Florida State Seminoles: Nile Lawrence-Stample

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jimbo Fisher is a football coach. That means he likes to talk about what he can control, and anything he can't is just wasted breath.

But he is a football coach, which means he knows injuries are a part of the sport. His Florida State team was lucky in 2013, avoiding the injury bug and remaining healthy over the course of a national championship season.

Justin Shanks
AP Photo/Steve CannonFlorida State's been fortunate with regard to injuries but its defensive tackles were hit hard Saturday.
The Seminoles have been able to manipulate injury luck quite a bit with their GPS tracking system, but there is no guard against the inherent dangers of a game predicated on high-speed collisions and 300-pound men wrestling 130 times in 40-second intervals.

That became evident Saturday night as top-ranked Florida State lost three defensive tackles to lower leg injuries, including starters Eddie Goldman and Nile Lawrence-Stample. Fisher did not disclose any specifics on the injuries or the amount of time, if any, that will be missed, but Goldman's left foot was in a boot and he needed the aid of a walking cane to gingerly limp to the locker room after the game.

"When I rub that crystal ball I can't ever figure it out," Fisher said after the game about planning for more injuries in 2014. "Sometimes you do, sometimes you don't. That's the thing about football -- you don't [know]. ... That's just ball. You keep your fingers crossed."

While Florida State has arguably the country's most talented roster, there was concern at defensive tackle leading up to the season. Timmy Jernigan declared early for the NFL, leaving the Seminoles thin on the interior of the defensive line. And by halftime Saturday, Florida State was without three of its top five defensive tackles.

The schedule offers a brief reprieve for Florida State as they enter a bye week, which could allow for all three to return. The Seminoles' next game is Sept. 20 against Clemson, and they might need all the defensive linemen they can get to combat the Tigers' up-tempo offense.

The 6-foot-4, 320-pound Goldman was one of the better defensive tackles in the conference, and his presence would almost certainly be missed most if he is forced to the sidelines. Junior defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. said the defense would have a much different feel without Goldman, who he calls "the big man in the middle."

"He can two-gap it, he can hold up the blockers so that a lot of linebackers can scrape over the top, and with Eddie missing it'd be a big piece missing," Edwards said.

Linebacker Reggie Northrup said Goldman's presence often draws double teams, which frees him up to make tackles. He is confident in the backups, and defensive tackle Derrick Mitchell Jr. could see a bulk of the snaps in Goldman's stead. Mitchell, a redshirt junior, is 20 pounds lighter than Goldman, however.

"It's definitely going to affect [the defense] because Eddie's a big part of our defense," Mitchell said. "He's in a lot of our defensive packages. We're going to have to make some changes if he can't go. He's a very important part of our defense."
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Preseason camp begins with five days of heat acclimation, but that doesn't mean there is a nearly week-long grace period for Florida State. Not when the Seminoles are in pursuit of consecutive national championships.

New linebackers coach Bill Miller was already adjusted to head coach Jimbo Fisher's "attitude of domination" standard at the onset of the Seminoles' first practice of fall camp. When a freshman linebacker didn't perform a warm-up drill correctly, Miller sent him back to the front of a line with a not-so-subtle message to do it better next time.

"I liked the intensity of practice. It was very good competition, guys getting after each other, competing with each other, for the most part knowing what to do," Fisher said.

Although players were not in pads Monday, Fisher was encouraged by what he saw. With the mandated restriction on pads -- Florida State's first two-a-day will be Saturday -- the first day of practice was an opportunity for the Seminoles to work on alignments, assignments and execution.

Fisher expressed a little disappointment in how the passing game performed -- he called the quarterbacks' execution "very average" -- but he acknowledged it was the first time the group had a defensive line charging at them in four months. And when you return Jameis Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, there is little reason for long-term concern.

Once baseball season ended, Fisher forced Winston to take a couple of weeks off to ease the demands on his star player's body. The result was a Winston who is much fresher than he was entering the 2013 season and a smarter player under center. When Winston was kept from the field, he used it as an opportunity to fine-tune his mechanics.

"He was very anxious to get better fundamentally. He did a lot of film study with his footwork and working on his release and quickening things up," Fisher said.

Coupled with an energized Winston, the first few days of practice should go smoother this season because of the lack of roster turnover on the offense line and a defensive scheme that remains largely unchanged. The offensive line has five seniors and more than 100 starts among them, and new defensive coordinator Charles Kelly is executing the same defensive scheme as predecessor Jeremy Pruitt. Kelly was the Seminoles' linebackers coach in 2013. While Florida State has to replace defensive leaders Timmy Jernigan, Lamarcus Joyner and Telvin Smith, there is a knowledge that should allow the new starters to transition quickly to their roles.

"It's the second year on defense of exactly the [same] system we're running, so I think the knowledge is increased," Fisher said. "The young guys will know more because the older guys can help them. Last year early, the older guys couldn't help them because they were learning it for the first time, too."

