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Monday, December 17, 2012
The Big Board: Rebuilding the D

By David M. Hale

Florida State hasn't made it official, and Jimbo Fisher has remained coy on the subject, but it certainly appears the Seminoles will have a new defensive coordinator soon, with all signs pointing to Fisher hiring Alabama defensive backs coach Jeremy Pruitt.

The hire would come as a minor surprise, given Pruitt's lack of experience as a coordinator and the 3-4 base defense run at Alabama, but he's a rising star in the profession and a strong recruiter. That could loom large given the amount of turnover Florida State figures to endure on defense this offseason.

In addition to the coaching staff, which must replace Mark Stoops and D.J. Eliot -- as well as linebackers coach Greg Hudson, who could move to an administrative position -- FSU will be looking to revamp the bulk of its defense.

Gone for certain are seniors Cornellius Carradine, Brandon Jenkins, Anthony McCloud, Everett Dawkins, Vince Williams and Nick Moody -- all starters.

Florida State's Bjoern Werner
Tabbed as a top-10 pick by most NFL mock drafts, Florida State isn't expecting Bjoern Werner to be back for his senior season.
Defensive end Bjoern Werner looks like a likely departure, too. Werner said Friday that he has already made his decision, but won't be announcing it until after the bowl game. Still, even Fisher sounded like he was prepared to say goodbye to Werner, who is projected as a top-10 pick in the NFL draft. In response to a question about the amount of postseason award praise Werner has earned, Fisher noted: "There's going to be a lot of praise in that draft, too."

Cornerback Xavier Rhodes also might be leaning toward leaving. The consensus was that he would depart for the NFL after last season, but an injury in the bowl game caused him to reconsider. He'd be one of the top cornerbacks in this year's draft.

Safety Lamarcus Joyner could decide to leave, too. His case is a bit trickier, as his smaller frame would likely keep him out of the first round -- but that also means that staying another season won't necessarily help his cause much.

"Physically, mentally, I feel as though I'm ready to take my game to the next level," Joyner said. "I feel like I've accomplished all I need here at Florida State, and it's a win-win situation. If I leave, I get a great opportunity to make it to the next level, and if I come back, I get to get my degree."

FSU's leading tackler, linebacker Christian Jones, could leave as well, though he seems like the least likely candidate to make an early departure.

As a percentage of FSU's total tackles, here's how each departure would impact Florida State in 2013:

If all four underclassmen remained, the Seminoles would only be losing a slightly higher percentage of their total tackles than they did a year ago. Returning more than 70 percent of tackles is generally a pretty good harbinger for things to come.

Using Phil Steele's preseason numbers, 27 teams from AQ conferences to return at least 70 percent of their tackles from 2011, 21 are playing in bowl games and another, Ohio State, would have had it not been dealing with sanctions. Meanwhile, two others -- Maryland and Connecticut -- had strong defensive units this season. Five of the 10 teams in BCS bowls returned at least 70 percent of last season's tackles.

Of course, shooting for that 70 percent mark is likely a lost cause, but even if both Werner and Rhodes depart, there is potential for FSU to have a strong defense again next season.

Sixty-six teams returned at least 64 percent of their 2011 tackles this season, and it's a mixed bag of both good and bad units. But it's worth noting that Notre Dame's vaunted defense returned just 64.8 percent of its tackles from the previous season.

If Joyner departs, that's a bigger blow, but still not a huge obstacle necessarily. First, Joyner's departure would open the door for Karlos Williams to step into a bigger role, and he's more than capable of blossoming into a star. And again, teams such as Cincinnati, Kansas State and South Carolina all produced strong defenses this year while returning less than 60 percent of last year's tackles.

If Jones leaves, however, things get much trickier. Only 14 teams in the nation returned a lower percentage of tackles this season than FSU would next year if all four underclassmen departed, and it's hardly an impressive list: Pittsburgh, California, Temple and Kentucky are prime examples.

Of course, there's one other team that comes awfully close. Alabama is playing for its second straight national title despite losing 50 percent of its tackles from last season. Rebuilding, it turns out, hasn't been too tough for the Tide's defense.

So, perhaps it's fitting then that Fisher will be handing over Florida State's new-look unit to a coach who was integral in helping Alabama reload rather than rebuild.