Florida State Seminoles: chris casher

From Florida State's veteran line to Clemson's fearsome defensive front, the ACC projects to have some of the country's best position groups this fall, while a few other contenders will enter 2014 with some major question marks in key areas. With that in mind, we're looking at the ACC's best units, a few more that might surprise in 2014 and the top teams with holes that could keep them from an ACC title.

Up next: Defensive line.

Best of the best: Clemson

The Tigers are stacked on the defensive line, returning all four starters plus their top four backups from a season ago. Easy to see why Clemson gets the nod over the Seminoles -- sheer experience alone. Clemson has the best returning lineman in the league -- and one of the best in the nation -- in Vic Beasley, who had 13 sacks and 23 tackles for loss a year ago. His backup, Shaq Lawson, had 10 tackles for loss. That is more than anybody Florida State returns. So not only does Clemson have a group that is active behind the line, it has good depth, too, which should keep everybody fresh and make for one of the best line rotations in the country. If this group can live up to expectations, the Tigers have a chance to be one of the best groups in the entire country.

Next up: Florida State

If there is one constant in the ACC, it is a rock solid, dominant defensive line at Florida State. Five defensive linemen have been drafted over the past two years and another, Mario Edwards Jr., is rated as a top 5 defensive end among all underclassmen. There is no doubt the Seminoles are talented once again, but they do need to rebuild some depth across the entire line and may even rely on more linebackers to help out with the pass rush in 2014. Freshmen also will factor into the mix, as the Seminoles signed seven defensive linemen to help make up for some of the losses. Players such as Edwards, Eddie Goldman and Chris Casher are set to be the standouts on this group, but the Noles will need some unproven players to step up to keep the championship-level quality of the defensive line going.

Possible sleeper: Virginia

The Hoos have to replace two starters, but there is growing expectation for the line to be improved over a year ago. Eli Harold returns at defensive end after racking up 8.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss a year ago, and has received early consideration as a potential All-ACC candidate. Mike Moore, slated to start at the other end position, was one of the defense's most improved players during the spring. Then, of course, there is incoming true freshman Andrew Brown, one of the top-rated players in the class of 2014 with an opportunity to make an immediate impact at tackle. Brown enrolled early and participated in spring practice. Though he battled through a bit of an injury, he is still in the mix to win a starting job.

Problem for a contender: North Carolina.

The Tar Heels have to rebuild along the front again, after losing starters Kareem Martin and Tim Jackson. Martin leaves behind the gaping hole, after racking up 11.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss, along with 14 hurries a year ago. Even with Martin getting into the backfield, North Carolina ranked last in rushing defense, so there is no doubt this group has to make major improvements up front. Among the ends, only Junior Gnonkonde returns as a consistent contributor, with Jessie Rogers and redshirt freshman Dajaun Drennon in the mix. There is more depth at tackle than at end, though, so North Carolina will no doubt be growing up its ends in a hurry to make up for Martin's departure.

Previous previews:

ACC's lunchtime links

May, 21, 2014
May 21
12:00
PM ET
Don't worry, everyone. The Eagle has landed.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- No position on the Florida State roster has taken as many losses as the defensive line over the past two seasons.

Four linemen were drafted a year ago. Another, tackle Timmy Jernigan, is projected to become the second straight Florida State defensive lineman to be drafted in the first round. The last time Florida State had at least five defensive linemen selected in consecutive drafts was 1998-99.

At many programs, losing so many players would be a major cause for concern and, as you'd expect, the defensive line has drawn some of the biggest questions this spring and last. FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, however, looks at the situation differently.

Rather than lament potential depth issues, Fisher looks at the pure talent he has available for this upcoming season -- and the versatility they provide. Though only three scholarship defensive ends were available during the spring, two of them were consensus top-10 players at their position out of high school -- Mario Edwards Jr. and Chris Casher.

[+] EnlargeEddie Goldman
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State coaches are expecting junior Eddie Goldman to flourish as Timmy Jernigan's replacement at defensive tackle.
Both began learning every position along the line in order to take advantage of their athleticism. Edwards moved around some last season, but expects to do much more of that in 2014, not only to help with depth but to also give Florida State key matchup advantages.

“It’s kind of fun,” Edwards said. “The offense can’t pinpoint where I will be -- right or left side, inside or out. I feel I can go and play any one of the positions the coaches put me in at and be a factor.”

For Edwards, the process of not only becoming a master at his own position, but also learning several others, has meant more time studying the playbook and game tape. That has allowed the former No. 1 high school player in the country to feel even more comfortable with the defense.

The road has not necessarily been smooth for him. He was out of shape as a freshman, and last spring he had to learn an entirely new defensive scheme while following a strict diet and weight program. Edwards ended up starting, but he did not feel comfortable until midway through the season. That is when the results started to show.

Now that more of the pressure is on him to perform, Edwards says he is ready to dominate.

“I’d like to think this is a big year for me,” Edwards said. “I watched film of last year but not only was I looking at the good things I did, I looked at how many plays I left out there, just because I wasn’t aligned right, I wasn’t doing my job, I may have forgotten what I was supposed to do. I felt like I left tons of plays out there I could have made. This year, it’s reacting more than thinking.”

To help at end, Florida State might end up using linebackers Matthew Thomas and Ukeme Eligwe, whom Fisher called “dynamic rushers.” He did something similar with Christian Jones a year ago, and Jones thrived in that role.

