Tuesday, January 15, 2013
2013 Spring Preview: Cornerbacks
By David M. Hale
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.
First up: Cornerback
Cornerback Ronald Darby stepped in and became a big contributor as a freshman.
2012 recap: Last season began with a seemingly huge setback when three-year starter Greg Reid was dismissed from the program just before the start of fall camp. As it turned out, however, FSU had plenty of in-house answers. Freshman Ronald Darby and sophomore Nick Waisome stepped in to more than adequately fill the void, and FSU's pass defense finished as one of the best units in the country.
Departures: It seemed a foregone conclusion long before the season ended, and as expected, junior Xavier Rhodes opted to pass on a fifth year in Tallahassee and will head to the NFL draft. It's a big loss, as Rhodes had blossomed into one of the best cover corners in the nation, and 2012 might have been his best season as a Seminole.
Arrivals: Redshirt freshman Colin Blake will get his first taste of action. FSU has two four-star commitments at the position in Marquez White (Dothan, Ala./Northview) and Michael Johnson (Miami/Booker T. Washington). White is the 17th-ranked corner in the nation, according to ESPN.
Biggest question mark: Replacing Rhodes is obviously the top priority, but with the impressive 2012 campaigns from both Darby and Waisome, the answers appear fairly obvious. What might be a more intriguing question is who steps in as the third man in the cornerback rotation -- a list that could include more work from nickel Tyler Hunter, early playing time for the youngsters or, perhaps most likely, an expanded role for rising sophomore Keelin Smith.
Breakout star: Darby seems the logical choice. He never quite overtook Waisome for the starting job in 2012, but it wasn't for a lack of trying. Darby finished the season having appeared in all 14 games, making 22 tackles and recording eight pass breakups and one forced fumble en route to being named a freshman All-American. He's perhaps not quite as physical as Rhodes, but his speed is elite and he has the potential to quickly develop into one of the marquee defensive backs in the conference.
Projected 2013 starters: Darby and Waisome, with Hunter as the top nickel option.