Florida State Seminoles: Jacobbi McDaniel
Shaw can break 100: It certainly seemed like it might never happen after Kenny Shaw finished last week with 99 yards -- his sixth game with at least 89 but none topping 100. But when he hauled in a 20-yard touchdown throw from Jameis Winston to end the first half Saturday, Shaw finally cracked that elusive century mark, finishing the game with five grabs for 107 yards and two scores. Shaw needs to average just 57 yards per game the rest of the way to break 1,000 for the season.
The defense is deep: Another game, another four interceptions for Florida State’s defense. Saturday saw Telvin Smith and E.J. Levenberry record picks and return them for scores, while Jacobbi McDaniel and Keelin Smith added interceptions of their own. For the year, 16 different FSU players have recorded at least one interception, and the Seminoles have a nation-leading 23 INTs for the year. The two TDs give Florida State a school-record eight defensive touchdowns this season, too.
Winston still rolling: The legal battle surrounding Florida State’s star quarterback rages on, but Winston seems no worse for the wear. He completed 14 of 25 passes for 225 yards and four touchdowns against Idaho, giving him 32 passing TDs for the year -- one shy of Chris Weinke’s school record. And if the off-field issues don’t derail his on-field success, Winston has all but locked up the Heisman.
Florida State is 6-0 and has played as well as any team in the country.
1. QB Jameis Winston (1): We're running out of adjectives to describe how great he's been, but here's a stat that helps: Winston has accounted for 23 touchdowns in six games so far. E.J. Manuel, the first QB taken in this past April's NFL draft, recorded his 23rd touchdown for FSU last season ... in Game No. 12.
2. CB Lamarcus Joyner (5): It's fair to say the new defensive scheme agrees with Joyner. He recorded eight tackles, a sack and forced three take-aways, including a tempo-setter on Clemson's first offensive play. He's on pace for 77 tackles and seven sacks this season.
3. LB Telvin Smith (6): It's possible there were three or four guys wearing No. 22 jerseys on the field Saturday. That's about the only way to explain how Smith managed to be in on virtually every play. He finished with 11 tackles, including one for a loss.
4. WR Rashad Greene (4): In three career games vs. Clemson, Greene has 20 catches, 280 yards and four touchdowns.
5. DT Timmy Jernigan (3): His sack Saturday was his lone tackle, but Jernigan flat out ate up Clemson's interior line, opening up room for Smith and the other linebackers to have a field day.
6. RB Devonta Freeman (2): Quiet day for the FSU running game, as Freeman finished with 84 yards on 21 carries. The bulk of his production came on a handful of long runs, but there was little room the bulk of the time. That's a slight concern for FSU, which is averaging just 4.1 ypc against ACC teams. Take away Freeman's 17-yarder and Winston's 18-yarder Saturday, and the Noles managed just 3.3 ypc (not counting sacks).
7. LB Christian Jones (NR): This was the breakthrough game Jones was looking for in FSU's new defensive scheme. The 3-5-3 FSU ran much of Saturday is perfectly suited to his skill set, and Jones responded with eight tackles, including two for a loss and one QB hurry.
9. WR Kenny Shaw (7): He was overshadowed by his fellow receivers Saturday, but Shaw's body of work this season is still exceptional.
10. TE Nick O'Leary (NR): Five catches, 161 yards. That's not a line you'll see from tight ends at FSU often. It included a 94-yard reception and one of the biggest hits an FSU offensive player has delivered in a long time.
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.
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.
Jameis Winston is a magician: His teammates have taken to downplaying Winston's tremendous start to the season. They see so many highlights in practice, Rashad Greene said, that it's second nature on game day. And then Winston goes and ducks through a surefire sack, rolls out to his right and delivers a TD throw to Nick O'Leary, and even Greene has to admit -- it's amazing. "You don't see him break tackles in practice," Greene said, "so when you see it in a game, it's just a great feeling seeing how athletic that guy is." Winston now has accounted for 19 touchdowns this season, the most by any QB in his first five games in the past decade.