Tackle Eddie Goldman, slated to replace Jernigan inside, was a five-star defensive tackle out of high school. Fisher said Goldman will end up being one of the team’s spring award winners because he has made such drastic improvement. Though not as powerful as Jernigan, Goldman is more athletic and a more natural pass rusher.

“Him and Mario -- it’s hard to handle them one-on-one,” Fisher said. “Eddie, his upside is ridiculous. It’s ridiculous how good he can be.”

Will he meet that potential this year?

“The way he’s playing right now? No doubt,” Fisher said.

Fisher also will play some of his true freshmen, the way he has done with guys such as Edwards, Jernigan and Casher. The Seminoles loaded up on the defensive line to make up for the heavy losses they have taken recently. Four of the seven players Florida State signed were rated four-star prospects out of high school. Two incoming ends -- Lorenzo Featherston and Rick Leonard -- are both 6-foot-7. They will not be tied exclusively to end, either.

“We like that hybrid guy, the versatility,” Fisher said. “You can go 3-4, 4-3, and create a matchup where they get locked on a back, where a back has to block them, that kind of stuff.”

Florida State took advantage of the versatility it had last season to great success. Despite more personnel losses, Fisher expects more of the same in 2014.

ACC lunchtime links

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
12:00
PM ET
Lots of news out of Tallahassee ...

FSU room to improve: Defensive line

February, 13, 2014
Feb 13
11:00
AM ET
The celebration of a BCS championship victory is in the rearview mirror for Florida State, and Jimbo Fisher, Jameis Winston and Co. have already turned their attention toward adding another trophy in 2014. So as Florida State preps for spring practice, we’re digging into the biggest questions, position battles and storylines facing the defending national champs.

This week, we’ll look at the five position groups with the biggest question marks looming in advance of spring practice.

Previously, we reviewed the running backs, linebackers and wide receivers.

Next up: Defensive line

Projected starters: Mario Edwards Jr. (Jr.), Eddie Goldman (Jr.), Nile Lawrence-Stample (RSJr.)

[+] EnlargeMario Edwards
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsFSU's Mario Edwards Jr. has been a solid player, but he needs to take the next step and become a star.
Edwards and Goldman arrived in the Class of 2012 as two of the top-10 recruits in the nation, and they’ve both managed to make their marks already at Florida State. But while both have been solid performers thus far, 2014 marks a turning point when Goldman and Edwards need to take the next step forward and blossom into stars. The loss of Timmy Jernigan on the line is a major blow, and while Lawrence-Stample showed promise in 2013 and figures to be the next man up, a big chunk of Jernigan’s lost production will need to be filled by Edwards and Goldman this season.

Strength in numbers: Desmond Hollin (Sr.), Derrick Mitchell (RSJr.), Chris Casher (RSSo.), DeMarcus Walker (So.), Justin Shanks (RSSo.), Keith Bryant (RSFr.)

Florida State sent five defensive linemen to the NFL in 2013 and projects to add a couple more in this year’s draft, and while that’s an impressive array of talent coming from one place, it’s also sapped some of the depth at the position. But if there’s not a ton of veteran experience here, there’s still ample talent. Casher showed signs of a bright future in a limited role in 2013, finishing with 25 tackles (5 for a loss) and two sacks. Walker started two games as a true freshman. Bryant is well regarded by the coaching staff and could push for regular playing time in the middle of the line, too.

New on the scene: Demarcus Christmas (Fr.), Adam Torres (Fr.), Lorenzo Featherston (Fr.), Fredrick Jones (Fr.), Rick Leonard (Fr.), Derrick Nnadi (Fr.), Arthur Williams (Fr.)

The 2014 signing class was a boon for Florida State on both sides of the line of scrimmage. On the D line, FSU added seven new players, and there’s a legitimate possibility at least three or four could contribute immediately. That group is led by Christmas, who Fisher raved about, saying, “if he would’ve gone to more camps, he would be been the No. 1 or 2 player in the whole country.” Featherston and Nnadi figure to be in the mix when fall camp opens, too.

What to watch: While finding a replacement for Jernigan in the middle remains a top priority, FSU also will be looking to fill the hybrid role Christian Jones played throughout 2013, with Casher perhaps the top lineman in the mix. Edwards struggled with his weight throughout his first two years at Florida State, and now that he’s being looked at as a veteran leader on the D, it will be interesting to see how prepared he is this spring. Goldman and Lawrence-Stample both need to take a big step forward this spring, too, but FSU may benefit the most from the continued development of reserves like Walker, Shanks and Bryant. If they don’t earn the coaches’ attention now, there’s a massive group of freshmen on the way this summer who could steal plenty of playing time.

FSU depth chart breakdown: Defense

January, 31, 2014
Jan 31
11:30
AM ET
Last week, we previewed Florida State’s offensive depth chart for the spring. This week, we’ll dig into the defense.

The biggest question might be how similar the 2014 defensive scheme will look to 2013. Yes, promoting Charles Kelly certainly offers stability, but he’s also likely to want to put his own stamp on the unit rather than offering a shot-for-shot remake of Jeremy Pruitt’s system. With some significant transition in personnel and some major losses of talent, there’s room to tinker this spring. Here’s what we’ll be watching:

Defensive line

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsExpect Mario Edwards to have a bigger hand in things this fall on the Florida State defensive line.
Projected starters: Mario Edwards Jr. (Jr.), Nile Lawrence-Stample (RSJr.), Eddie Goldman (Jr.)
Backups: Desmond Hollin (Sr.), Chris Casher (RSSo.), DeMarcus Walker (So.), Derrick Mitchell (RSJr.), Keith Bryant (RSFr.), Justin Shanks (RSSo.)

