FSU Seminoles: Anthony McCloud
No. 6: DT Timmy Jernigan
2012 performance: For the second season in a row, Jernigan was impressive in a role that was largely as a reserve. He did start two games while Anthony McCloud sat out with an injury, but Jernigan's primary work came off the bench, where he might have been one of the best backup defensive lineman in the country. He led FSU's interior line in tackles (46) and tackles for loss (8) and was a force against the run, where the Seminoles finished in the top three in the country in rushing defense for the second straight season.
Pressure point: In his first two years at FSU, Jernigan developed into a star, but he had the luxury of a prominent supporting cast. That won't be the case in 2013. The Seminoles lost five defensive linemen to the NFL, including both starters at tackle. That leaves Jernigan as the man every opposing offensive line coach will be scheming for.
If he fails: Few people are expecting failure from Jernigan, but rather question how much he'll advance in a full-time role and whether that will be enough to weather the storm after so much turnover on the line. A year ago, FSU's strength was its ability to get pressure without the blitz and its dominance against the run. Jernigan won't shoulder the entirety of the responsibility for maintaining that standard, but anything less than a marked step forward for the junior would certainly make a repeat performance from the rest of the line awfully tough.
Projection: During the spring, Jernigan said all the right things about wanting to become a leader for the defense and a star defender in the ACC. Unfortunately, his spring was cut short by a high ankle sprain. It's the second spring in a row in which Jernigan has gone down with a relatively serious injury, and that's perhaps the biggest concern right now. No one questions Jernigan's talent or ability, and while the larger role brings with it increased pressure, it's also a bigger opportunity for him to produce. And while life will be tougher without Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine flanking him, Jernigan does have the benefit of some veteran talent on the interior of the line. Expect another strong performance, even if the overall defensive line takes a small step back.
Jernigan was already on the field for a majority of snaps throughout most games, and his impact on the defensive line already included more tackles than any other FSU interior lineman in 2012. Still, there's something about hearing his name announced before each game and knowing he's officially secured the job of starter on a unit that's been among the best in the nation in recent years that Jernigan relishes.
"I've been waiting a long time," he said. "So I'm really excited about it."
Jernigan's enthusiasm isn't entirely inflated either. Sure, his playing time isn't likely to shift dramatically, and he's already proven he's capable of handling a sizable role on the defense. But what's truly different for the junior defensive tackle in 2013 isn't about reps or tackles but about his place in the hierarchy of the defense.
For the past two seasons, FSU's line has been the foundation of its defensive scheme. The unit has helped the Seminoles finish in the top three in the nation stopping the run in both 2011 and 2012, and last month, it sent five players on to the NFL, including all of last year's starters.
That, of course, means a massive overhaul for the unit, but thanks to Jernigan's presence -- along with potential breakout stars like Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman -- the expectations haven't dipped much. And that's a burden Jernigan hadn't been asked to carry before.
"I feel like it's my D-line now," Jernigan said. "I'm trying to be a leader."
AP Photo/Phil SearsAs a sophomore, Timmy Jernigan led all FSU defensive tackles in tackles last season.
That attention is nice, he admits, but his bigger role in 2013 isn't about burnishing his resume for the next level.
"It inspired me to work even harder toward what I want," Jernigan said. "I'm not really worried about the NFL or anything like that because there's so much more I feel like I have to do here in Tallahassee. I'll worry about that when it's time."
What Jernigan needs to do this season isn't simply a repeat of past performance either.
Jimbo Fisher has been quick to shrug off concerns about the massive changes on the defensive line, noting that Jernigan and Demonte McAllister were already FSU's most productive tackles, but it's hard to ignore the notion that life gets more difficult without established talent surrounding them.
That means Jernigan has to pick up the slack as the centerpiece of the line and help bring along the younger talent alongside him.
Before an ankle injury sidelined him midway through the spring, Jernigan was taking reps alongside a bevy of potential partners on the line, from veterans like Jacobbi McDaniel and Giorgio Newberry to youngsters like Edwards and Goldman. The rotations, he expects, will continue well into the fall, but he admits it's hard not to be impressed by the potential of some of the young guns.
"I like what they're doing because they're asking questions, they're very humble," Jernigan said. "They understand we have all the talent in the world up front but the biggest thing is we've got to get everything going. Those guys are going to be just fine. It's just a matter of understanding what you're doing. Not understanding slows you down, but those guys are going to be just fine."
Of course, Jernigan is dealing with a bit of a learning curve, too. While his position group was spared in the overhaul of FSU's coaching staff this offseason, the new, aggressive schemes being implemented by defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt have added some wrinkles to what had been a relatively straightforward approach.
But like the move from reserve to starter, Jernigan sees the changes as an opportunity to impress.
