Florida State Seminoles: Demarcus Christmas

Florida State has had one of the best defensive fronts in the nation in the last two seasons, but the Seminoles will have a major challenger to that claim when 2014 rolls around.

Division rival Clemson has the potential to have one of the best defensive lines in school history, thanks to returning all of its starters -- including sack master Vic Beasley. So that leads us to this question: Which team will have the best defensive front in the ACC this upcoming season? Andrea Adelson and David Hale let the debate begin.

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Which team will have the best defensive line in the ACC in 2014?

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Discuss (Total votes: 4,741)

Andrea says Clemson

The moment Beasley decided to return to Clemson was the moment the Tigers became the favorite to field the best defensive line in the ACC next season.

Now, this is not to slight Florida State, which has dominated up front over the last two seasons. But the Seminoles have key players to replace again. Clemson, on the other hand, returns every starter on the defensive line, plus its top four backups. All told, eight linemen return who played at least 292 snaps a year ago.

Those top eight combined for 65 tackles for loss -- more than half the single-season school-record 122 tackles for loss Clemson had in 2013. They also combined for 26 of the team’s 38 sacks.

Beasley, of course, leads the returning group after making 13 sacks and 23 tackles for loss a season ago, one of the top performances of any defensive end in the country. Had he decided to leave for the NFL, Clemson would have still had plenty of talent returning.

But with him, the Tigers could potentially have the deepest, most talented group of defensive linemen at the school since the 1981 national championship team featured future NFL players Jeff Bryant, William Perry, Andy Headen and Dan Benish in the starting lineup.

Clemson could potentially go 10 deep along the defensive line, especially when you consider the return of Carlos Watkins, expected to be healthy after missing most of last season following a car accident. That means the Tigers have the ability to rotate frequently and keep players fresh, perhaps more than they did last season.

Fresh players mean fresh legs, and fresh legs mean getting into the backfield at a much better clip. Last season, Beasley, starting tackle Grady Jarrett (11), starting end Corey Crawford (10.5) and backup end Shaq Lawson each finished with 10 or more tackles for loss. Now think about some of the best defensive fronts in college football. Florida State has zero defensive linemen returning with double-digit tackles for loss. Alabama? Zero. LSU? Zero. Stanford? Zero. Virginia Tech? One. Michigan State? One. Ohio State? Two.

Clemson leads them all.

Such an experienced group, with the ability to get into the backfield and get after the quarterback, should only get better with another year under Brent Venables, who is entering his third season as defensive coordinator. As Beasley told colleague Heather Dinich after he announced his decision to return, “I feel like we can be the best in the country.”

And, yes, that means the defense could emerge as the strength of this team.

David says Florida State

The track record for Florida State’s defensive front speaks for itself. During the past three seasons, only Alabama has had more success defending the run than Florida State, which has allowed just 2.8 yards per carry since the start of the 2011 season. Those Seminoles teams sent eight players from the front seven to the NFL -- and that number figures to increase by at least four this year -- yet the unit has seen little decline in production. With new personnel, a new scheme and new coaches last season, FSU’s first-team defense didn’t allow a rushing touchdown until the national championship game.

Of course, that’s all in the past, and 2014 comes with some significant questions for Florida State.

Throughout the three-year run of success for the FSU front seven, Christian Jones, Telvin Smith and Timmy Jernigan have been anchors. All are gone now, and that means some significant vacancies on the defensive front, both in terms of on-field talent and off-field leadership. It means there will be questions surrounding the unit for the next few months, but it doesn’t mean the Seminoles don’t have answers.

Of the projected two-deep in the front seven, FSU projects to feature as many as 12 former ESPN 300 recruits. The talent is exceptional.

Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman were both top-10 recruits in 2012, and both have two years of experience under their belts. Edwards, in particular, took big steps forward throughout 2013, turning in perhaps his best game against Auburn’s up-tempo ground attack in the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

The linebacker group lacks significant experience, but Terrance Smith is a physical clone of Telvin Smith, and he performed admirably after stepping into a starting role last season. Matthew Thomas and Ukeme Eligwe are both former elite recruits who project nicely in the hybrid role Jones handled so successfully in 2013.

Kain Daub, Demarcus Christmas and Derrick Nnadi lead a stellar 2014 recruiting class that could make an instant impact.