Storylines: Replacing Timmy Jernigan is an impossible task, but expect plenty of hype for Lawrence-Stample this spring. He was one of Jimbo Fisher’s favorites last spring, and he’ll be counted on to step up even more this time around. The loss of Christian Jones as a hybrid rusher impacts the D line, too, and how Kelly plans to handle that role now should be interesting to watch. Edwards and Goldman are both five-star players with two years of experience under their belt, but now they’ll be looked to as leaders -- both on and off the field.

Status: B
If you want to include Jones as a defensive lineman, FSU is set to lose seven DLs to the NFL in a two-year span -- including two first-rounders in Bjoern Werner and, likely, Jernigan. That’s sapped some depth from the position, but Goldman and Edwards are as good as any D-linemen in the ACC and there’s plenty of talent behind them, too.

Linebacker

Projected starters: Reggie Northrup (Jr.), Terrance Smith (RSJr.), Matthew Thomas (So.)
Backups: E.J. Levenberry (So.), Ro'Derrick Hoskins (RSFr.), Nigel Terrell (RSSr.), Ukeme Eligwe (RSSo.), Kain Daub (Fr.)

Storylines: Smith is the only lock for a starting job here -- and even that might depend on your definition of “lock.” But while the unit is short on experience, it’s high on talent. The battle to replace Jones in the hybrid LB/DE position should be an interesting one, with Thomas offering perhaps the most upside, but Casher and Eligwe certainly in the mix, too. Northrup is the most experienced option to replace Telvin Smith, and he’s certainly capable of blossoming into a disruptive force, but Fisher raved about Levenberry throughout 2013, and that figures to be one of the more intriguing battles of spring camp. Add Daub to the mix as an early enrollee, and Kelly’s biggest problem here might be figuring out how to get enough snaps for all his talented linebackers.

Status: B
There’s plenty of talent here, but it’s impossible to replace the veteran savvy of Smith and Jones. By year’s end, this should be a terrific group, but there’s lots to be learned this spring.

Safety

[+] EnlargeJalen Ramsey
Jeremy McKnight/Icon SMISafety Jalen Ramsey will play a big role in the Seminoles secondary, which will be among the best in the nation.
Projected starters: Jalen Ramsey (So.), Nate Andrews (So.), Tyler Hunter (RSJr.)
Backups: Lamarcus Brutus (RSJr.), Keelin Smith (RSJr.), Tyrell Lyons (RSFr.)

Storylines: Ramsey and Andrews were exceptional as true freshmen, but the job now is to build on that progress under a new position coach. There’s little reason to believe that won’t happen. The bigger question mark at the moment is the health of Hunter, who is recovering from a neck injury that nearly ended his career. He was the leader of the secondary last spring and summer, and his impact on a young group could be huge again in 2014.

Status: A
Terrence Brooks was always undervalued, and he’ll be missed, but Hunter, Ramsey and Andrews projects as potentially the best trio of safeties in the nation.

Cornerback

Projected starters: P.J. Williams (Jr.), Ronald Darby (Jr.)
Backups: Marquez White (So.), Nick Waisome (Sr.), Colin Blake (RSSo.)

Storylines: Losing Lamarcus Joyner is a big blow, but there’s little to be concerned with here. Williams and Darby are both exceptional and figure to get even better in 2014. Darby was limited all season with a groin injury, so some downtime may be the priority for him. Waisome saw a ton of action in 2012 but largely disappeared in 2013. How he responds this spring might tell a lot about his future.

Status: A
It says a lot about the work Fisher, Pruitt and Mark Stoops have done over the past few years that FSU can lose a player of Joyner’s caliber and still likely have the best secondary -- and best pair of starting corners -- in the country.

FSU power rankings: Week 6

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
11:00
AM ET
There's no question who tops the power rankings yet again. Instead, it's really a matter of where he shows up on the Heisman watch list.

Last week's rankings in parentheses.

1. QB Jameis Winston (1): Seven more touchdowns, another acrobatic escape act turned highlight-reel TD, and another big win. Ho-hum. But how about these numbers: This season, on the final drive of the first half and first drive of the second half, Winston is 26-of-30 for 493 yards and seven touchdowns. FSU has scored on all 10 drives, including nine TDs.

2. RB Devonta Freeman (5): It has been 17 years since an FSU runner went over 1,000 yards. Freeman is currently on pace for 1,001.

[+] EnlargeTelvin Smith
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsTelvin Smith (22) and the Seminoles held Maryland to 33 rushing yards.
3. DT Timmy Jernigan (8): The big mover in this week's power rankings, he set the tone for a major turnaround on the D line, which held Maryland to just 33 yards one week after giving up 200 to Boston College.

4. WR Rashad Greene (3): There may not be another player in the country who so easily floats under the radar after putting up 108 yards on four catches.

5. CB Lamarcus Joyner (2): Just one tackle, but he got solid pressure on Maryland quarterbacks throughout and forced a fumble.

6. LB Telvin Smith (6): The success from the D line opened things up for Smith, who created significant chaos in the Maryland backfield. He finished with five tackles and a PBU.

7. WR Kenny Shaw (4): What's a guy have to do to get a 100-yard game? Shaw has been between 89 and 96 each time out this year.

8. S Terrence Brooks (8): No one played with more ferocity Saturday than Brooks, who has come into his own as a force in the FSU secondary.