There is a belief those younger players will crack the rotation and make an impact at some point in 2014, possibly for the Aug. 30 opener against Oklahoma State. Freshman receivers Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph, recovered from offseason foot surgery, look physically impressive, and there is an opportunity for playing time on the defensive line; the Seminoles have seven freshmen defensive linemen, and Fisher said "there's not one you'd throw back."

Linebacker Terrance Smith smiled when asked about the big bodies accompanying their new faces.

"This is probably the biggest group of freshmen we've had in a long time," he said. "Me as a linebacker, I'm not complaining because we got some big D-Linemen in front of me."

Notes: Sophomore receiver Jesus "Bobo" Wilson remains indefinitely suspended following a Monday meeting with Fisher. Wilson is practicing and should return during the season, but Fisher sounded as if Wilson will not play in the opener. ... Linebacker Ukeme Eligwe (Lisfranc injury) is not practicing, but Fisher said Eligwe is ahead of schedule. Nile Lawrence-Stample (shoulder surgery) is practicing but will be eased back into contact. ... A few players wrote on Twitter that Sunday would be their last day tweeting until the season ends. Fisher said it was a team initiative and he did not ask his team to quit social media until the season ended. However, Fisher did say Florida State does monitor what its players and the athletes it is recruiting say on social media.
Florida State opens spring practice next week, and there are plenty of big questions waiting to be answered. Before Jimbo Fisher gets his chance to weigh in on those discussions, however, we’re taking a crack at finding the answers.

So far, we’ve looked at Jameis Winston’s second act, Karlos Williams’ emergence, transitions on the defensive front and the spring’s breakout stars.

Last up: What will be the biggest question mark still lingering for Florida State once spring practice ends?

Jared Shanker says the potential for complacency could haunt FSU throughout the summer.

JS: There is no question Florida State has the talent to repeat. Barring anything unforeseen, the Seminoles will be the preseason No. 1 team, and quite possibly a unanimous selection. The Heisman winner returns and is in his third year in the program, and outside of mentor Nick Saban no coach has recruited better than Jimbo Fisher since 2010.

Sure the Noles lose key skill players on offense and arguably their best player at every level of the defense, but Florida State has established itself as a reload-not-rebuild type of program. Questions at receiver, defensive tackle and linebacker are not going to be completely settled by the end of spring practice, but the biggest question mark will be whether the Noles carry that same hunger into 2014 as they did a season ago.

[+] EnlargeFlorida State's Jimbo Fisher
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesThe talent is there for an FSU repeat, but can Jimbo Fisher keep his team pointed in the right direction?
Fisher coached under Saban while at LSU, and Saban has spent the last few seasons guarding his Alabama teams against complacency. Coming off an Orange Bowl win and an undefeated national championship season the last two years, there could be a tendency for younger players to take their foot off the proverbial pedal. When spring practice ends next month, Fisher will not be able to work with his players again until fall camp. He has to count on his leaders to keep the team motivated, but outside of Winston -- who's spending equal amount of time on the diamond -- the Noles have lost their most influential locker room presences.

Florida State has the talent to go 12-0, win another ACC title and go wire-to-wire as No. 1 through the regular season and playoffs. For the next nine months, the Noles will need to look in the mirror and honestly assess their effort, because what ultimately could derail FSU’s chances at a repeat is itself.

David Hale wonders how the receiving corps will fill out in fall camp.

DH: Entering spring practice, the biggest question in my mind is on the defensive line, where the absence of Timmy Jernigan means a major hole for Florida State to fill. But there are solid options in Nile Lawrence-Stample, Desmond Hollin, Keith Bryant, Justin Shanks and Derrick Mitchell -- all of whom will be competing for reps this spring. We may not have a definitive answer there when it’s all over, but we’ll have a better idea of what the Seminoles have to work with.

The second biggest question I have entering the spring is at receiver, where Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin are moving on to the NFL, taking 43 percent of Winston’s 2013 targets with them. Who’s going to fill that void? Unlike at defensive tackle, there’s virtually no chance we’ll have a definitive answer to that question by the time FSU wraps up its Garnet and Gold game.

Yes, we’ll get a better look at last year’s new arrivals. Kermit Whitfield has the speed to be a star (and after his kick return in the title game, he might already be one), but can he be as reliable in the slot as Shaw? Will Jesus Wilson or Isaiah Jones (five combined catches last season) step up as a reliable option on the outside? Can Christian Green or Jarred Haggins break through as seniors? Will Nick O'Leary play more of a role as a receiver as FSU employs more two-tight end sets? (For what it’s worth, Fisher said he’d like to see O’Leary get 40 to 50 catches in 2014.)

