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Thursday, March 14, 2013
Spring questions: New-look pass rush

By David M. Hale

Editor’s note: Each day until the start of spring practice, we’ll pose a question facing Florida State's football team as it moves toward the 2013 season. Today’s question: How will the defensive front look after a wave of departures from last year's group?

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- By the time next year's NFL draft is complete, five former Florida State defensive linemen figure to hear their names called. That's an impressive indication of just how much talent was on this unit for the past two seasons, but it also underscores one of the biggest questions of this spring: How can Jimbo Fisher replace so many departing stars in one group?

In 2012, FSU finished in the top three in the country in rush defense (91.9 yards per game) for the second year in a row, and for the third straight year, the Seminoles led the ACC in sacks (36). As far as pass rushers go, Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine were the most prolific defensive end tandem in the nation. But aside from quarterback, no area of the roster figures to get as big a facelift for 2013.

Mario Edwards, Jr.
Mario Edwards Jr. is on the verge of a dynamic season in 2013.
The one veteran holdover is Timmy Jernigan, who has been a nominal backup for two seasons but was easily FSU's best interior lineman last season. He plays exceptionally well against the run, but he also has the strength to move linemen, collapse the pocket and disrupt the opposition's passing game. With first-round potential, there's a good chance he'll follow this year's wave of NFL hopefuls into the draft in 2014.

Beyond Jernigan, however, there are few established veterans. Of all Florida State's defensive linemen, only Mario Edwards Jr. and Jacobbi McDaniel have starting experience. Edwards started the final two games of last season. McDaniel hasn't played at all in nearly two years. In other words, it's not exactly a wealth of experience.

Where FSU is light on veterans, it's got plenty of potential. Edwards is a potential superstar, and his trial run following Carradine's late-season knee injury in 2012 provided ample reason for optimism. He's trimmed his nearly 300-pound frame significantly from the start of last season, and his quickness for a player of his size is impressive. Still, it’s one thing to look good with Werner on the opposite side of the line. Being the center of attention is a much bigger challenge.

The other end spot is up for grabs. Giogio Newberry is the veteran of the group, but he did little with his opportunity to impress a year ago. He's got the size and quickness necessary to excel as a pass rusher, but he's been slow to develop. The reports from offseason drills have been encouraging, however, and the new voices on the coaching staff -- led by new ends coach Sal Sunseri -- could be the spark he needed to take the next step. After Newberry, redshirt freshman Chris Casher and early enrollee DeMarcus Walker will push for snaps, too.

Similarly, the tackle position doesn't have a clear answer after Jernigan. Senior Demonte McAllister is the early leader for a starting job after a strong 2012, but he'll miss all of spring practice with an injury. That opens the door for McDaniel and sophomore Eddie Goldman, both one-time top recruits with plenty of potential.

But even after the personnel is determined, there are still questions about how the unit will look on game day. Under former coordinator Mark Stoops, the defensive line was the keystone of the defense, and blitzing was kept to a minimum. New coordinator Jeremy Pruitt comes from a background that employed a 3-4 scheme, and he might be apt to play a more aggressive style -- particularly with a less experienced front four.

For the past few years, the defensive line has provided a solid foundation for FSU. This spring begins a brave new world, and the end result could look a lot different than 2012.