"That's what I like," Jernigan said. "I like to get off the ball and attack blockers rather than absorb them. It's going to be a positive. I'm very excited about it."
Jimbo Fisher does not see it that way. Not one bit. As spring practice opens today, Fisher needs to find new starters at some key positions, including quarterback, defensive end and linebacker. But he sees players who have had valuable playing experience ready to step right into starting roles, not wet-behind-the-ears freshmen in over their heads.
To him, there is no dropoff between the talent on his 2012 ACC winning team, and the talent on his 2013 team.
Mitch Stringer/USA TODAY SportsThere will be a competition for FSU"s starting quarterback, but Clint Trickett has more game experience than the others.
"Just because you don’t start a game doesn’t mean you’re not starter material. Do you understand what I’m saying? We’re establishing ourselves as a program again and guys still played as much ball as anybody else."
Fisher gave a host of examples. Every starter on the defensive line is gone -- ends Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine, and tackles Anthony McCloud and Everett Dawkins. But the players expected to move into the starting lineup played extensively last season. Mario Edwards Jr. and Giorgio Newberry will start with the first-team at end; Timmy Jernigan, perhaps the best interior lineman last year, moves up to start at one tackle spot.
Vince Williams and Nick Moody are gone at linebacker. Into the middle steps Telvin Smith, who has extensive game experience and should have no problems moving up.
Then of course, there is the quarterback spot, a position that folks across the ACC will be paying attention to as the competition begins. Clint Trickett starts out No. 1 on the depth chart, and here again is where playing time has helped him. Trickett has played in 16 games with two starts behind EJ Manuel the last two seasons.
The other three players competing for the starting job -- Jacob Coker, Sean Maguire and Jameis Winston -- have either limited or no game experience. That does not take them out of the mix by any stretch. Fisher already said the position is wide open, and he has no timetable to make a decision. But having game experience is certainly not going to hurt him as the Noles try to find their leader on offense.
"From a talent standpoint, I think we’re still a very talented football team and we have guys with a lot of experience still playing," Fisher said. "We look at returning starters sometimes, it’s a very misleading factor about depth of a team and how much guys have played behind them. I’m excited about these young guys. Even though they’re new starters, they've still played like starters."
As for the coaching changes, six new assistants will be on the field this spring, including new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. But Fisher downplayed those changes as well, saying nothing would change about philosophy or with the schemes the Noles run.
"We're going to do things the Florida State way, the way we've been doing," Fisher said.
That means plugging new guys into the starting lineup and believing there will be few hiccups along the way.
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.
Previously: Cornerback, Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Next up: Defensive Tackles
Kevin Liles/US PresswireDemonte McAllister (97) took a step forward in his junior season.
Departures: Stalwarts Dawkins and McCloud were never the most hyped guys on FSU's defense, but for the past two seasons, they were often the foundation of a unit that dominated opposing run games. Both departed at year's end as seniors, part of a massive overhaul on the D line that will see the Seminoles replace all four of their starters. Still, there's a wealth of talent -- as many as six potential impact players -- at the tackle position that should make for a relatively smooth transition.
Arrivals: Four-star commitment DeMarcus Walker (Sandalwood/Jacksonville, Fla.) is among FSU's most prized recruits from the class of 2013, while the Seminoles will also add a top recruit from the 2009 class when senior Jacobbi McDaniel finally returns from an ankle injury that kept him out for much of the past two seasons. Redshirt freshman Justin Shanks (6-2, 340) should be an intriguing addition to the lineup as well.
That's good news for a handful of once promising talent on the Florida State roster, but it's hardly a guarantee that much will change. While last week, we looked at five rising stars for FSU, these six players have a much steeper hill to climb after seeing their stars dim during 2012.
Mario Pender (RFr./RB)
Background: Highly regarded on the recruiting trail, Pender's freshman season at Florida State never got started. A groin injury over the summer lingered into fall camp, and it was quickly determined he'd need season-ending surgery to repair it. He never ran a rep during practice but is expected to be ready to go this spring.
Possible 2013 status: On the one hand, Pender can still step in to a relatively uncertain running back situation and find a niche. James Wilder Jr.'s continued legal problems are a cause for concern, and Devonta Freeman was inconsistent down the stretch after Chris Thompson's injury. On the other hand, Florida State could be adding more talent with this year's recruiting class, and thanks to the injury, Pender won't be dramatically ahead of them in terms of preparation.
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.
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Much of that mystery trickles down to Florida State, which at various times since this summer has had as many as five different players discussed as possible, probable or even definitive first-rounders.
Never mind that Werner has yet to announce an official decision on whether he'll forego his senior season at Florida State. That seems a near inevitability after the loss of both his defensive coordinator and position coach, along with his firsthand witnessing of cautionary tales of fellow defensive ends destined for first-round status who later suffered season-ending injuries.