Even if Florida State finds answers to all those questions this spring, the most intriguing options in the receiving corps don’t arrive until the fall. FSU inked three ESPN 300 receivers on national signing day -- Ja'Von Harrison, Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph -- who will bring a massive talent influx to the depth chart. All are in the 6-foot-1 to 6-2 range, adding some height to a receiving corps that, for the first time since Fisher arrived, lacks a true big man. All have ample ability to blossom quickly, though receivers tend to have among the hardest times adjusting from high school to college. In other words, the big mystery at the position is tabled until the fall, which is why I expect it will be one of the hottest talking points among FSU fans throughout the summer.
Florida State opens spring practice next week, and there are plenty of big questions waiting to be answered. But before Jimbo Fisher gets his chance to weigh in on those discussions, we’re taking a crack at finding the answers.

So far, we’ve looked at Jameis Winston's second act, Karlos Williams' emergence and life after Timmy Jernigan on D.

Next up: Who will be this spring’s surprise stars?

Jared Shanker tabs Matthew Thomas and Kermit Whitfield.

JS: Florida State fans need to keep an eye on Thomas this spring, and, unlike this time last year, it is for all the right reasons.

It is funny how much difference a year makes, as Thomas is poised to be one of the breakout players for the Seminoles this spring and a dark horse to be the team’s leading tackler in the fall. This time last year, he and his father were having second thoughts about FSU and eventually demanded Fisher release Thomas from his scholarship in favor of a transfer to USC.

Matthew Thomas
Courtesy of Florida StateMatthew Thomas has the physical ability to make a huge impact for the Seminoles in 2014.
Obviously Thomas stuck with Florida State, and he was an early contributor before a shoulder injury prematurely ended his season. Thomas racked up two tackles for a loss and a sack through the first four games.

Entering spring practice, the former five-star recruit and No. 1 outside linebacker is slated to compete for a starting role. Departed is Christian Jones, and the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Thomas has the physical presence to be an elite hybrid linebacker and edge rusher. Against the run and in coverage, there might not be a linebacker on FSU’s roster with better closing speed and pop at the point of impact.

Offensively, I’m very interested to see where Whitfield fits. If not for a late touchdown from Auburn in the VIZIO BCS National Championship, Whitfield would have been the hero for his kick return touchdown. Still, his break down the sideline for the 100-yard score offered a glimpse to the nation the dynamic running back/receiver that Whitfield is capable of becoming.

Whitfield scored on runs of 31 and 74 yards, respectively, the first two times he carried the ball last season. With his sub-4.4 speed, he is the game-breaking threat Florida State might need to rely heavily on as the offense receives a facelift with the departures of several key contributors at the skill positions. As a running back, receiver and returner, Whitfield is the kind of player with the ability to turn a seemingly small gain into a momentum-swinging touchdown from any point on the field. It has been a while since Florida State had a player like that.

David Hale looks for big things from Desmond Hollin and Dalvin Cook.

DH: The defensive line might be the biggest mystery for Florida State this spring for a myriad of reasons. The loss of Timmy Jernigan leaves a gaping hole in the middle. The shift from Jeremy Pruitt to Charles Kelly leaves open questions about how the scheme, which changed so dramatically up front in 2013, will look this season. Jones’ departure leaves FSU looking for a new edge rusher. Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman have shown promise, but can they take the next step?

But the way spring practices go, it’s not entirely clear we’ll get answers to any of those questions before the team takes off for the summer. Perhaps the most interesting thing to watch this spring is just how well the defensive linemen who served in small roles last season will take advantage of the opportunity to shine now. And if that’s the case, the player with the best head start might be Hollin.

A juco transfer last year, he came in at about 270 pounds, but Fisher said Hollin is now up to 290 -- meaning he could be a realistic fit inside as a potential replacement for Jernigan. He saw only limited action in 2013, racking up two sacks and 16 tackles, but his work in offseason conditioning and fourth-quarter drills has been exceptional, according to Fisher.

“Hollin has been off the charts,” Fisher said. “He’s running better than he’s ever run. I expect him to have a great year.”

It wouldn’t be the first time FSU had significant success with juco linemen, with Tank Carradine and Amp McCloud recent examples. Hollin has been in the system for a year and brings some versatility to a line still figuring out how to best deploy its personnel.

There will be strong competition on the line from Keith Bryant (another Fisher favorite), Nile Lawrence-Stample, Derrick Mitchell and a bevy of freshmen set to arrive this fall, but Hollin offers some significant intrigue this spring. Fisher has already set a high bar for Hollin with the heaps of praise he’s eagerly offered, and if he can make the leap this spring and gain an inside track on a starting job, he could turn out to be a breakout star in 2014.

On the other side of the ball, Cook arrived in January with plenty of hype. He’s as good a running back recruit as there was in the country. In his two months in Tallahassee, he has done little to change anyone’s mind. He’s already added some good weight, has flashed impressive speed and looks right at home in Florida State’s backfield. That’s a good sign considering the number of carries up for grabs this spring.

Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. combined for 254 rushing attempts in 2013, and while a significant portion of those might be chewed up by Karlos Williams, Cook could be in line for the lion’s share of the No. 2 tailback duties. He’s the new face this spring, but Ryan Green and Mario Pender come with their own share of questions, and both have struggled at times with blitz pickup and decision-making. Cook could easily leap past the veterans with a strong spring, and all initial reports are that he’s poised to make an instant impression.

Cook won't likely shine in scrimmage or the spring game, though. FSU has made a point of putting young running backs through the ringer in short-yardage drills during spring practice. As the team looks to develop young leaders, Cook will be given a chance to prove he belongs.
Florida State opens spring practice in just two weeks, and there are plenty of big questions waiting to be answered. Before Jimbo Fisher gets his chance to weigh in on those discussions, however, we’re taking a crack at finding the answers.

So far, we’ve looked at Jameis Winston’s second act and Karlos Williams’ move to the top of the depth chart.

Next up: Does Timmy Jernigan's loss mean a big step back on D for Florida State?

Jared Shanker says there are bigger defensive issues for FSU than Jernigan’s departure.

JS: Of all the graduations, transfers and early departures Florida State endured this offseason, the loss of defensive tackle and surefire first-round pick Jernigan might worry the staff most. Despite a couple of tackles on the roster with starting experience, interior linemen who can be disruptive as a pass rusher with the athleticism to track running backs in the backfield are rare and not particularly easy to replace.

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsMario Edwards Jr. is going to have to have a bigger hand in things this fall on the FSU defensive line.
Ideally, new defensive coordinator Charles Kelly would have the No. 1 defensive tackle prospect in the country, according to NFL draft experts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, back for one more season to help ease his transition. The Seminoles certainly could take a statistical step back in 2014, but the blame will hardly lie with Jernigan bolting for the NFL.

Florida State finished No. 1 in scoring defense in 2013, a number inherently tough to duplicate. On top of that, the Noles’ 12.1 points allowed per game average was highest among teams to finish No. 1 in scoring defense since 2008, which means another season allowing a dozen points likely drops them from the top spot.

What could end up costing Florida State defensively this upcoming season is the loss of leaders Telvin Smith at linebacker and seniors Terrence Brooks and Lamarcus Joyner in the secondary. While there are certainly arguments -- and very good ones, too -- that all three will be replaced by players with the skill to exceed their predecessors, it could take a few games to jell. With both Oklahoma State and Clemson on the docket within the season’s first four weeks, miscommunications in the linebacker corps and secondary could lead to explosive plays and a slow defensive start to the season.

In reality, the defensive line is best suited for a changing of the guard at Florida State, which has recruited and developed the position as well as any program in the country the last five years. Eddie Goldman is a former five-star recruit and could be dominant in 2014. Former No. 1 high school prospect Mario Edwards Jr. flashed brilliance in the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game, and defensive end DeMarcus Walker could be the unit’s best player by November. Defensive tackles Nile Lawrence-Stample, Keith Bryant and Justin Shanks were all elite high school recruits, and Lawrence-Stample started six games in 2013.

With a new coordinator and handful of new starters in Tallahassee, growing pains could see the Noles slide down the defensive rankings -- albeit not very far. And with the new talent being infused into each level of the defense, this 2014 unit could raise the bar. Whichever way it goes, it won’t be traced back to Jernigan opting for the NFL.

David Hale says there should be concerns about life after Jernigan.

DH: There’s plenty of talent returning on Florida State’s defense in 2014, but for all the big recruits Jimbo Fisher has landed in recent years, it’s nearly impossible to replace someone like Jernigan.

Jernigan’s numbers weren’t eye-popping last season (63 tackles, 11 for a loss, 4.5 sacks) but they only begin to tell the story of his production. In a year in which Florida State completely revamped its defensive front, Jernigan was the foundation. He consistently disrupted the opposition’s backfield, opened holes for Smith up the middle and drew double teams away from Edwards and Christian Jones. For every one play he made on his own, he created three more for his teammates.

And here’s the real concern: Even with Jernigan in the lineup last season, FSU’s rushing defense dipped from third nationally in 2012 to 18th in 2013, and the line accounted for just 16 of Florida State’s 35 sacks.

Part of the struggles came early because of scheme changes from previous years, but personnel played a part, too. For a preview of life without Jernigan in the middle of the line, look no farther than the BCS title game, when a winded Jernigan was sidelined through a significant portion of the fourth quarter. A rejuvenated Auburn running game gashed FSU’s defense, culminating with Tre Mason’s 37-yard TD run that nearly secured the Tigers a national championship.

Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman were both former top-10 recruits, so the line isn’t without star power. But neither has carried the load — both in terms of production and leadership — that Jernigan did in 2013. Nile Lawrence-Stample is a veteran option to fill the starting job, but his career totals include just 25 tackles. A host of freshmen arrive in the fall, but following in Jernigan’s footsteps is a lot to ask for any new arrival.

