- 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. 5: LB Christian Jones
2012 performance: After switching from strongside to weakside linebacker before the season, 2012 figured to be a breakout performance for Jones. In the end, it turned out to be a big step forward, but it wasn't quite a star turn for the immensely talented Jones. He led the Seminoles in tackles with 95 (including seven for a loss) and recovered two fumbles, including one in the end zone for a score against USF. And while Jones was active on defense throughout the season, part of his limited overall numbers came from a scheme that emphasized the defensive line.
Pressure point: If Jones wasn't the centerpiece of the defensive scheme a year ago, that should change this season under new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. This spring, Pruitt had Jones lining up nearly everywhere -- in coverage, playing the run, rushing the passer with his hand on the ground. Jones may be one of FSU's best overall athletes, and Pruitt seems giddy at the possibilities that offers, but that also means the senior will be picking up a hefty chunk of responsibility -- particularly considering the completely revamped defensive front. Add in the potential for Jones to dramatically improve his NFL stock, and there's a lot riding on this season.
If he succeeds: The sky is the limit, really. Jones has the talent to be one of the ACC's most prolific defenders, and a 100-tackle season seems a good starting point. But it's not just the tackles that could turn Jones into a difference-maker this season. He's capable of so much more, and Pruitt appears ready to open up the playbook. If all goes well, Jones will anchor a linebacking corps that figures to be a strength of the defense, help to maintain FSU's production against the run and push himself into the discussion as a first-round pick in next year's NFL draft.
If he fails: It's hard to envision a scenario in which Jones is an all-out failure this year, short of a significant injury. If that scenario unfolds, it's as close to a doomsday scenario as FSU's defense gets. There simply isn't another player experienced enough to take over. But the Seminoles would prefer not to imagine that possibility for now, meaning the bigger question is what constitutes success for Jones this year. He chose to return to school after being projected as a mid-round selection had he headed to the NFL, and he's got his sights set on upping his stock dramatically. To do so, he'll need to have a bigger impact on a more consistent basis. If he doesn't, much of the aggressive scheme Pruitt has planned could fall apart, and Jones' own future gets a bit murkier.
Projection: Triple-figure tackle numbers look like the starting point for Jones this year, and it's certainly an achievable goal. But more than that, Jones should be more of a factor rushing the quarterback, too. The biggest gray areas at this point surround how Jones will hold up in coverage -- there were occasional struggles in 2012 in that area -- and whether he and fellow linebacker Telvin Smith can help pick up enough of the slack against the run to overcome the loss of so many big playmakers on the line. With Jones' talent and Pruitt's approach, though, it seems a safe bet a big season is in store.
1dJeremy Crabtree and Brandon Chatmon