That’s not to say Florida State is prepared to move forward without Jernigan’s presence up front or Telvin Smith’s leadership in the middle of the field without missing a beat. There will be hiccups as the new group gets its feet wet and Edwards and Goldman learn to be leaders. But similar concerns existed a year ago when Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine bolted for the NFL, and after some early missteps, Florida State again proved to be one of the fiercest defensive fronts in the country.

And, of course, the Seminoles have another weapon in this debate, too. No position group succeeds in a vacuum, and FSU’s front seven gets a major boost from a secondary that projects to again be the best in the nation. If the Seminoles’ defensive backs continue to make teams one-dimensional and continue to provide time for the pass rush to get to the quarterback, the odds of FSU’s front seven making a smooth transition into 2014 get even better.
Jimbo Fisher closed out his fifth straight top-10 recruiting class earlier this month, but as he has shown in years past, that doesn’t necessarily mean a bevy of big contributions from the incoming freshmen. Some seasons, such as 2011, Florida State relied heavily on the new recruits. Others, such as 2012, only a select few saw regular playing time.

This week, we’ll dig into the Class of 2014 to project which of the newest group of Seminoles project to make an instant impact on the field this season.

[+] EnlargeDemarcus Christmas
Corey Dowlar/ESPNDemarcus Christmas has the size and talent to plug in to Florida State's defensive tackle rotation right away.
First up: Demarcus Christmas

The player: A four-star defensive tackle from Bradenton, Fla., Christmas arrives with the full complement of physical tools. At 6-foot-3, 300 pounds, Christmas has the size to be a force in the middle of the line right now, but his long reach and wide frame provide room to develop, too. He racked up 39 tackles, 20 QB hurries and three sacks as a senior at Bradenton Manatee. He wasn’t the most hyped recruit coming out of high school, but Fisher insists that’s because he was overlooked. “If Christmas would have gone to some [more] camps, he would have been the No. 1 or 2 player in the whole country,” Fisher said on signing day.

The need: For the past three years, Timmy Jernigan served as one of the most disruptive interior linemen in the nation for Florida State, excelling as a backup in Mark Stoops’ 4-3 scheme and a starter in Jeremy Pruitt’s 3-4 defense. But Jernigan is headed to the NFL, and FSU now needs to find a bruiser for the middle of the line to stuff the run and disrupt the pocket with the same consistency Jernigan exhibited.

The competition: The heir apparent at the position is Nile Lawrence-Stample, who had a strong spring in 2013 and saw significant reps throughout the season. Youngsters Keith Bryant and Justin Shanks will be in the mix this spring as well, though neither has any significant playing time to his credit. Eddie Goldman, a starter throughout 2013, provides some versatility that could open up additional options for new defensive coordinator Charles Kelly. And, of course, defensive tackle was a top priority on the recruiting trail, so Christmas is just one of five incoming freshmen at the position. Don't be surprised if others -- Derrick Nnadi, in particular -- make a run as serious playing time, too.

The prediction: Jernigan is an irreplaceable talent, and setting expectations that high would be too much to ask of any player. But Florida State is in good shape with Lawrence-Stample as the heir apparent and Christmas arriving this fall to push for the job. While the odds still favor the veteran to win a starting role, the loss of four top interior linemen in the past two seasons means ample playing time will be available in Kelly’s rotation, even if Christmas opens his career as a backup. That, after all, is how Jernigan earned his stripes his first two seasons, and he still managed to be a force for Florida State in that role. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Christmas emerged as a similarly productive bench player this year. “Everybody we asked,” Fisher said, “the first guy to come out of their mouth was Demarcus Christmas. Everybody. I never had so many coaches tell me he was the best player. Even coaches from Miami and the players in Miami. When guys in Miami give you credit ... they don't give nobody credit.”

FSU room to improve: Defensive line

February, 13, 2014
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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.


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The words were likely the same as the ones spoken by every other coach in the country, Jimbo Fisher was quick to admit Wednesday, but that didn’t make them any less true.