Last season, Florida State showed a strong secondary and an inventive scheme can make up for potential shortfalls on the defensive front. But Brooks and Joyner are gone from the defensive backfield now, too, and it remains to be seen if Charles Kelly can match Pruitt’s coaching success.

But of all the departures, it’s Jernigan’s who looms the largest, and until Florida State shows it has a comparable alternative in camp, there’s reason to be concerned about how the Seminoles’ defense will maneuver a much tougher schedule in 2014.
It is officially time for Florida State to put its 2013 championship season behind it and begin pursuit of a second consecutive national title as spring practice is just two weeks away.

While many of the Seminoles’ top players will return to Doak Campbell Stadium this fall, graduation, early departures and transfers have left coach Jimbo Fisher searching for answers at a handful of positions. There is talent and depth across the board, but the FSU staff is hoping key replacements emerge this spring before being thrust into pivotal roles in the fall.

[+] EnlargeNile Lawrence-Stample
Don Juan Moore/Getty ImagesNile Lawrence-Stample, who started six games in 2013, could be key to Florida State's defense next season.
This week we look at five key position battles for the Seminoles this spring, and Thursday's post focuses on defensive tackle. The backup quarterback battle was dissected Monday, the depth chart at running back was examined Tuesday and the job replacing Kelvin Benjamin at receiver was under the microscope Wednesday.

Position: Defensive tackle
Replacing: Timmy Jernigan
Candidates: Eddie Goldman, Nile Lawrence-Stample, Justin Shanks and Keith Bryant.

As talented as the Noles are across the defensive line, it will be no easy task for the Florida State staff to replace Jernigan. Few defensive linemen across college football were as disruptive as Jernigan, who was special for the Noles in 2013, especially late in the season. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay has Jernigan ranked No. 11 among prospects in the 2014 draft.

Although Goldman started 13 games last season, he lands on this list due to the fact the Noles need to replace not just a defensive lineman but one of Jernigan’s caliber. What should bring comfort to FSU fans is Goldman looks capable to take his abilities to the next level and be the dominant interior lineman Jernigan was. His 2013 numbers do not jump off of the stat sheet, but the 6-foot-4, 303-pound junior did what was asked of him in a defensive front that has been among the country’s best the last several years.

As a high school senior part of the 2012 recruiting cycle, Goldman was ranked as the top defensive tackle and No. 10 player in the ESPN 300.

With Goldman almost certainly assured a starting spot, it still leaves one more opening at defensive tackle when the Noles are playing four down linemen. That will be one of the more competitive position battles this spring as the Noles have a number of defensive tackles who were highly regarded recruits when they enrolled at FSU.

Lawrence-Stample could have a leg up on Bryant and Shanks going into spring camp. Lawrence-Stample started six games last season, including late-season wins against Florida and Duke. Like Goldman, Lawrence-Stample’s numbers do not stand out but that is likely to change this season.

Shanks played sparingly as a redshirt freshman, appearing in only seven games in some of FSU’s most lopsided victories. Shanks enrolled with Goldman and was the No. 10 defensive tackle in the 2012 class. The 6-2, 306-pound Shanks is better as a run defender, which could make him a valuable asset as the Noles look to Goldman and Lawrence-Stample to be more disruptive as interior pass rushers.

The player to keep an eye on is Bryant, who redshirted as a freshman last season. Bryant was No. 14 at his position among 2013 recruits and was a pivotal piece to Florida State’s signing day haul a year ago.

No matter who starts at defensive tackle for FSU, those two should see few double teams with defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. expected to draw a lot of attention from offensive linemen this coming season. The former No. 1 player in the country out of high school had a breakout performance against Auburn. And if sophomore DeMarcus Walker emerges as another FSU pass-rush specialist, the interior of the Noles’ defensive line could be poised for a dominant 2014 campaign.
Spring practice is just a few weeks away for Florida State, and while the defending national champs return plenty of talent to make another run at a title, there are still some big question marks looming as the Seminoles begin work on the 2014 season. With that in mind, we’re looking at the five most intriguing players to watch this spring and projecting how they might fit into Jimbo Fisher’s plans in the fall.

First up: DT Nile Lawrence-Stample

[+] EnlargeNile Lawrence-Stample
Don Juan Moore/Getty ImagesNile Lawrence-Stample will have every opportunity to secure a starting spot at defensive tackle during the spring.
Credentials: Two years before arriving at Florida State, Lawrence-Stample was a middle linebacker for his high school team. He has come a long way, but he remains something of a work in progress. Through three seasons with the Seminoles, he has just 25 tackles to his credit, but a strong spring in 2013 earned him six starts at defensive tackle last season. He has shown the potential to be a disruptive force at the line of scrimmage.

How he fits: With Timmy Jernigan off to the pros where he’s widely expected to be a first round selection, Florida State has a major vacancy in the middle of the line. While there are a handful of solid candidates for the gig, none has more experience than Lawrence-Stample, and while his combination of size and athleticism might not rival Jernigan, Lawrence-Stample has plenty of talent to work with.

