2013 Spring Preview: Linebackers

February, 22, 2013
2/22/13
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Christian JonesKim Klement/US PresswireChristian Jones stepped up in 2012 after moving to Will linebacker, compiling 95 tackles, seven for loss. He'll be a key part of the FSU linebacker corps in 2013.
From the impending quarterback competition to finding replacements for departing juniors, Jimbo Fisher will have his work cut out for him during the next few months as he lays the groundwork for 2013.

With that in mind, we're going to go position-by-position looking at Florida State's strengths and weaknesses as the Seminoles prepare for the start of spring practice.

Previous entires can be found HERE.

Next up: Linebacker

2012 recap: It was a season of transition for Florida State's linebackers. Christian Jones made the move from the Sam to the Will, and he saw a noticeable uptick in his production, too. Jones led FSU with 95 tackles on the season, including seven for a loss. Nick Moody switched from safety to handle the strong side, but that role never really materialized on the field. The one game he figured to see the most playing time was the ACC championship against run-heavy Georgia Tech, but an injury sidelined him in the first quarter, and Karlos Williams stepped in and delivered a huge performance.

Vince Williams and Telvin Smith shared duties at middle linebacker for the second straight year, and it was a perfectly symbiotic relationship. Williams proved stout against the run, while Smith blossomed into one of the hardest hitters on FSU's D. The two combined for 123 tackles, including 16 for a loss. Overall, FSU had to be pleased with how well all the transitions went, but there were noticeable hiccups along the way -- most notably in a shocking loss to NC State in which the Wolfpack dinked and dunked their way to a late win by exploiting weaknesses in the Seminoles' linebacking corps.

Departures: After five years in garnet and gold, Vince Williams finally said goodbye to FSU. While he has a built-in replacement in Smith, his platoon partner for the past two seasons, Williams' leadership and physicality against the run won't be easily replaced. Moody is also moving on after playing a more limited role in his lone season at the position in 2012.

[+] EnlargeFreddie Stevenson
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comFreshman linebacker Freddie Stevenson enrolled early and could be a factor in 2013.
Arrivals: Markus Eligwe arrived last year with some fanfare, but he landed a redshirt at the end of fall camp, then missed a big chunk of practice time with an injury. He's healthy and figures to be in the mix this season. It's the incoming freshman class that should provide a real infusion of talent, however. FSU signed five linebackers in this year's class, led by top recruit Matthew Thomas. Early enrollee Freddie Stevenson and middle linebacker E.J. Levenberry could push for immediate playing time, too. Of course, the biggest change at the position may come from the coaching staff, where Charles Kelly takes over for the departed Greg Hudson. Finally, Karlos Williams remains a wild card at linebacker. Could he make the move from safety for a starting job in the linebacking corps? His performance against Tech certainly indicates he could -- but the question is whether that will actually result in a significant boost in playing time.

Biggest question mark: Who mans the strong side and just how often he'll be on the field provides the biggest mystery to the linebacking corps. Jones and Smith figure to be the foundation, but Thomas could get his feet wet at the Sam position before sliding over to the Will next season, just as Jones did to start his career. Karlos Williams showed what he's capable of in his one-game trial at SLB against Georgia Tech, so he could easily fill the role, too. Then add in Stevenson, Eligwe, Reggie Northrup and others, and there's plenty of competition for a spot that figures to only play a limited role as FSU continues to employ more and more nickel and dime packages.

Breakout star: Take your pick. If Jones wasn't already a star, he figures to become one in 2013, when he'll be the focal point of FSU's defense. Smith had to share the stage with Vince Williams for the past few years, but this season represents his chance to claim the entirety of the spotlight at middle linebacker. Thomas has star potential if he gets enough playing time, and Karlos Williams, should he land at the linebacker spot, is already a star in the making.

Projected 2013 starters: Jones, Smith, Thomas

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