[+] EnlargeErmon Lane
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY SportsErmon Lane, the No. 2 WR in the nation and No. 22 prospect overall, was a nice late addition for FSU.
Florida State’s 2014 signing class had a little bit of everything, and that made it easy to love. There were the high-profile stars, including receiver Travis Rudolph (West Palm Beach, Fla./Cardinal Newman) and defensive end Lorenzo Featherston (Greensboro, N.C./Page). There were the late additions, from receiver Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Senior) to tackle Roderick Johnson (Florissant, Mo./Hazelwood Central). There was strength in numbers, including huge hauls on both sides of the line, and there were unique talents such as defensive tackle Demarcus Christmas (Bradenton, Fla./Manatee), who Fisher raved might be one of the five best players in the country.

The Seminoles inked at least one player in every position group -- and a long snapper to boot -- with Fisher heaping praise on each one.

“The first thing is you need the ingredients to bake the cake,” Fisher said. “We have the ingredients.”

The class wasn’t the most high-profile. While Florida State did nab 13 ESPN 300 prospects and two more top junior-college transfers, it didn’t rack up a heaping quantity of five-star studs like Alabama did. The Seminoles grabbed some prized late additions, too, but also lost QB Treon Harris (Miami/Booker T. Washington) and defensive lineman Dexter Wideman (Saluda, S.C./Saluda), both longtime commits. But it was the grunt work on players such as Christmas that had Fisher so excited about the future Wednesday.

“If Christmas would have gone to [more] camps, he would be been the No. 1 or 2 player in the whole country,” Fisher said. “Everybody we asked, the first guy to come out of their mouth was [Christmas]. ‘That's the best football player we've played against in 10 years.’ Everybody. I never had so many coaches tell me he was the best player. Even coaches from Miami and the players in Miami. When guys in Miami give you credit, they don't give nobody credit.”

The same was true at quarterback, where Fisher spent his time raving about J.J. Cosentino (Pittsburgh/Central Catholic) rather than lament the loss of Harris. The 6-foot-4 QB from western Pennsylvania could wind up the heir apparent to Jameis Winston in a year -- or two years, as Fisher optimistically projected Wednesday -- and might already have the best arm of anyone on Florida State’s roster.

Highly touted running back Dalvin Cook (Miami/Central) is already enrolled, but Fisher raved Wednesday about the versatility of three-star prospect Jonathan Vickers (Tallahassee, Fla./North Florida Christian). Rudolph and Lane were two of the top six receivers in the nation, but Fisher heaped praise on Ja'Von Harrison (Lakeland, Fla./Kathleen), too.

“He has a ton of juice,” Fisher said. “He can accelerate. He can make you miss. He can punt return, play defense, blocks very well. He has great length, size. I think Ja’Von has a big-time future.”

Florida State wrapped up the day with the No. 3 class in the country, the fifth time in as many years Fisher has nabbed a top-10 class. But Fisher wasn’t concerned with the final ranking.

“There's not a guy in here, even from a size standpoint, I don’t think will have a great future,” Fisher said. “Tremendous."

Summer recruit wrap: Florida State 

July, 23, 2013
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NoleNation looks at 10 themes of Florida State's 2014 recruiting class to date:


Dexter Wideman (Saluda, S.C./Saluda) and Florida State running backs coach Jay Graham have developed a great relationship.

And late on Monday, it paid off.

“I just want everyone to know that I verbally committed to Florida State," Wideman tweeted.

Wideman was being heavily pursued by Clemson, South Carolina and Florida before making his decision to commit to Florida State and most thought the Gamecocks were the team to beat.

At 6-foot-4, 275 pounds, Wideman is ranked the No. 169 prospect in the nation and a four-star talent.

According to ESPN scouts, Wideman is a likeable kid as he plays hard and aggressive. Needs to keep developing and improving aspects of his game as he moves up to the next level, but if he can make some needed adjustments to technique, he can be a productive and disruptive D-Lineman.

With the addition of Wideman, the Seminoles now have three defensive tackles committed in the Class of 2014 along with Demarcus Christmas (Bradenton, Fla./Manatee) and Fredrick Jones (Miami/Central) with a total of 22 commitments.
Now that five-star defensive tackle Andrew Brown (Chesapeake, Va./Oscar Frommel Smith) has verbally committed to Virginia, his other four finalists -- Alabama, FSU, Virginia Tech and Clemson -- are forced to look in other directions. Here's a closer look at some of the targets they are considering:


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ESPN 300 analysis: Florida State 

June, 17, 2013
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As far as Florida State is concerned, there are plenty of notable and recognizable names in the newly released ESPN 300.