Competition: Redshirt sophomore Justin Shanks, redshirt freshman Keith Bryant and oft-injured junior Derrick Mitchell will be Lawrence-Stample’s main competition this spring, but none has any significant on-field experience, which could allow the veteran to pull well ahead on the depth chart. In the fall, however, a new push will come from a group of five incoming defensive tackles, led by Demarcus Christmas and Derrick Nnadi.

Outlook: There’s a lot to like about Lawrence-Stample, from his strong recruiting pedigree (he was an ESPN 150 player in 2011) to his work ethic in practice. Coaches raved about his progress last spring when he wrapped things up with four sacks and nine tackles in the Garnet & Gold game. But all that practice field success didn’t translate into a big 2013 season. Expect Lawrence-Stample again to be a hot name this spring as he works to secure a full-time starting job, but questions will linger on whether he can translate those performances to game days in the fall. Replacing Jernigan is one of the biggest concerns for Florida State in 2014, and Lawrence-Stample’s play this spring could help make it an easier transition.
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

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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.


The ACC has lost 10 players who have decided to forgo their final seasons of eligibility and enter the NFL draft. It’s not a mass exodus, but their departures definitely leave some holes. Florida State is losing some talent, but Clemson arguably has the biggest shoes to fill, as the Tigers are losing their top two receivers from 2013, including All-American Sammy Watkins. With spring football around the corner, there will be plenty of competition throughout the league, but based on what we know now, here is the best guess at who the replacements will be for each of the ACC’s early entrees:

Leaving: Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Jones
AP Photo/Phil SearsIsaiah Jones (right) caught only two passes as a freshman, but Kelvin Benjamin's departure means he'll have to play a bigger role.
The replacement: Isaiah Jones. He is 6-foot-4, but he lacks Benjamin's physical strength (he weighs about 35 pounds less). Christian Green also could be an answer after playing sparingly the past two seasons. He's 6-foot-2 and known for his speed. He had 26 catches for 450 yards as a freshman in 2011 but has just 16 catches for 190 yards in the two seasons since. As far as a true red zone target and receiver who can win the jump balls, tight end Nick O'Leary will likely get the bulk of the throws that went to Benjamin in 2013.

Leaving: North Carolina C Russell Bodine

The replacement: Lucas Crowley. As a freshman, Crowley made his collegiate debut against rival NC State. He played 11 snaps and graded out at 90 percent. An encouraging sign for UNC fans should be Crowley’s performance against Pitt, where he played a respectable game opposite All-American defensive tackle Aaron Donald. He played 66 snaps at center in that game and had five knockdowns.

Leaving: Clemson DB Bashaud Breeland

The replacement: Garry Peters. He was one of Clemson’s rising stars at cornerback in 2012, but an injury last season set him back. He still played in 10 games and enters this fall with 54 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, one interception, 12 pass breakups, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in 33 games (five starts) in his career.

Leaving: Clemson WR Martavis Bryant

The replacement: Mike Williams. The true freshman played in all 13 games and started three, finishing 2013 with 20 catches for 316 yards and three touchdowns. His first career start came against Wake Forest, and Williams had a 14-yard touchdown. As a prep, he was rated the No. 3 player in South Carolina by ESPN.com. Williams has a lot of potential, and the Tigers will need him to reach it quickly.

Leaving: North Carolina TE Eric Ebron

The replacement: Jack Tabb. He played in 10 games at tight end and on special teams, and he also saw some time at linebacker. He finished with six catches for 116 yards and 10 tackles. UNC also signed two tight ends in the 2014 class, including one, Brandon Fritts, who enrolled in January. The other, Avery Edwards, is regarded as the top TE in North Carolina.

Leaving: Florida State RB Devonta Freeman

The replacement: Ryan Green. He played in all 12 games (no starts), and finished with 163 yards and one touchdown on 33 carries. He showed some explosiveness in his limited playing time, as six of his carries went for 10 yards or more. His blocking and ability to take advantage of open holes still need to improve.

Leaving: Florida State DT Timmy Jernigan

The replacement: Nile Lawrence-Stample. He played in 13 games and started six alongside Jernigan at defensive tackle. He finished the season with 15 tackles, including 1.5 for loss. He also had two quarterback hurries. He made his first career start against Pitt and had a season-high three tackles against both Boston College and Maryland. He had one tackle in the national championship game.

Leaving: Syracuse RB Jerome Smith

The replacement: Prince-Tyson Gulley. He was granted a fifth season of eligibility and as of now is expected to play this fall. Gulley qualified for a medical hardship waiver because he broke his collarbone in 2011 and played just four games. He was third on the team in rushing in 2013 and finished with 456 yards and four touchdowns on 83 carries. He also had 15 catches and one receiving touchdown.