The defense isn't dead: Players were angry after last week's ugly performance against Boston College, Jacobbi McDaniel said. They knew there were doubters, and they aimed to quiet those concerns. It started with an intense week of practice and it ended with a shutout in which the D dominated every facet of the game. The D line -- McDaniel, Jernigan and Mario Edwards Jr. -- played its best game of the season, and the rest of the pieces fell into place from there. One week after coughing up 200 yards on the ground, FSU allowed Maryland just 33 yards on 25 carries.
Two weeks will feel like a lifetime: The company line after Saturday's blowout win was patience. The next big date circled on the calendar, Jimbo Fisher said, wasn't Clemson, but rather Tuesday's return to the practice field. That's the right mantra inside the locker room, but for ACC fans, it's going to be a long wait until Oct. 19 when FSU and Clemson face off in Death Valley. The Noles rolled Maryland, and the Tigers thumped Syracuse. Now only a BC-Clemson matchup and a bye week in Tallahassee is in the way of a showdown between two top-10 teams that figures to determine who'll take the ACC Atlantic.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- After the onslaught was over, Jameis Winston relaxed in a folding chair in front of a throng of reporters eager to sing his praises yet again.
Florida State's quarterback had been dazzling, throwing five touchdown passes in a 63-0 victory over No. 25 Maryland, and one of his inquisitors pushed him on the offensive juggernaut. Winston wouldn't take the bait.
"The defense was clicking," he said.
He was pressed again on the offense.
"No," Winston said. "The defense kept giving us the ball."
But Winston was right to turn the spotlight back to the defense. For a Florida State team already eminently aware of its quarterback's potential, it was the shutout pitched by the maligned defense that was the day's revelation, and it comes at an ideal time.
A week earlier, Florida State looked dazed against a mundane Boston College power-running game. For just the third time since Jimbo Fisher took over as head coach, the defense allowed 200 rushing yards. After just four games in coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's new defensive scheme, patience was wearing thin.
"Who wouldn't doubt us, based on how we performed in the previous week?" defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel asked. "As a team, as a defense, we knew we had to come out and dominate."
On Saturday, everything clicked.
As impressive as Winston's performance was, the defensive statistics were every bit as staggering.
Maryland entered the game averaging 227 rushing yards. The Terrapins managed just 33 on 25 carries Saturday.
The Terps' offense had topped 500 yards in three of four games this year. They tallied less than half that against Florida State.
Maryland was a woeful 2-of-15 on third down, mustered just nine first downs in the game and was shut out for the first time since 2008.
"We went out there and said, 'We're going to dominate,'" linebacker Telvin Smith said. "We didn't say we want to or we can. We said we were going to, and that's what we went out there and did."
C.J. Brown, Stefon Diggs and Brandon Ross had been among the most productive offensive trios in the ACC this season. Only Ross finished the game healthy, and his final line included three rushes for minus-1 yard.
Brown was sandwiched between Christian Jones and McDaniel on a pass in the second quarter. He was taken for X-rays and didn't return. Diggs was smacked on an incomplete pass near midfield in the third quarter on his final play of the day.
Maryland coach Randy Edsall was displeased with the hit that ended Brown's game, but Florida State chalked it up as part of a punishingly physical approach.
"In practice, you heard pads every day -- even when we just had on shorts and shoulder pads," Smith said. "We were out there hitting. That showed up in the game."
The fallout from the Boston College game stung, but it was also a necessary wake-up call, McDaniel said. The defense assembled in the film room last Monday and relived the carnage, then set about finding solutions.
Fisher said it was clear his team hadn't been prepared for Boston College, but the energy on the practice field was noticeable. That carried over to Saturday's thrashing of the Terps.
"They played with urgency," Fisher said. "They stopped the run, took on blocks and our eye discipline was excellent. And this team was harder to [defend] than [Boston College]."