In his first mock draft, ESPN's Todd McShay doesn't simply list Werner as a first rounder, but goes so far as to project the FSU junior as the third overall pick.
[The Raiders] would face a tough call between Werner and LSU DE Barkevious Mingo, who has a better natural skill set as a pass-rusher and would give the Raiders a lighter, faster edge rusher. However, Werner is the more consistent player and has a better all-around game.
If McShay's projection proved accurate, it would be the earliest a Florida State player has been selected in the NFL draft since Arizona took Andre Wadsworth with the third overall pick in 1998. Even if Werner slides a few spots -- Mel Kiper Jr. has him eighth on his big board -- he'd still be just the third first-round pick out of FSU in the past five years, and the highest overall pick since Peter Warrick (fourth) and Corey Simon (sixth) were selected in 2000.
But what of the rest of the Seminoles' 2013 draft class? Here's a quick look at where the other potential pros might stand.
For the first time since 2000, Florida State and Florida will face off while ranked in the top 10, and with both teams likely shut out of the BCS national championship picture, Saturday's game represents something of its own title game to determine the state's champion.
So, as FSU preps for its stiffest competition of the season, here are five key storylines to watch this weekend.
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Florida State's offense racked up five touchdowns in a dominant win over Duke, and had it not been for four fumbles, it might have been a lot more.
So, with a bye week finally at hand, here's how the power rankings stack up after nine games. (Last week's ranks in parentheses.)
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Crew chief David Epperley was suspended Monday for ruling the first half over following an FSU offensive penalty, which would normally result in a 10-second run-off, but Fisher still had a timeout remaining, which would have negated the run-off.
As Miami's players dashed off the field, Fisher pleaded with officials to reconsider the call, which they eventually did. Dustin Hopkins then drilled a 46-yard field goal with 3 seconds remaining to give Florida State a 13-10 halftime lead.
"Luckily they got it right, and they listened," Fisher said.
But while the officials belatedly corrected that call, Fisher remains disgruntled about a number of other calls. Florida State was flagged for penalties 16 times in Saturday's game, though four were either offset or declined. Three of the penalties were for offensive pass interference, including one that negated a touchdown to Kelvin Benjamin.
Fisher said the contact on the play came as a result of Miami's defender jamming Benjamin, and he lamented that another flag was thrown on FSU cornerback Nick Waisome later in the game for similar contact.
"It made it hard to get in the rhythm of a game," Fisher said. "All of a sudden you're hitting plays and you're moving. Some calls, there were penalties there. But you hit things and -- it makes it hard to coach, because how do you tell your players how to play? What's a penalty and what's not a penalty?"
At one point in the game, Florida State had 12 penalties compared with just one for Miami, though those numbers evened some by game's end. In all, 23 flags were thrown.
Florida State's 53 enforced penalties this season are the third-most in the ACC, behind North Carolina and Virginia.
"I don't want to be an official," Fisher said. "They've got a tough job. But they have to do their job."
The theory is simple, and it's been ongoing for several years: Florida State draws more flags than opponents, ergo, there is a bias among officials against the Seminoles.
How's that possible?
"If you're a good defensive lineman, you get held," Werner said. "It doesn't get called every time, but it gets ridiculous and you have to say something to the refs."
Fans would argue the ridiculousness has been ongoing for years, but recent history has brought the discussion to the forefront once again.
The concerns were so widespread after last season that the Tallahassee Democrat did a study of all ACC games dating back to 2005 when the conference expanded. It found that FSU had been called for more holding penalties than any other team in the conference -- more than twice as many as NC State, which had the fewest holding flags during that span.
But history is one thing. The current FSU team has a clearly powerful pass rush, and for the past two games, the Seminoles have exactly two sacks -- both coming from defensive tackles rather than Werner or Carradine.
Against Boston College, the frustration nearly boiled over after Carradine believed he'd been tackled by an offensive lineman without drawing a flag.
"I saw Tank getting held a lot," Werner said. "He got tackled from behind. I have to be the guy to calm him down before he destroys somebody."
Werner, meanwhile, hasn't recorded a sack since FSU's third game of the season against Wake Forest. It's a peculiar streak for a player widely considered one of the best pass rushers in the league and a likely first-round selection in next year's NFL draft.
But if Florida State's players are frustrated, coach Jimbo Fisher understands. He's just not interested in pursuing the matter any further.
"There’s no more questions on holding," Fisher said. "If they call it, it’s a hold. If they don’t call it, it’s not a hold. What do you want us to say? It’s over with."
This is something of a new take on the situation for Fisher, who lobbied for more flags routinely last season. During fall camp, defensive coordinator Mark Stoops said his staff has worked with players to help reduce holds and make the holds that do occur more obvious to the officials, and defensive tackle Anthony McCloud said the Seminoles practice without holding calls to force pass rushers to get used to it.