Leaving: Clemson WR Sammy Watkins

The replacement: Charone Peake. Watkins was one of a kind, and his record-setting production nearly impossible to duplicate, but Peake is the next man up. He was the Tigers’ second-leading receiver before he tore his ACL during a simple non-contact drill in practice on Sept. 10. Prior to the injury, Peake had eight catches for 84 yards and a touchdown, second only to Watkins in both receptions and yards. In 2012, Peake had 25 receptions for 172 yards and two scores.

Leaving: Florida State RB James Wilder Jr.

The replacement: Karlos Williams. He moved from safety to tailback in Week 2 and finished his first season at the position with 91 carries for 730 yards. His 8.02 yards-per-carry average was sixth in the nation. His 11 rushing touchdowns tied for seventh in the ACC. No running back from an automatic-qualifier conference school scored more routinely than Williams, who scored once every 8.3 carries.
Florida State finished off a spectacular season with a national championship, and with Jameis Winston, Rashad Greene, Jalen Ramsey and a host of other stars returning for 2014, the expectations for next season are already sky high.

So if FSU is going to repeat as national champs, what are the big stumbling blocks on the road ahead? We take a look at the top five.

1. Rebuilding the defensive line.

[+] EnlargeTimmy Jernigan
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsWith Timmy Jernigan heading to the NFL, Florida State will have a big hole to fill in the middle of its line.
With Timmy Jernigan leaving early for the NFL draft -- he’s widely considered a top-15 pick — Florida State will have a huge hole in the middle of the line. But the Seminoles also need to find someone to rush off the edge, as Christian Jones did throughout the season and develop some depth after waving goodbye to Demonte McAllister and Dan Hicks. Nile Lawrence-Stample, Matthew Thomas and others could fill those voids, but it will be incumbent on emerging stars Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman to step up their games, too.

2. Developing new receivers.

It wasn’t a huge surprise, but it was nevertheless a relief when Greene decided to return for his senior season. Florida State’s receiving corps was exceptional in 2013, but it wasn’t deep. Kenny Shaw is moving on, and Kelvin Benjamin could follow. That leaves Greene as FSU’s only established, consistent receiver. Isaiah Jones, Jesus Wilson and Kermit Whitfield all got a taste of playing time in 2013, but they’ll need to do a lot more next season.

3. Finding new leaders on defense.

This might be the toughest task for Florida State. Telvin Smith, Lamarcus Joyner, Terrence Brooks, Jones and Jernigan weren’t simply the defensive standouts on the field, they were the heart and soul of the unit in the locker room. There’s still plenty of talent remaining on the unit, but no one who has had to step up and galvanize a locker room or push the younger players to work harder. Finding leaders on that side of the ball — Edwards, Goldman, Terrance Smith and Ronald Darby, perhaps — will be crucial to maintaining the unit’s immense production in 2014.

4. Managing the schedule.

If the knock on Florida State this season was that it wasn’t tested until the title game, the concern for 2014 might be that there are simply too many big tests. The Seminoles open in Dallas against Oklahoma State, but also have Clemson, Louisville, Notre Dame, Miami and Florida before the season is out. If this title was a victory for the ACC’s legitimacy on a national stage, the 2014 slate for Florida State only underscores how much tougher winning the league will be going forward.

5. Handling the hype.

It’s one thing to win when no one is expecting it. Winning when everyone has you pegged as No. 1 is a whole other challenge. Florida State will enjoy its national championship now, but in 2014, everyone will be gunning for the Seminoles, and the media scrutiny will be immense. Can Winston go a full offseason as a Heisman winner and national champion and not waver from his commitment to getting better? Can the coaching staff maintain that same level of dedication from a group that already has a title on its résumé? There’s a reason so few teams repeat as champions. It’s really hard to do.
Jimbo Fisher was still on the podium, gazing into the crystal trophy that comes with winning a national championship, when it was suggested that once the team returned to Tallahassee, it was back to work preparing for 2014.

First on the docket for FSU will be identifying which star players will be returning for next season. Running back James Wilder Jr. is entering the draft, according to a source, and more decisions will trickle in before the Jan. 15 deadline. Here are our best guesses at what’s to come — and who might step in for departing underclassmen.

Likely going

[+] EnlargeTimmy Jernigan
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsFSU nose tackle Timmy Jernigan is a force inside, and how well the Tigers do against him could determine how well they run the ball.
DT Timmy Jernigan (junior)

Why he’d leave: Entering the season, Jernigan was Florida State’s top-rated underclassman by most draft experts, and that standing never changed. Jernigan was dominant all season, and his impact was never more noticeable than in the national title game. When he was on the field, Auburn found no running room between the tackles. When he was out of the game, the Tigers moved the ball with ease on the ground.

Next up: Nile Lawrence-Stample took a big step forward this season, gaining valuable playing time in the defensive line rotation. He started six games and finished with 15 tackles. Florida State has five current defensive tackle commitments, so it’s certainly possible one of the incoming freshmen could make a big impact early — as Jernigan did in 2011 — but Lawrence-Stample is the safest bet to step in full time.