The key now is maintaining that level of discipline through a two-week wait before heading to No. 3 Clemson for a showdown that figures to determine the ACC's Atlantic Division champion.
If Saturday represented how good Florida State could be when Winston is in a groove and the defense is angry, there is reason for excitement.
"Everybody told us, 'Don't look forward to the Clemson game,'" Winston said. "But the time is here, and we've got to get everything right."
QB Jameis Winston: All the excitement leading up to Winston's home debut really did get to him. He said he came out too amped up, and it showed. He took a risk downfield early in the second quarter, throwing his first career INT in the process. Afterward, Jimbo Fisher calmed him down and told him to learn from the mistake. Winston listened, completing his final 13 passes and leading six straight touchdown drives. He's now recorded eight touchdowns (six passing) and thrown just five incomplete passes this season.
RB Karlos Williams: So what if the safety-turned-tailback had just eight practices to work at his new position. His first carry of his career still went for a 65-yard touchdown, he still managed to carry 10 Nevada defenders on a first-down run, and he still finished the game with 110 yards on just eight carries. Not a bad start for Williams, who helped anchor a rushing attack that racked up 377 yards and saw six different players score touchdowns.
Linemen Bobby Hart and Ruben Carter: A year ago, if the right side of Florida State's line featured Carter and Hart as starters, it would've been time to panic. This year, the duo held up quite well. FSU allowed just one sack -- to left end Lenny Jones -- and ran the football down Nevada's throat. Carter and Hart helped lead the charge. Hart has shown he's progressed nicely in FSU's first two games after spending all of 2012 in line coach Rick Trickett's doghouse, and Carter filled in for Tre' Jackson, who missed the game with an ankle injury, and looked like an old pro.
Hat tips to: Devonta Freeman racked up 109 yards on nine carries and scored; Kenny Shaw had 147 all-purpose yards and caught Winston's first touchdown reception; Tyler Hunter recorded FSU's lone takeaway; Jacobbi McDaniel recorded his first tackle for loss in nearly two years; Jalen Ramsey got his second straight start and helped snuff out a crucial fake field-goal try by Nevada.
In other words, Fisher isn't playing it safe when it comes to moving the pile on short yardage.
"Just because they're big doesn't mean they'll block people," Fisher said, "but we have a chance to be very physical at the point."
That's a sizable understatement, but Fisher realizes the significance of success on those short-yardage plays, and it's an area where he sees room for improvement in 2013.
It's not that the Seminoles were bad in short yardage last season. In fact, they made some dramatic strides from a dismal performance in 2011.
Overall, FSU converted 57 percent of it's short-yardage plays (2 yards or fewer to go) last season, good for seventh in the ACC and up 14 percentage points from the year before, when the Seminoles were dead last in the league. Florida State averaged 4.6 yards per rush in short-yardage last year, which led all ACC teams.
The momentous improvement from year to year ought to be cause for celebration, but there is some gray area to the numbers.
Yes, Florida State made a big leap forward in its short-yardage success in 2012, but the improvement in those situations was far less dramatic than the overall running game, which nearly doubled its production from 2011.
FSU scored 40 touchdowns on the ground last season, second-best in the ACC and ninth in the nation, but its goal-line conversion rate was just fifth in the league.
On third-and-short last season, FSU converted a woeful 54 percent -- ninth-best in the conference. Fisher's crew wriggled out of trouble by converting all three of its fourth-down tries, including a game-saving run by Wilder against Virginia Tech, but there's no doubt that was a bit too close for comfort.
But perhaps most importantly, Florida State had a legitimate size advantage at the point of impact in most games, and Fisher expects his unit to take advantage. With that in mind, he's doubling down on that idea this fall by bringing McDaniel and Edwards over from the defensive line.
"With those other guys, you've got to have some heart to stand in front of that and actually stand it up," Wilder said. "Jacobbi, what's he, 280, 300? Boy, you've got to have some heart to hop in front of that. It definitely opens up holes."