Still, Stoops admitted there was little that could be done to make a dramatic change in the games without altering the way FSU plays.
"We can't teach them bad fundamentals," Stoops said. "We always teach them things where we get in positions to counter out some of those things, but it's hard to teach someone not to hold you."
The numbers would seem to indicate the tricks aren't working.
After racking up 11 sacks in its first three games -- all by defensive ends -- Florida State has just six sacks in its last four contests, only 3.5 of which came from ends. FSU blog Tomahawk Nation recently discussed the problem with screen captures of several holds on the Seminoles pass rushers included.
Of course, Fisher isn't denying the holds take place, but he's also not saying more should be called.
"Maybe we hold some and they don't call it," Fisher said. "It's opinionated. Players play, referees ref, and if they don't call a hold, you fight through it and you move on."
And while logic may indicate more holds should be called against FSU opponents, the numbers don't suggest a particular bias against the Seminoles.
Here's the number of plays run by NC State and Boston College per offensive holding call against all opponents from automatic-qualifier conference.
(*Numbers include all offensive holding penalties by a tight end, lineman or running back, including those declined or offset.)
Certainly there's a good chance FSU was held on more than one out of every 37 plays in those two games, but calls were still more frequent against both NC State and BC than they had been earlier in the season.
Moreover, refs don't appear to be calling FSU for any more holds than its opponents have been flagged for.
Here are the numbers for Florida State against its five FBS opponents this season:
In other words, Florida State's opponents are being flagged for holding at as high a rate this season than the Seminoles have been, but FSU is also allowing more tackles in the backfield.
As with most conspiracy theories, the numbers can be interpreted differently, depending on the perception of the interpreter. The bottom line through all of this, Fisher said, is that none of it really matters.
"We have that argument in pro ball, high school ball, pee-wee ball, at [my son's] games. I get home and hear him saying, 'I got held,' " Fisher said. "We all get upset because there's a passion for it, but you've got to fight through it. That's all you can do."
Three Florida State drives stalled and ended with field goals, but the Seminoles' stout defensive front has dominated the line of scrimmage and Chris Thompson has already crossed the 100-yard mark on the ground as FSU has jumped out to a 16-0 halftime lead.
Stat of the half: 115. That's the rushing yards for Thompson in the first half. Thompson needed just 11 carries to top the 100-yard mark for the third time this season, as he set the tone for the Florida State offense. The FSU O-line has had trouble protecting EJ Manuel, but the running game has had no trouble finding holes, averaging 8.2 yards per carry. Thompson's 115 yards on the ground give him 546 for the year -- just 33 shy of Devonta Freeman's team-leading total from a year ago.
Player of the half: Thompson, but the FSU defensive line can also make a good argument for the honor. Thompson has been the game changer on offense, but FSU's defensive front has tormented Mike Glennon, who is averaging just 3.2 yards per attempt. The NC State running game hasn't fared any better, with starting tailback Tony Creecy tallying just 21 yards on 10 carries.
What's working for FSU: Aside from the run game and the defensive front, it's been all Dustin Hopkins, who has connected on three field goals for the second straight week. That's good news for Hopkins, who struggled three weeks ago against Clemson, but bad news for an FSU offense which has endured some notable red-zone struggles of late.
What's not working for FSU: The biggest problem for the Seminoles has been pass protection. Manuel was sacked three times in the first half, a season high. Even when he hasn't been brought down, he's been under pressure. Manuel has fared rather well -- 11-of-15 passing for 117 yards and a TD -- but he hasn't had the time to look downfield as Miami did in exploiting the NC State secondary a week earlier.
Worth noting: Right tackle Menelik Watson has an illness, according to FSU sports information, that sidelined him for the game. Daniel Glauser got the start. ...Thompson left the game for a series in the second quarter for treatment on his elbow. He returned to the field, but with the elbow heavily wrapped. ...Rashad Greene tied his season high with four catches in the first half. ...Anthony McCloud recorded his first sack of the season.
Previous week’s ranking in parenthesis.
1. Bjoern Werner, DE (2): The Florida State defense has been absolutely dominant through three games, and Werner has been the most dominant player on the field. He's already racked up 6.5 sacks and nine tackles-for-loss through three games, both tops in the nation.
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This week? Well, it's tough to say. The final score -- a 52-0 FSU win -- hardly indicates Wake Forest was much of a challenge either. On the other hand, there's a good case to be made that the Demon Deacons are still the fifth-best team FSU will face this year, so how easy could it have been?
In the end, there were a few causes for concern Saturday, mostly in the passing game, but it was such a complete all-around performance, with a dominant day from the running game, the defense and on special teams, that it's easy to understand why so many fans walked out of Doak Campbell believing they'd finally gotten an answer to the question: Is this the year Florida State is back?
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