It is officially time for Florida State to put its 2013 championship season behind it and begin pursuit of a second consecutive national title as spring practice is just two weeks away.
While many of the Seminoles’ top players will return to Doak Campbell Stadium this fall, graduation, early departures and transfers have left coach Jimbo Fisher searching for answers at a handful of positions. There is talent and depth across the board, but the FSU staff is hoping key replacements emerge this spring before being thrust into pivotal roles in the fall.
This week we look at five key position battles for the Seminoles this spring, and concluding our series is a look at linebacker. The backup quarterback battle was dissected Monday, the depth chart at running back was examined Tuesday, receiver was under the microscope Wednesday, and Thursday was dedicated to defensive tackle.
Replacing: Telvin Smith
Gone for the NFL is Smith, who registered 15 tackles against Auburn in the VIZIO BCS National Championship. The good news for Florida State is there is a strong crop linebackers who have patiently waited to crack the starting lineup.
Terrance Smith could slide from middle linebacker to the weakside, Telvin’s old position. Terrance (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) is physically similar to Telvin (6-3, 218) and would likely adjust well to the outside. Regardless, Telvin’s departure leaves one spot open at linebacker for the Noles whether it is on the inside or the weakside of the offense’s formation. The strongside position could go to a hybrid DE/LB, similar to graduated linebacker Christian Jones.
Northrup, a junior out of Jacksonville, Fla., was listed on the depth chart as Telvin’s backup during the 2013 season. Northrup played as a reserve in all 14 games and totaled 46 tackles last season. If Terrance Smith remains at inside linebacker, Northrup could slide right into the starting position on the weak side.
What could work against Northrup’s chances to land in the starting lineup is the hype surrounding sophomore Levenberry. A meteoric rise throughout fall camp last season had the 6-3, 236-pound already in the two-deep at middle linebacker as a freshman. He played in 13 games and even posted a start in the win against Boston College. Late in the season, Levenberry announced himself to FSU fans with an athletic showcase that resulted in a 78-yard interception return for a touchdown. Levenberry tipped a pass to himself and raced down the sideline outrunning the Idaho offense. Now with a full season and another spring practice under his belt, it is going to be tough to keep Levenberry out of the starting lineup.
Daub is a member of Florida State’s 2014 recruiting class who enrolled in January. He will be able to participate in spring practice, although it seems unlikely he will find a place in the starting lineup when the Noles travel to Dallas for the season opener. Daub certainly has the credentials to make an impact as a freshman, however. He was ranked third among inside linebackers nationally and was No. 32 in the ESPN 300.
One key component of this positional battle will be how much of an emphasis Fisher and linebackers coach Charles Kelly put on leadership to replace Telvin Smith. Few voices were stronger than his in the locker room last season, and linebacker is the type of position that calls for a leader who will not only direct his teammates at linebacker but the entire defense.
Along with defensive tackle, this could be the most intriguing position battle of the spring.