That's the plan anyway. Of course, size isn't everything, as Florida State has learned in the past.
The move from defense to offense isn't exactly rocket science, Fisher admits, but there is some nuance to the job. McDaniel and Edwards both have the athleticism to complement their heft, but they'll also need a little seasoning in the role.
"It's a lot harder on offense than it is on defense," Fisher said. "You've got to find [the opposition]. On defense, they're coming to you. It's a little different, but they're both very athletic and fluid, so they do it pretty natural."
The concept isn't entirely new for Florida State either. Former defensive end Bjoern Werner handled the job a handful of times in the past few seasons, too. What's different about this year is that longtime fullback Lonnie Pryor has moved on, and the backfield shakeup at least offers some room for innovation.
In fact, McDaniel hasn't even ruled out a little change-of-pace in the role, saying he hopes to grab a pass or two when the defense is least expecting it.
"I'm going to take full advantage of that," McDaniel said. "I'm going up for it, and I'm bringing it down. I still have it. Every day before practice we're playing catch. It's still there."
That may be pushing the limits of Fisher's grand experiment, but the bottom line remains the same. Florida State figures to have a distinct advantage when it comes to sheer bulk this season, and the Seminoles want to make sure that translates into an elite short-yardage offense.
"Those boys just want to go back there and hit something," Wilder said of his new backfield mates. "[They're] like me. They need that contact, and they can open up a hole for me and the other running backs."
Florida State questions
Q: What does QB Jameis Winston bring to the Seminoles' offense that EJ Manuel did not?
Hale: I think there are two distinctly opposite emotions in play here. On one side, Manuel always took a few more lumps from fans than were probably deserved. He finished his career 25-6, winner of four bowl games and the school's all-time record holder for completion percentage. That's a sturdy resume. On the other side, Winston is already getting so much hype that anything short of a Heisman and a national title during his tenure would probably be a disappointment. The truth on both guys is probably somewhere in between, which likely means Winston is going to have a hard time eclipsing Manuel's production this season.
Still, looking back at last year's Florida game, the bar is low -- and 12 games into the season, Winston should be clicking on all cylinders by then. Manuel was dreadful in that game (four turnovers) and I think it's his ugly mistakes in big moments that angered fans the most. Winston has a flair for the dramatic and a love of the spotlight, and that confidence might be his best weapon -- which is saying something, because the guy's got a ton of weapons.
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Next up: No. 22 Demonte McAllister
Position/Class: DT/Redshirt senior
What he's done: Through four seasons at Florida State, McAllister has largely floated beneath the radar while building a still impressive list of credentials. Despite never serving as a starter on the defensive line, McAllister has appeared in 38 games in his career, compiled 54 tackles, including 12 for a loss, along with 6.5 sacks. His 2012 campaign was his best, as he earned the most playing time of his career and finished with 33 tackles and 3.5 sacks, tops among FSU's interior linemen.
Where he's at: McAllister missed all of spring practice with a shoulder injury, but that hasn't changed his status atop the team's depth chart at defensive tackle. The departure of senior tackles Anthony McCloud and Everett Dawkins, along with three veterans at defensive end, means there's a significant void in experience on FSU's defensive line, which makes McAllister a valuable commodity. Of course, tackle is also one of the deepest positions on the Seminoles' roster, meaning McAllister will be pushed for playing time from rising stars like Eddie Goldman and a returning veteran in Jacobbi McDaniel.
What's to come: As good as Florida State's defense was in 2012, few players took as big a leap forward as McAllister. His role grew as the season progressed, and he responded with a sterling overall performance. The only question now is whether he can maintain that trajectory as his role grows again, but Florida State has the luxury of depth at the position. That means no one member of the group should have to shoulder too much of the burden. McAllister's best asset may be his maturity, which will be crucial on a defensive line that will see a lot of action by freshmen and sophomores. Still, if McAllister can improve on last season's numbers -- stats that were only exceeded by highly-touted Timmy Jernigan among FSU's interior linemen -- he could find a lot more attention from NFL scouts by season's end.