9. DB Jalen Ramsey (7): Another strong performance from the freshman in his new role at safety. Given the concerns about Tyler Hunter's neck injury, Ramsey's presence looms large with Clemson on the horizon.

10. WR Kelvin Benjamin (10): Fisher pushed Benjamin to do the little things better this year. He has responded, as evidenced by his five-catches, 60 yards and two TDs against Maryland.

Honorable mentions: Tackles Cameron Erving and Bobby Hart, DTs Jacobbi McDaniel and Eddie Goldman, DE Chris Casher, RB Karlos Williams, K Roberto Aguayo, CB P.J. Williams.

FSU's young defenders making noise

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
1:00
PM ET
Jalen RamseyAP Photo/Keith SrakocicFreshman cornerback Jalen Ramsey jumped right in to a starting spot, beating out veterans Nick Waisome and Ronald Darby in the process.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Throughout the 68-yard dash, Telvin Smith never looked back. Seconds earlier, he'd stepped in front of a pass from Bethune-Cookman quarterback Quentin Williams, and a path cleared ahead of him as he charged to the end zone.

It was only after Smith crossed the goal line that he realized he wasn't alone. Two steps behind him was fellow linebacker Matthew Thomas, who'd kept pace with Smith step for step throughout the return.

"I turned around and he's standing right next to me," Smith said. "That's what the coaches and myself love about him."

That was hardly the only highlight of the game for Thomas, who dropped Bethune's quarterback in the backfield twice in a span of five plays in the third quarter. In a game in which Jimbo Fisher criticized his defense for ceding too much ground to an overmatched opponent, Thomas stood out.

That's been a theme of the early season for Florida State's defense. It's a unit in transition, having lost a bevy of veterans to the NFL draft and its coordinator to Kentucky. Changes have come at nearly every turn, and the youngest Seminoles are taking advantage.

"They're stepping up," Smith said. "The best man is going to play, and right now, they're proving themselves to be the best man. The young guys are coming. They're on our toes."

It's not just Thomas making an impact.

Jalen Ramsey become the first FSU cornerback to start as a true freshman since Deion Sanders, then delivered the Seminoles' first interception of the season against Pittsburgh. He's sixth on the team so far with 12 tackles, including one sack.

Demarcus Walker got a start in the opener, too, and he's seen consistent work on the defensive line ever since. Chris Casher, a redshirt freshman, racked up 10 tackles -- including two for a loss -- against Bethune-Cookman and was named FSU's defensive player of the week. Second-year players P.J. Williams and Mario Edwards Jr. are now established starters, and a handful of other youngsters are getting regular reps on defense, too.

Fisher was so pleased with the work of his young defensive backs that he felt comfortable flipping veteran Karlos Williams from safety to tailback. Casher, Thomas and sophomore Eddie Goldman have helped pick up the slack for FSU's pass rush after its top three defensive ends all left for the NFL. Overall, nearly half of Florida State's tackles this season have come from defenders with zero previous starting experience.

"The platform is even because new [defensive coordinator], new philosophy, and you have to learn it," cornerback Lamarcus Joyner said. "Experience on the football field, those young guys haven't had it, but with their talent level and where they're coming in, it's good to see them playing and be able to play fast."

Of course, it's easy enough to chalk up the early success for the freshmen and sophomores to the lack of quality competition on the field, but Fisher said this isn't a passing fad. Florida State's schedule gets markedly tougher in October, and rather than shuffling the young defenders to the sidelines for the big games, he wants to ensure they're ready to play when it counts.

"Ability is never the issue," Fisher said. "It's about technique and assignments and getting playing time to be able to relax on the field and do what you do, taking it from the practice field to the game field. You see that more and more, you feel more comfortable. We're going to keep developing all those guys."

Ramsey already appears to have a starting job locked up moving forward, beating out junior Nick Waisome, who started all 14 games last season, and Ronald Darby, a freshman All-American in 2012. Fisher raved about Ramsey's combination of speed and physicality, but said it's the freshman's football acumen that has set him apart.

Thomas is a bit more of a work in progress. He's flashed potential, but he's spent much of his first few months on campus simply soaking in all he can about how to do his job.

"He's observing a lot of stuff," Smith said. "He's taking it in, and he's going to erupt when he gets the chance."

Fisher sees it coming, too.

Since arriving on campus in June, Thomas has already packed on nearly 25 pounds to his frame, but it hasn't slowed him down.

"He's gotten faster," Fisher gushed.

Walker and Casher are following a similar path, too, though they've had longer to learn the ropes.

Casher has been sidelined for the better part of the past two years -- first because of an eligibility issue his senior year in high school, then because of a knee injury that cost him nearly all of 2012. Walker arrived this spring to get a jump start on his college career, but an issue with the NCAA Clearinghouse meant he didn't practice with the team at all.

The down time might have been a blessing, however, as both were eager to learn.

"They came in with their eyes open and their notepad ready, listening to the older guys," Smith said.

That's been a trademark of the Class of 2013 in particular. When Joyner arrived in 2010, Florida State was in the midst of a culture change in the locker room that took a while to take hold. The latest batch of freshmen, however, look right at home from Day 1.

"Those guys are coming in here with the same talent level that guys took two to three years to develop," Joyner said.

That's exactly what Fisher wants to see. He doesn't promise playing time to his recruits, he said, but he offers opportunity. This latest crop of Seminoles was prepared when that opportunity arrived.