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Regardless of what happens with 2013 five-star linebacker Matthew Thomas, the Seminoles’ linebacker recruiting continues to excel.

Jacob Pugh (Tallahassee, Fla./Godby) is a terrific local option, and Florida State capitalized on Wednesday. Pugh’s extensive offer list which includes powers in the SEC, ACC and Big Ten, as well as Notre Dame and USC speaks to that.


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State of the Noles: Defensive Tackle 

February, 14, 2013
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Timmy JerniganAP Photo/Don Juan MooreTimmy Jernigan should be one of the ACC's elite defenders in 2013.

When it comes to recruiting, coaches need to be thinking long-term. It's not just about which holes must be filled immediately, but rather where the needs might be in two or three more years.

With that in mind, NoleNation writers David Hale and Corey Dowlar are going position by position, looking at what FSU has on its roster now, and who might provide reinforcements down the line, projecting starters and evaluating the depth through 2015.

Up next, a position that will see plenty of turnover in 2013: Defensive tackle.


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Five defensive tackles for 2014 

October, 31, 2012
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Defensive tackle, a position of strength and depth for the Seminoles over the last couple of years, will need to be restocked with talent in the class of 2014. NoleNation looks at five prospects Florida State will look at signing during the next cycle.

[+] EnlargeDemarcus Christmas
Corey Long/ESPN.comDemarcus Christmas was won over by defensive line coach Odell Haggins.
Demarcus Christmas -- Christmas, a prospect who figures to be one of the best in the entire country in his class, has already committed to Florida State out of powerhouse Manatee High School. At 6-foot-4, 290 pounds, Christmas looks more like a college student-athlete now than a prep standout. The Seminoles did well to secure a commitment from him early in the process, capitalizing on their early momentum within his recruitment.

Travonte Valentine -- Valentine, a Florida Gators commitment, will likely stay on the radar for a while. He's already made one decommitment (from Louisville) and Florida State would like to make it a second one. Valentine camped at Florida State over the summer and appeared very interested in the Seminoles prior to his decision to pledge to Florida. Make no mistake, though, Valentine will be hard to pull away from UF.

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Commitment performance watch 

October, 22, 2012
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Florida State's commitments are having big campaigns as the high school season is nearly halfway complete. Here are some prospects who had exceptional weekends.

Michael Johnson: In a game where Booker T. Washington dropped 70 points on their opponent, the Tornado starters really didn't have more than a handful of series to play their part. Johnson, though, contributed three tackles and an interception to jumpstart the team to a win. The Tornadoes figure to be a favorite to reach the state championship in December.

Levonte Whitfield: Another week, and another mention for Levonte Whitfield in the performance watch. The speedy athlete hauled in a touchdown reception of over 50 yards, rushed for a touchdown of over 15 yards, and logged over 100 all-purpose yards. He continues to be the focal point of the Jones offensive attack and hasn't really been kept in check yet.

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Demarcus Christmas commits to FSU 

October, 1, 2012
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ESPN Watch List defensive tackle Demarcus Christmas (Bradenton, Fla./Manatee) committed to Florida State on Monday morning.

Florida State now has seven commitments for the class of 2014, the most of any school in the country.

[+] EnlargeDemarcus Christmas
Corey Long/ESPN.comDemarcus Christmas was won over by defensive line coach Odell Haggins.
The 6-foot-4, 290-pound junior chose Florida State over Alabama and South Florida, according to Manatee assistant coach Steve Gulach. He also had offers from Auburn, Florida, Miami and South Carolina, among others.

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Four stand out for 2014 DL Christmas 

September, 4, 2012
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Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee defensive lineman Demarcus Christmas had no shortage of phone calls and Facebook messages on Sept. 1.

Several programs have the 6-foot-4, 290-pound junior at the top of their boards in the class of 2014, and the coaches were quick to make contact.

"I started receiving messages on my Facebook right after midnight," Christmas said. "Several schools got in touch -- Alabama, Miami, Florida State, Rutgers, South Florida, Auburn, Mississippi State and North Carolina are the ones I remember."

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