- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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Each season brings with it new expectations, and a handful of Seminoles will bear the brunt of the pressure to perform in 2013. We're counting down the top 10 FSU players being counted on the most to help the Seminoles live up to expectations.
No. 6: DT Timmy Jernigan
2012 performance: For the second season in a row, Jernigan was impressive in a role that was largely as a reserve. He did start two games while Anthony McCloud sat out with an injury, but Jernigan's primary work came off the bench, where he might have been one of the best backup defensive lineman in the country. He led FSU's interior line in tackles (46) and tackles for loss (8) and was a force against the run, where the Seminoles finished in the top three in the country in rushing defense for the second straight season.
Pressure point: In his first two years at FSU, Jernigan developed into a star, but he had the luxury of a prominent supporting cast. That won't be the case in 2013. The Seminoles lost five defensive linemen to the NFL, including both starters at tackle. That leaves Jernigan as the man every opposing offensive line coach will be scheming for.
If he succeeds: A strong season would mean a lot for the Seminoles' D and for Jernigan personally. He's already being discussed as a potential first-round draft pick and one of the top underclassmen in the nation, but there remains a bit of skepticism about how he'll hold up in a bigger role in a more novice defensive line. If Jernigan answers those questions, it would be a boon for a young line in need of leadership and a strong push for Jeremy Pruitt's defense which, unlike last year, won't rely solely on pressure from the front four. Moreover, it would secure Jernigan's spot near the top of many NFL draft boards.
If he fails: Few people are expecting failure from Jernigan, but rather question how much he'll advance in a full-time role and whether that will be enough to weather the storm after so much turnover on the line. A year ago, FSU's strength was its ability to get pressure without the blitz and its dominance against the run. Jernigan won't shoulder the entirety of the responsibility for maintaining that standard, but anything less than a marked step forward for the junior would certainly make a repeat performance from the rest of the line awfully tough.
Projection: During the spring, Jernigan said all the right things about wanting to become a leader for the defense and a star defender in the ACC. Unfortunately, his spring was cut short by a high ankle sprain. It's the second spring in a row in which Jernigan has gone down with a relatively serious injury, and that's perhaps the biggest concern right now. No one questions Jernigan's talent or ability, and while the larger role brings with it increased pressure, it's also a bigger opportunity for him to produce. And while life will be tougher without Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine flanking him, Jernigan does have the benefit of some veteran talent on the interior of the line. Expect another strong performance, even if the overall defensive line takes a small step back.