"When you get here, you get an opportunity, and if you're the best player, you're going to play," Fisher said. "A play don't care who makes it, and there isn't an age limit on being a good player."

What we learned: Week 4

September, 22, 2013
9/22/13
2:00
PM ET
It's tough to take too much from a 54-6 win over an FCS foe, but there were a few lessons to be gleaned from Florida State's dominance of Bethune-Cookman.

The receivers aren't perfect: Against Bethune-Cookman, Jameis Winston threw nine incomplete passes, nearly doubling his season total from the first two games of the season. Indeed, Winston wasn't nearly as crisp as he'd looked down the stretch just a week ago, when he completed his final 13 throws, but a good bit of the blame goes to the receivers. FSU's receivers hadn't dropped a pass all season, but Rashad Greene, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw all allowed potentially easy touchdown throws slip through their fingers. None of it ended up mattering all that much -- aside from Winston's completion percentage plummeting 10 points -- but it was a reminder that, as good as the group had been in the early going, there's still room to get better.

FSU's young defenders are going to be good: There won't be many games this year when Terrance Smith, Matthew Thomas, Ukeme Eligwe and Co. get as many snaps as they did Saturday against Bethune-Cookman, but the blowout win for Florida State -- coupled with the absence of Christian Jones, Eddie Goldman and Mario Edwards Jr. -- offered a glimpse into what the talented cast of youngsters might one day become. In his first career start, Smith finished with a game-high 12 tackles. Thomas was a beast coming off the edge, recording a sack and two TFLs. Eligwe had six stops, Reggie Northrup and E.J. Levenberry each had five, and Chris Casher made 10 tackles, including two for a loss. For all the defensive success, however, Bethune-Cookman still mustered 18 first downs -- far too many by Jimbo Fisher's estimation. The group has talent, but it's a work in progress.

The biggest lessons are yet to come: What could FSU learn, really, from a game against a clearly overmatched FCS opponent? Three of the Seminoles' starting defenders sat out. Winston was on the bench midway through the third quarter. The tempo of the game never quite clicked, and the score was still out of hand by the half. These first three games have offered a glimpse at what FSU could be, but the Seminoles have yet to be truly tested. That should change moving forward, with an Oct. 5 date against undefeated Maryland looming, and a trip to Clemson awaiting on Oct. 19.

Week 4 helmet stickers

September, 22, 2013
9/22/13
10:00
AM ET
Florida State's blowout win over Bethune-Cookman was far more of a showcase for the reserves than the starters, but more than a few of those backups turned in exceptional performances, and a couple of them earned helmet stickers.

RB Devonta Freeman: Florida State has rushed for 643 yards in the past two games, so there's been plenty of accolades to go around for the ground game. Still, no one has looked better than Freeman, who has topped 100 yards in each game -- all of which came while the starters were still in. Freeman is averaging 9.8 yards per carry this season, has scored twice and, perhaps most notably, none of his 28 rushing attempts have lost yardage.

LB Terrance Smith: Making the first start of his career, Smith was all over the field in the early going. He finished with a team-high 12 tackles and recorded one of Florida State's three sacks. Playing for suspended senior Christian Jones, Smith looked perfectly comfortable in the role. The 12 tackles were two more than his career total from his first two seasons at Florida State.

The freshmen defenders: They didn't look perfect, but Florida State's freshmen defenders provided some quality performances with four starters out for the majority of the game. Chris Casher racked up 10 tackles, including two for a loss. Ukeme Eligwe had six tackles. E.J. Levenberry had five. Matthew Thomas finished with three tackles -- two for a loss -- and a sack. Jalen Ramsey recorded a sack, too, and forced a fumble. In all, freshmen accounted for 33 of FSU's 85 team tackles.

Hat tips to: Telvin Smith returned an interception for a touchdown, FSU's first defensive score of the year. Karlos Williams followed up on his stellar debut at tailback with another impressive performance, rushing for 83 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries. Kenny Shaw had 89 receiving yards and would've topped 100 if he could've hung onto a throw along the sideline that would've gone for an easy score.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The experiment was effectively over before the game even started.

It's not that Nevada posed much of a threat to begin with. Florida State entered Saturday's game as a five-touchdown favorite. But there was some intrigue, thanks to the Wolfpacks' up-tempo, pistol offense that promised to give an untested FSU defense a taste of what might be waiting on that crucial Oct. 19 showdown with Clemson.

Only the test never materialized. About an hour before kickoff, Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo tweeted the news that he'd miss the game, and the Wolfpack offense that took the field didn't look anything like the frenetic, fast-paced unit that had averaged 84 plays per game since the start of the 2012 season.

Instead, Florida State's defense was subjected to slogging, methodical snooze. Nevada ran 26 fewer plays than its season average, in spite of a sizable edge in time of possession. The Wolfpack usually ran a play every 21 seconds of possession time, but against FSU, they averaged a snap every 32 seconds. In the end, the Nevada offense looked baffled, and the FSU defense remained something of a mystery.

"They were trying to shorten the game a little bit, try not to get as many at-bats and eat the clock," Jimbo Fisher said. "But I thought the defense did a really nice job and made some nice adjustments. The defense has played very solidly."

[+] EnlargeJoyner
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesLamarcus Joyner gets a sack, which has been a rarity so far this season for Florida State.
It's tough to nitpick a defense that allowed just 511 yards and 20 points in its first two games, both against FBS opponents. And yet, questions linger.