From the meticulously frustrating climb up the stairs to his second-floor apartment, inching his immobilized leg up one step at a time, to the agonizing meals in the team dining hall, skimping on calories because he couldn't exercise while his teammates feasted, every day was a test of McDaniel's willpower.
After 18 months of grueling rehab and recovery, the senior defensive tackle is finally healthy and ready to make up for lost time, but he hasn't forgotten the lessons he learned.
"I can't make up for the past," McDaniel said. "All I can do is the best I can. But if I play to my potential, and I help my team win, the sky's the limit."
As McDaniel fights his way back to relevance after a year-and-a-half away from the field, he's focused on the small details that will allow him one last chance at glory. But for Florida State fans who drooled at the potential of the once prized recruit, it's the gory details of one injury after another, including the gruesome broken ankle in 2011, that have defined his career.
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."
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."
It happens every year that a few relatively obscure names find their way into bigger roles, and as the Seminoles get set to start another summer NoleNation is counting down five under-the-radar players who could be in line for breakthrough seasons.
Next up: Nile Lawrence-Stample
Career arc: A well-regarded recruit, Lawrence-Stample played just one season at defensive tackle in high school. That translated to a slightly steeper learning curve upon arrival at FSU. He redshirted as a true freshman in 2011, and he saw extremely limited playing time in 2012, recording 10 tackles for the season.
Why he's overlooked: Despite losing its two starters, Florida State is still deep at defensive tackle. McAllister and Timmy Jernigan are veterans with solid seasons already under their belt, and they figure to step into starting roles in 2013. Meanwhile, senior Jacobbi McDaniel returns from an injury and highly touted sophomore Eddie Goldman looks to take the next step in his career, pushing both Lawrence-Stample and fellow sophomore Derrick Mitchell to the back of the pack.
Why he'll produce: Earning playing time may still be an uphill battle at a crowded position, but Jimbo Fisher was effusive in his praise of Lawrence-Stample following an impressive spring game performance in which he recorded three sacks. Fisher said no player on FSU's defense improved more over the course of the spring, and at 315 pounds, he could be a force in the middle of the defensive line if an opportunity arises.
Projection: With so much talent surrounding him, it's tough to project a significant role for Lawrence-Stample at the moment, but both Jernigan and McAllister missed significant time this spring with injuries, and Mitchell and McDaniel both have problematic injury histories, too. It's not an ideal way to earn playing time, but as the Seminoles learned at defensive end a year ago, depth on the line is tested often, and Lawrence-Stample's progress in Year 3 offers plenty of reason for optimism.
Next up: The defensive line
The question: Five former starters are gone, likely all headed to the NFL, so what will become of Florida State's once-vaunted defensive line without Bjoern Werner, Cornellius Carradine and Co.?
What we learned this spring: Perhaps the biggest lesson of the spring wasn't about who would fill the void on the defensive line but rather how new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt planned to scheme around it.
It's not that the pass-rush responsibilities will be shifted completely away from the defensive ends, and technically speaking, FSU isn't moving toward the 3-4 base defense Pruitt ran at Alabama, but there have clearly been some marked changes to the scheme.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State defensive end Giorgio Newberry walked into the room, cradling his black playbook, and sat down on a folding chair.
By the looks of it, the book should have made a monstrous thud when he went to put it down. Newberry placed the book gently on the floor, though, and laughed when he was innocuously asked, "So that playbook is bigger than your old one, huh?"
The new book, a huge three-ringed binder stuffed full, features more blitzes, and some new assignments for players used to the old way of doing things. While the Seminoles will remain a 4-3 base defense, they are going to be using all of their players in different ways.
That means a guy like Newberry -- all 6-foot-6 inches and 273 pounds of him -- will be dropping back into pass coverage on occasion as he transitions to play the jack position, an end/linebacker mashup.
