- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The crash course lasted four weeks this spring, and thanks to offseason surgeries, a number of Jeremy Pruitt's new students were simply auditing the class.
Perhaps it wouldn't have mattered anyway. Spring practice was just a taste, an introductory course to material that might still befuddle a player with a PhD in Pruitt's aggressive philosophy.
The fact is, Florida State's defense is only in its infancy, but it will need to grow up quickly.
"It's so much to do, more blitzing, more aggressive," cornerback Lamarcus Joyner said. "It's a defense that's an offense. Our philosophy is putting the offense on defense, and we have all the answers. We have to get adapted to that mindset."
The only problem, of course, is that they don't have all the answers just yet.
Pruitt installed what he could this spring by treating players to extended film study of the scheme he helped run at Alabama and a more physical approach to practice sessions. Since spring practice ended, however, the players have largely been on their own for seven-on-seven drills, and the task of refining techniques they've only just begun to understand isn't easy.
What's carried the Seminoles defenders this summer, however, is that while the scheme might be complex, it's also a lot of fun.
"When you're having fun doing something, you're willing to participate and take the time to learn it and act on it," Joyner said. "It's been pretty good in seven-on-seven."
Joyner said junior Tyler Hunter has been the point man this summer, meeting with Pruitt and scripting practices. Joyner, Telvin Smith, Christian Jones and Timmy Jernigan have offered a veteran presence to ease the transition, too.
But really, the sales pitch for Pruitt's defense has been easy. It's the details that have made life tough.
"At some point we were trying to relate last year's calls to this year's calls and you really can't do that. You've got to forget all that. It's learning a whole new defense," safety Terrence Brooks said at the end of spring practice. "We all felt overwhelmed at some point."
With fall camp opening in less than two week, and a conference game against Pittsburgh looming to start the season, FSU's defenders have been forced to push through the chaos and buckle down this summer to ensure no time is wasted on an August refresher course.
The key, Joyner said, is limiting the scope of each day's lessons rather than being overwhelmed by the enormity of Pruitt's playbook.
"Keep things simple," Joyner said. "It's a complex defense, but you want to make it as simple as possible. You want to learn everything you can learn and just focus and have a set mind on what your goals are to do with this new defensive scheme."
Even Jimbo Fisher is playing along with that plan.
Following the spring game, Fisher quipped that Florida State had only unveiled a small portion of the blitzes it has in store for the season, but during this week's ACC Kickoff event in Greensboro, N.C., he tuned down the rhetoric just a tad and suggested no game plan was set in stone yet.
For now, the complexity of Pruitt's scheme will be determined by the knowledge of his players and the potential of the opposition.
"Each game plan will be determined, but we have more multiplicity of things to be able to do within our scheme," Fisher said. "How much more we do we'll base on what we have to do to win the game."
Still, the potential is obvious in the enthusiastic manner in which Pruitt's game plan is discussed by his players. Florida State's roster is loaded with athleticism, and Pruitt's approach is tailored perfectly to exploit those strengths. That's enough to keep the group motivated throughout a particularly grueling summer.
"I can see they're still learning, but I can see that they want to learn the things that Coach Pruitt establishing," receiver Rashad Greene said. "They like what he's trying to bring to the table, and when you have players behind you 100 percent -- all of them like what he's trying to do, and that says a lot. If they want to do it, they will do it."
It's change, and for fans of a defense that finished among the best in the country in each of the past two seasons, that can be a scary proposition. And for all the buzz surrounding the philosophy Pruitt brought from Alabama, none of the Seminoles dispute that it's going to take time before that potential is fully realized.
But for all the success FSU's defense enjoyed the past two seasons, it had become old hat, Joyner said, and there may be a real benefit from the mystery of the unknown.
"It's just human nature you get tired of doing the same things over and over, and you need new things to grow," Joyner said. "You're doing new things, it's new excitement, new motivation. It's an edge. And you always need an edge. I think this defense gives us a challenge and an edge to do better things."
5dDavid M. Hale
5dDavid M. Hale