Through two games, Florida State's supposedly aggressive new attack under coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has amassed just three sacks, two of which came from cornerback Lamarcus Joyner. Despite bringing the blitz on half of Nevada's passing plays Saturday -- against two backup quarterbacks, to boot -- the Seminoles didn't record a sack. (In fairness, one potential sack was overturned because Timmy Jernigan continued pursuit after his helmet came off.)

More often, Florida State has been burned on the blitz. When rushing five or more defenders this year, FSU has allowed the opposition to complete 64 percent of its passes. Both of the touchdowns FSU has allowed came vs. the blitz. When just four defenders rush, however, the opposition completes just 47 percent of its passes and has thrown two interceptions, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

Florida State has mustered just 10 tackles for loss thus far, a number bettered by 93 other FBS teams. Of the four TFLs the Seminoles managed against Nevada, two came late in a blowout game from backup defenders.

In both of its games, Florida State's defense has finished strong. But it's still tough to ignore that two supposedly overmatched offenses marched down the field for extended early drives. On the first four drives of the game, Pittsburgh and Nevada averaged 5.7 yards per play. Throughout the remainder of the game, that average dipped to just 3.1 yards per play.

"We've got to come out a little faster," corner P.J. Williams said. "We're letting teams [move], especially in the running. … We know the defense, but we've got to execute it better. It's different going against them in practice than when you go into the game."

That the FSU defense remains a work in progress at this point isn't really a surprise. A half-dozen regulars missed spring practice, and the shakeups on the depth chart have continued since then. Fisher announced Monday that defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. would likely miss this week's game against Bethune-Cookman after surgery on his hand, leaving a trio of freshmen -- Chris Casher, DeMarcus Walker and Ukeme Eligwe -- to pick up the slack.

Edwards' absence may not last beyond this week, Fisher said, and Bethune-Cookman doesn't figure to provide much of a challenge for the defense anyway. But therein lies the problem.

That Oct. 19 date still lingers on the horizon, a game that is likely to define Florida State's season. Between now and then, Florida State plays an FCS opponent, a Boston College team that ranks 121st nationally in plays per game this year, and resurgent Maryland, the final tune-up before high-flying Clemson.

After Nevada downshifted its up-tempo attack, the Terrapins likely represent the only opportunity Florida State's defense will have to test its mettle against an offense with a modicum of the firepower Clemson possesses. That certainly figures to add some intrigue to the game, but it isn't likely to have too many Florida State fans feeling entirely comfortable in the interim.

"These last couple games, coming in with this new defense and just learning, we can do better," Williams said. "It has a lot to do with the new defense."
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Dan Hicks galloped around the practice fields as Florida State opened fall camp Tuesday, no signs of the knee injury that ended his 2012 season a year ago -- almost to the day.

A lot has changed since the injury. Back then, he was a third-string tight end, moved from defensive end after three years because of a logjam of talented pass rushers. In the 12 months since, he's had surgery, recovered and swapped positions again, returning to his original place on the roster after a stampede of talented ends departed for the NFL. His lone mementos to a lost season are the scar on his knee and the No. 6 on his jersey, which now conflicts with the uniform worn by cornerback Nick Waisome.

Dan Hicks
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesDan Hicks has played in 27 career games at defensive end, but missed all of 2012 with a knee injury.
A year ago, Hicks was such a luxury that he wasn't needed on the defensive line, and he wasn't missed at tight end. Now, the fifth-year senior would rank as the second-most accomplished player on Florida State's roster at either position.

"Dan's had a tremendous summer," Jimbo Fisher said this week. "His conditioning has no signs of anything that's gone on."

That's good news for Florida State, which finds itself in a remarkably tenuous situation on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

In praising Hicks' physique, Fisher was offering an explanation for moving third-year sophomore Giorgio Newberry from defensive end to tight end -- the same swap Hicks made last year. It was a move Fisher said was first discussed weeks ago, but one that was made a necessity when senior Kevin Haplea succumbed to a knee injury and sophomore Christo Kourtzidis opted to transfer, leaving the Seminoles with just two scholarship tight ends.

But if Fisher was filling a need on offense, he also was robbing from a position on defense that lacked veteran experience to spare.

Newberry was no one's idea of a success story thus far. Physically, he's intimidating and his potential seemed high, but through two full years in the program, he'd yet to develop as a pass rusher. Still, he played in every game last season, which made him a rarity among FSU’s defensive ends.

All-ACC defensive ends Bjoern Werner, Brandon Jenkins and Cornellius Carradine were all selected in this year's NFL draft, which meant Florida State would be looking to fill a massive void at the position. Only Newberry and Mario Edwards Jr., who opened last season with a redshirt before injuries eventually forced him into the starting lineup, saw the field in 2012.

And yet Fisher said he's confident there is talent to spare.

"I feel very good about where we're at defensive end-wise," he said. "You've got to play both sides of the ball, and we've got just as many inexperienced guys at tight end. There was no apprehension whatsoever. It's something we would've done either way."

That might be true, but there's no avoiding the obvious numbers. Last season, in just 12 games, Carradine finished with 80 tackles, including 13 for a loss, and 11 sacks -- stats that dwarf the combined career totals of every member of FSU's current depth chart at defensive end.

Only Edwards and Hicks have seen serious game action. Redshirt freshman Chris Casher hasn't played in two full years after sitting out his senior season in high school and going down with an injury in his first game of 2012. Freshman Demarcus Walker figured to get an early start on his career by enrolling this spring, but NCAA eligibility issues kept him off the field during spring practice. Tuesday's start to fall camp represented the first official practice session of his career at Florida State. The same is true for fellow freshman Davarez Bryant and junior college transfer Desmond Hollin.