And no, Newberry has never actually covered anybody in the pass game before.
"It’s pretty fun actually, getting an opportunity to run in space, show my athleticism off," Newberry said recently. "I have the speed for a big guy. I have a lot of range. I’m pretty long and tall so that should help me, too. I’ll still be rushing sometimes but it’s almost like I’ll be rushing, dropping, rushing dropping even though I’ll be rushing still."
Newberry is not the only defensive lineman in the spotlight this spring. They all are, as questions persist about how the Seminoles are going to look up front with starters Bjoern Werner, Tank Carradine, Everett Dawkins and Anthony McCloud gone. The good news is a wealth of experienced players return.
Coach Jimbo Fisher consulted his stat sheet to prove it. He starts with tackles Timmy Jernigan and Demonte McAllister, who were more productive than Dawkins and McCloud. End Mario Edwards Jr. started at the end of the season; Newberry has game experience; Jacobbi McDaniel is back; Eddie Goldman has been "coming on like wildfire"; and expectations are high for Chris Casher.
"They still have to prove it, but from we still feel very comfortable that we can be very physical and very dominating up front. Very strong," Fisher said.
To that end, players like Newberry and Jernigan are preparing themselves for breakout seasons in this new defensive style that first-year coordinator Jeremy Pruitt brought with him from Alabama.
"This," Newberry says, "is a killer defense."
How good can it be once everybody learns the entire system?
"Our defense is going to be just as good as last year, if not better," Newberry said. "Because we have a new system, people are younger and we have more people."
Jernigan chimed in later with his own take: "As far as stats go, I feel like this will be my biggest year. I feel like I’m going to have a very good year this year.
"I’ve been preparing, I’ve been working very hard in the weight room, in the classroom making sure I have no extra stress. Then the style of the defense, we’re a little more aggressive up front and that’s the way I like to play. I like the physicality, I like to get off the ball, hurry up and get my hands on the blockers. I think that’s going to help, we’re going to be attacking a lot more."
Attacking from all over the field, in fact. Florida State has a deep history and tradition to uphold defensively, especially after ranking No. 2 in the nation in defense last year. The only team ahead was Alabama, and now the Noles have the Tide's former defensive coordinator.
Fisher, however, wanted to be sure to emphasize the Noles are keeping much of what they did in the past in place, even though it seems they may be radically changing. Alabama does run a 3-4 base. Florida State will not. Simply put: There will be a few new twists -- OK a lot more twists -- in the playbook, sorta like sprucing up the garden for spring.
"We're a 4-3 team," he said. "If you go back and look last year, we were about 25 percent 3-4 last year. If you go back and watch Alabama’s film, there’s only about 8-to-10 3-4 snaps a game. They might not have been as much 3-4 as we were a year ago. Believe that or not. You may stand a guy up to create a mismatch, we did that with Bjoern and Tank and Brandon (Jenkins) all the time. We were a bunch of 3-4. Perception’s not always reality."
That may end up being the perfect description for this defensive line in 2013.
"I definitely didn't want to end up playing linebacker," Williams said.
Williams said his height wasn't ideally suited to the position, and as one of the team's faster players -- and starting kick returner -- he wasn't all that interested in adding any significant weight.
As it turned out, however, Williams didn't need to make the switch to find a chance at a full-time job.
With Lamarcus Joyner's unexpected switch from safety to corner, Williams is finally on the verge of locking down significant playing time, and he didn't have to move from safety to do it.
"I've been preparing myself for the past two years to be in the starting position if I've earned the right," Williams said. "So this spring I'm trying to earn the right to start."
Ironically though, Williams' new role might not be limited exclusively to safety. With new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt taking a more aggressive approach on the pass rush, Williams could still find himself playing some nickel and, of course, some linebacker on a part-time basis. And that, Williams said, is just fine.
"Hopefully, in this system, playing the money linebacker a little bit," Williams said. "I hope I get a little more experience with that."