time, but in the long run it’s going to help. Right now you got to cram as much information as you can,” Fisher said. “If you’re familiar with something, it makes it easy to learn it once the package comes out.”
It would be na´ve to believe Fisher is not cramming that same information for his own use. He is interested to see how Ramsey works at nickelback or how Erving responds at center and whether it might give Florida State the best chance to win. The spring is meant for tinkering, but it also gives Fisher an opportunity to appraise his roster and formulate a way to get the best 11 players on the field.
“You don’t know a guy can do this [at a different position] and you can mix and match to get the best personnel on the field in different packages,” Fisher said. “ You’re always looking for that.”
- Jimbo Fisher approves of the new FSU logo, our Jared Shanker writes.
- Despite Deshaun Watson's injury, Clemson's staff probably doesn't second-guess itself for making its QBs live on Monday, Aaron Brenner writes in the (Charleston) Post and Courier. Tough break for former Clemson tackle Brandon Thomas, who tore the ACL in his right knee last week, a month before the draft.
- Bobby Petrino talks to the (Louisville) Courier-Journal's Jeffrey Greer about his return to the Cardinals.
- Al Golden says Ryan Williams will hopefully have surgery on Wednesday, Christy Cabrera Chirinos writes in the (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel.
- Mitch Trubisky is looking to win the UNC QB job over Marquise Williams, Andrew Carter writes in the (Raleigh) News & Observer.
- Pitt football features a mutual admiration society, Sam Werner writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- Syracuse will play host to Colgate in 2016, Nate Mink writes in the (Syracuse) Post-Standard.
One week removed from a scrimmage in which he dubbed his team “lazy,” Fisher beamed following Monday’s scrimmage when discussing the Noles’ toughness.
"Much more intensity, more physical, more plays being made. For instance, a guy was covered tight, made a great throw and catch. A guy gets out in the open field, some guy comes flashing out and makes a play,” he said. “Still have to get better, but it was a very physical, good scrimmage."
The message was sent last week that Florida State would not rest on its laurels from 2013. Fisher was laconic after the Noles’ first spring scrimmage, and the few words he had for his team gravitated around the term “average.” He needed to see a renewed toughness in a team that has all the tools to land a place in the inaugural college football playoff. And if the Noles were not going to show that grit, then Fisher felt he might as well be the one to bring it out of them.
The end of practices would be goal-line drills, often the ultimate test of a team’s bravado. It’s the 11 best on offense and 11 best on defense, scrapping for each and every yard. Linebacker Ukeme Eligwe said Fisher told his team he’s going to find out how many of his players are equipped to play for the Noles.
“There was some pops today,” Fisher said.
Sophomore defensive back Jalen Ramsey prides himself on his physicality, and he said the secondary on Monday laid some big hits on the young, inexperienced receivers. Ramsey was impressed to see the receivers -- all but two weighing less than 200 pounds -- get up and jog back to the huddle each time, though.
“Was a lot better intensity out there, a lot better toughness showed by everybody,” Ramsey said. “… Coach told us to step it up, toughen it up, have more competition out there so we really worked on that in practice last week and wanted to show it [Monday] in the scrimmage.”
Florida State is far from a complete team -- injuries and departures have created concerns -- but the attitude the coaching staff is looking for is taking shape.
Asked if this Monday scrimmage looked like a Florida State practice, Fisher once again was short. Except this time, however, he was considerably more affable.
“Yes,” Fisher responded. “Much more that way.”
Fisher was asked his thoughts on the new logo, which will be officially released April 11, following Monday's practice.
"It’s still our Seminole Head. It’s a beautiful head," he said. "It doesn’t change Florida State, what our values are, what our systems are. I don’t see the issue with it."
It was reported last week Florida State planned to change its logo. There were rumors the Seminole Tribe of Florida asked the university to alter the Seminole logo, but both the Tribe and Florida State told ESPN.com that it was a university decision. In a statement released last week, Florida State said the alterations began almost two years ago and the Tribe, student-athletes, coaches, boosters and administration were all consulted. The university had issues reproducing some of the details in the original Seminole logo and asked Nike to help produce a logo that can be achieved on a consistent basis.
That set off a faction of the Florida State fan base, which took to social media to voice its displeasure. The athletic department's official Twitter responded to the negative feedback by telling its followers they can offer their opinions to the school in an email.
"Did I like the old one? Yes. Do I like the new one? Yes. It’s our logo and not drastically that much different," Fisher said. "To me, I haven’t been there that long, but I’ve been a Florida State fan, too, and I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. If the Seminole Tribe is fine with things and they like that, to me, that’s great. But it still doesn’t change our traditions, our values and what we are."
Noles quarterback Jameis Winston is also a fan of the new logo. He offered his thoughts in a tweet.
- BC Interruption's A.J. Black offers his thoughts on BC's spring game.
- Former Clemson stars are assisting in a new fundraising effort, Mandrallius Robinson writes in the Greenville News.
- Count Jameis Winston as a fan of the new FSU logo.
- Bobby Petrino's changes are off the field this time, Jeff Greer writes in the (Louisville) Courier-Journal.
- The (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel's Christy Cabrera Chirinos looks at what's next for Miami after Ryan Williams' injury.
- NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett talks with the Orlando Sentinel's Matt Murschel.
- Pitt running back James Conner calls the pain in his sprained left knee a minor setback, Jerry DiPaola writes in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
- The (Syracuse) Post-Standard's Nate Mink looks at what to expect from the tight end position in Year 2 of George McDonald's offense.
Scene and Heard: Top 10 Predictions
TBD Wofford Georgia Tech TBD Clemson Georgia TBD Boston College Massachusetts TBD James Madison Maryland TBD Elon Duke TBD Georgia Southern North Carolina State TBD Liberty North Carolina TBD Delaware Pittsburgh TBD UCLA Virginia TBD William & Mary Virginia Tech 8:00 PM ET Florida State Oklahoma State