But Fisher insists he's not worried about the lack of experience.

"You have a great group of guys there that we feel very comfortable with the size and speed and the things we do," he said.

When the games begin though, establishing the pass rush may be more about scheme than personnel. New coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has implemented a blitz-heavy approach that players have embraced. He also comes from a 3-4 base system at Alabama, and the Seminoles could certainly employ those looks more often in 2013. Pruitt isn't just planning to throw his rookie pass rushers into the deep end of the pool, either. He's mixing and matching, finding alternative options in unlikely spots.

"In the spring we had some packages with me actually playing some D-end and coming off the edge a little bit," senior linebacker Christian Jones said. "And we're blitzing a lot more this year."

Like Newberry's move to tight end, the new approach to the pass rush was likely to a necessity regardless of the surprises Florida State has faced this summer. Werner, Jenkins and Carradine were the backbone to Mark Stoops' highly ranked defenses the past two seasons, and changes were required in the wake of their departures.

Giorgio Newberry
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreGiorgio Newberry's size could make him a valuable asset as a blocking tight end.
"The key to the game on both sides is the guys that put their hand in the dirt, and that's why we could play the way we did last year was the D-line," Fisher said. "But I think we've got just as good a group [in 2013]. I like our group better. I really do."

Optimism is easy to find this time of year, but Florida State has already walked the tight rope that comes with having limited options at key positions.

For now, Newberry fills the Seminoles' biggest hole. Hicks' health and the emerging Edwards, who has dramatically improved his physique from a year ago, offer possibilities in another significant area of concern.

Not all choices are supposed to be easy, and Newberry's move was the best option Fisher had, and FSU’s pass rush will make due with what's left.

"[If we weren't satisfied] we'd have tried to find something else to do," Fisher said, "but I felt very comfortable with those guys."

FSU's fall camp position battles

August, 4, 2013
8/04/13
9:00
AM ET
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State opens fall camp this week, and while the bulk of the starting lineup appears firmly in place, there are a handful of key position battles to watch as the Seminoles set their sights on the season opener in Pittsburgh.

[+] EnlargeMario Edwards Jr.
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesDefensive end Mario Edwards Jr. was the No. 1 high school prospect in the nation in the Class of 2012.
Defensive end

The candidates: Mario Edwards Jr. (So.), Dan Hicks (RSSr.), Giorgio Newberry (RSSo.), Chris Casher (RSFr.), DeMarcus Walker (Fr.), Davarez Bryant (Fr.), Desmond Hollin (Jr.)

The situation: Florida State lost three top pass rushers to the NFL from last year's team, leaving a major void in a key area. Edwards appears all but certain to earn one of the two starting jobs after closing out 2012 in that role. On the opposite side, however, things are up for grabs. Newberry figured to be the top candidate entering spring practice, but Hicks -- nine months removed from ACL surgery -- made a big push. Walker might have been in the mix, too, but NCAA eligibility issues kept him on the sideline after he enrolled early.

The projection: Hicks' strong spring vaulted him to the top of the depth chart for now, and it's clear he's ready to play a sizable role after being shuffled to tight end a year ago. Odds are, however, this will be an area of some mixing and matching early on, with Hicks, Newberry and Casher all likely to see playing time alongside Edwards.

Linebacker

The candidates: Terrance Smith (RSSo.), Reggie Northrup (So.), Ukeme Eligwe (RSFr.), Nigel Terrell (RSJr.) and five incoming freshmen

The situation: Seniors Telvin Smith and Christian Jones offer a formidable pairing atop the depth chart, but the rest of the linebacker position remains in flux. None of the candidates have any significant experience, and while Terrance Smith looked to take an early lead as the starter on the strong side throughout the spring, there are endless possibilities on how the two-deep at each position might shake out.

The projection: Because FSU will run a majority of its defensive plays in nickel and dime sets, there may not be a need for a third linebacker routinely. Still, the coaching staff knows it needs to develop depth behind its two seniors, and identifying a pecking order is crucial. Northrup, Smith and Eligwe are likely the top contenders for regular playing time, but freshman Freddie Stevenson was an early enrollee who impressed this spring, and freshman Matthew Thomas might have more upside than anyone at the position.

Quarterback

The candidates: Jameis Winston (RSFr.), Jacob Coker (RSSo.), Sean Maguire (RSFr.)

The situation: What was a wide-open, four-man race this spring now looks to be Winston's job to lose. He was impressive throughout spring practice, dominated the spring game and has enjoyed immense hype and enthusiasm from the fan base ever since. Still, Fisher has been quick to point out that nothing is set in stone at the position yet, and Coker, who endured a foot injury that limited him this spring, figures to keep the pressure on Winston as fall camp begins.

The projection: In spite of Fisher's pronouncements, it would be a shock if anyone other than Winston got the starting nod in Week 1. By all indications, the redshirt freshman has continued to develop this summer, has handled all the publicity with aplomb, and his potential is undeniable.

Defensive back

The candidates: Lamarcus Joyner (Sr.), Nick Waisome (Jr.), Ronald Darby (So.), Tyler Hunter (Jr.), P.J. Williams (So.) and others

The situation: This falls under the category of good problems to have, but FSU's wealth of talent in the secondary is causing at least some confusion on the depth chart. Joyner switches from safety to corner this year, leaving five talented and experienced corners vying for limited playing time alongside presumptive starters at safety Terrence Brooks and Karlos Williams. The versatility of the group -- particularly Joyner, Hunter and P.J. Williams -- offers some options for new DC Jeremy Pruitt, but finding enough playing time for all the talent on the roster may be a tall order.

