Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Spring was crash course on Noles' new D
By David M. Hale
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Nothing was going to change. That was Jimbo Fisher's story to start the spring, regardless of the massive overhaul of his defensive coaching staff.
Sure, new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt would bring a few new wrinkles from his old stomping grounds at Alabama, but in the big picture, Fisher assured, Florida State's defense would still look much as it did for the past three seasons under Mark Stoops.
By the end of the spring, however, it was clear Fisher had downplayed the impact his new coaches would have. The Seminoles spent weeks watching tape of the Crimson Tide. Pruitt installed new verbiage, new calls, new schemes and a whole lot of new blitz packages. And when a rather vanilla spring game ended, even Fisher was ready to ratchet up the expectations.
Karlos Williams made several big plays in pass defense last season, but could be used in more blitzes in 2013.
"You ain't seen blitzes yet," Fisher said.
If the quarterback battle was all the buzz among Florida State fans this spring, it's the defense that created the most excitement inside the locker room. Pruitt's approach completely restructured the simplified scheme Stoops had used with such success the past three seasons, and that meant new opportunities for the Seminoles' defenders and plenty of confusion for the offense.
The only problem was that FSU had just four weeks to master it before the long summer began.
"That's the hardest part, because at some point we were trying to relate last year's calls to this year's calls, and you really can't do that," safety Terrence Brooks said. "You've got to forget all that. It's learning a whole new defense."
The large-scale changes were bound to occur given the three new coaches on defense. But shaking things up also brings risk.
Stoops' unit was immensely successful, finishing second in total defense in 2012 and fourth in 2011. And the beauty of Stoops' approach was in its simplicity. He asked his defensive backs to cover, asked his linebackers to stop the run and asked his front four to generate pressure. Blitzes were the exception, not the rule.
"Stoops made it really, really simple," Brooks said. "I feel like he was a genius for that, getting the defense to be that good, but so simple."
Maintaining that simplicity might have been difficult regardless of the coaching changes, though. With the loss of five defensive linemen and one of the nation's top cornerbacks to the NFL, changes were inevitable. Ends Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine had been immensely successful in generating pressure without blitzing, but that's a luxury Pruitt won't get a chance to enjoy.
Instead, Pruitt's scheme takes some of the responsibility away from the defensive front and opens up the game plan for the athletes off the line of scrimmage -- and that's an exciting proposition for players such as new starting safety Karlos Williams.
"I feel like we will be way more aggressive than we have been because we're just doing a lot more -- we're a lot more active," Williams said. "But you all can watch it and see what happens."
Blitzes come from all over the field, and Pruitt has created dozens of new looks. Linebackers creep up to the line of scrimmage, ends drop into coverage, defensive backs are blitzing routinely. It's chaos for the offense -- but it's not entirely simple for the defense, either.
"We all felt overwhelmed at some point, but all those little things and calls, it really helps a lot because it gives us a chance to make so many more plays," Brooks said. "It's amazing to see on film how Alabama did it. They had guys dropping into coverage, all the different calls they had, but they all made a lot of plays off those little calls."
But picking up all those new calls was crucial. As a new crop of freshmen arrive this summer and a handful of veterans return from injuries, it will be the responsibility of FSU's veteran defenders to pass along what they learned from this spring's four-week crash course.
Truth be told, linebacker Christian Jones said, they could've used a few more weeks to prepare. But all things considered, Jones is confident the summer will prove to be a productive time even without Pruitt's immediate oversight.
"This spring, we pretty much put in the whole playbook," Jones said. "The guys have done a pretty good job of picking it all up, but it's a lot of stuff. It's a lot of checks, change the fronts a lot."
The new defense presents some pressure, but Jones isn't complaining. It might take a while longer to get everyone on the same page, but when it all comes together, this new defense could be awfully fun to watch.
"It's spring, so they've got to throw all that stuff in so we can know it in the fall," Jones said. "Once we get to the fall and can game plan, I think we'll have a real scary defense."