The projection: There is likely to be a healthy dose of mixing and matching this year, with Karlos Williams getting reps at linebacker, Joyner, Hunter and P.J. Williams shifting between corner, nickel and safety, and other options like Keelin Smith and Colin Blake vying for reps, too. Still, Joyner is the unquestioned leader, so his playing time should be secure, and Darby, Waisome and Hunter will likely grab the lion's share of what remains.

Wide receiver

The candidates: Kelvin Benjamin (RSSo.), Christian Green (RSJr.), Willie Haulstead (RSSr.), Levonte Whitfield (Fr.), Jarred Haggins (Sr.), Isaiah Jones (Fr.), Jesus Wilson (Fr.)

The situation: Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw have a firm grip on starting jobs, but injuries, defections and suspensions have seriously limited FSU's depth in the passing game. Fisher needs at least one or two more receivers to step up into bigger roles, with none looming larger than the uber-talented Benjamin. Green and Haulstead -- afterthoughts a year ago -- are aiming for comeback seasons, while Whitfield's speed makes him an immediate threat, and Wilson has garnered early praise for his work in summer seven-on-seven drills.

The projection: Benjamin is perhaps the biggest wild card on Florida State's roster. His talent is immense, but he's had difficulty showing consistency during his first two years in Tallahassee. If he blossoms into a star in 2013, it would be a huge boon to the Seminoles' offense, but don't be surprised if at least one of the freshmen manages to make some noise, too.
Throughout the summer, Nole Nation will be counting down the 40 players we're projecting to make the biggest impact on the Seminoles' 2013 season, taking into consideration everything from experience to potential to their spot on the current depth chart.

Next up: No. 23 Dan Hicks

Position/Class: DE/Redshirt senior.

What he's done: Hicks turned in two solid seasons as a reserve defensive end in 2010 and 2011, backing up Brandon Jenkins and tallying 34 tackles (7.5 for a loss) and two sacks. But with FSU enjoying an abundance of pass rushers and a crunch at tight end, Hicks was moved to offense before the 2012 season. Whether the move would've been a positive for Hicks remains a mystery. He tore his ACL in fall camp and missed the season, and by the time spring practice arrived in 2013, he was back at his old position.

Where he's at: The return to defensive end for Hicks makes a lot of sense. FSU lost three veteran ends to the NFL this offseason, and Hicks brings a level of experience that the rest of the group lacks. Still, he wasn't immediately pegged for a starting job. It took a stellar performance during spring practice to turn heads, but by the time FSU wrapped up its annual Garnet and Gold Game, the senior appeared safely in position to win a spot atop the depth chart.

What's to come: Hicks has more experience than any of his colleagues at defensive end, but even he's new to the system being put in place by Jeremy Pruitt and Sal Sunseri. Still, no one appeared to grasp the scheme quicker this spring than Hicks, and after a star-crossed four years in Tallahassee, he was clearly eager to make up for lost time. His size and strength should make him a capable replacement for the departed Jenkins, and even if he shares reps with Giorgio Newberry or Chris Casher, Hicks figures to post career highs across the board and potentially develop into one of the better pass rushers in the conference.
Throughout the summer, Nole Nation will be counting down the 40 players we're projecting to make the biggest impact on the Seminoles' 2013 season, taking into consideration everything from experience to potential to their spot on the current depth chart.

Next up: No. 28 Chris Casher

Position/Class: DE/RSFr.

What he's done: It's been two years since Casher took a meaningful snap on the football field. His senior season in high school was derailed by eligibility issues after transferring schools, and a knee injury ended his 2012 campaign at FSU after just a few reps. That's meant a good deal of rust for the talented defensive end, but he was healthy throughout spring practice and managed to show some flashes of potential under new position coach Sal Sunseri.

Where he's at: There's no doubting Casher's talent, and at 6-foot-4, 248 pounds, he's got a good blend of speed and strength. But corralling all that talent into a productive season is going to be a challenge thanks to all the downtime the past two years. Casher was solid this spring, and he benefitted from new DC Jeremy Pruitt's system that asked him to drop into coverage more and occasionally work as a stand-up rusher in a 3-4 set. Those are all things that complement Casher's skill set and allowed him to make a strong enough impression that playing time seems likely this fall. Still, he's behind Mario Edwards Jr., Dan Hicks and Giorgio Newberry at defensive end, and he'll face a challenge from two new freshmen this fall.

What's to come: Pruitt's scheme fits Casher perfectly, and that should work to his advantage this fall. Edwards appears secure in a job on one side of the line, and Hicks had a strong enough spring to vault to the top of the class on the other. But Casher's athleticism might make him a slightly better fit long-term, and the slow development of Newberry opens the door to an expanded role. Still, simply getting back on the field and contributing in any way in 2013 would be a big step forward for Casher. At a minimum, he'll see action as a reserve end and on special teams, and his future remains bright.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Week 14 Picks: Florida-Florida State
Trevor Matich and Brad Edwards make their selection for the winner of the Sunshine State rivalry, when Florida State puts its unbeaten record on the line against Florida.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

ACC SCOREBOARD

Friday, 11/28
Saturday, 11/29