WR Kelvin Benjamin (redshirt sophomore)

Why he’d leave: Benjamin was projected as a star from the moment he arrived on campus, but it took him a while to get acclimated. He enjoyed a breakthrough 2013 season, finishing with 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns, including the game-winner in the VIZIO BCS National Championship. Some of his game could still use some refinement — as evidenced by two big drops vs. Auburn — but his physical skills already peg him as a likely first-rounder.

Next up: Kermit Whitfield certainly projects as Florida State’s next big-play receiver after an electric season as a freshman, but he fits more in the slot. Replacing Benjamin’s size and physicality isn’t an easy task, but 6-4 freshman Isaiah Jones figures to have the best chance. He saw limited playing time this year, catching two balls for 31 yards.

Possibly going

RB Devonta Freeman (junior)

[+] EnlargeDevonta Freeman
AP Photo/David J. PhillipDevonta Freeman became the first Seminoles tailback to gain 1,000 yards in a season since Warrick Dunn in 1996.
Why he'd leave: Freeman has been the steadying force for FSU’s running game for three years, and on Monday, he became the first Seminoles tailback to top 1,000 yards in 17 years. Wilder’s role was smaller this year as injuries hampered his production, but that could also have served as a reminder why it’s better to take the big hits with an NFL paycheck. Neither has a ton of early draft buzz which could convince them to return, but both could show out at the combine and work their way into the top three rounds.

Next up: Karlos Williams showed plenty of promise this season after moving from safety in Week 2, finishing with 748 rushing yards in reserve duty. He’s largely a straight-ahead runner, but his combination of size and speed makes him a weapon. FSU will still need to develop depth, likely with Mario Pender or Ryan Green, but could get a boost from four-star commit Dalvin Cook.

LT Cameron Erving (redshirt junior)

Why he’d leave: Erving has hovered near the top of the offensive tackle draft boards since the end of 2012, and in his second season since moving from the defensive line, he showed significant progress. Still, it’s a deep draft at the position, and there were moments — including against Auburn’s impressive defensive front Monday — when he showed some flaws.

Next up: Florida State brought in two potentially strong replacements last year in Ira Denson and Wilson Bell. Injuries hampered the progress for both during the season, however, which makes Erving’s decision potentially crucial for the stability of the line going into 2014.

Likely staying

G Tre Jackson and G Josue Matias (juniors)

Why they’d leave: Matias and Jackson might be among the top underclassmen at the position, but both could benefit from another year working with line coach Rick Trickett.

Next up: Florida State has struggled to recruit on the line the past few years, which makes depth — particularly on the interior — a significant concern. The Seminoles have a solid class coming in for 2014, but the loss of more than one of their underclassmen on the line would be a serious concern.

TE Nick O’Leary (junior)

Why he’d leave: O’Leary made huge strides this season, developing into one of Jameis Winston’s favorite targets and a legitimate red-zone threat. He’s an adept route-runner, a sure-handed receiver and his blocking game has developed nicely. But with Florida State's receiving corps in transition, O’Leary could be in a position to post huge numbers in 2014 if he sticks around.

Next up: Kevin Haplea returns from a knee injury next year, but he’s more of a blocking tight end than a true replacement.

WR Rashad Greene (Jr./WR)

Why he’d leave: What more can Greene accomplish at Florida State? He’s been the team’s most reliable receiver for three consecutive seasons. He became the Seminoles’ first 1,000-yard receiver since Anquan Boldin this year. He’s quick, a great route-runner, and he has good hands. He does everything well, and his quarterbacks have taken notice. The problem for Greene is that he lacks the obvious physical skills that make scouts drool, so his draft value might not reflect his on-field contributions.

Next up: It would be a surprise if Greene left, but it would also be a huge blow to Florida State’s offense. Winston was a star this season in part because of an exceptional group of receivers, but the group will get a major makeover in 2014. The Seminoles need Greene to help ease the transition.

FSU in position to reload for 2014

December, 18, 2013
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For the past four seasons, Florida State’s seniors have worked to rebuild a program that was mired in mediocrity when they arrived. The project was a resounding success, but after the VIZIO BCS National Championship on Jan. 6, they’ll be gone. If 2013 gave the seniors a chance to take that final step toward a title, it also offered a glimpse at what’s to come, and Florida State appears well stocked to weather the inevitable losses.

Out: Lamarcus Joyner, CB

[+] EnlargeTyler Hunter
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsTyler Hunter could replace cornerback Lamarcus Joyner for the Seminoles in 2014.
After moving from safety to corner, Joyner proved he was one of the nation’s top defenders, leading FSU in sacks and finishing second in tackles.

In: Tyler Hunter, DB

Joyner is a huge loss, but Hunter is well prepared to step into the vacancy. His 2013 season was cut short by a neck injury, but he knows the defense well and his combination of size and speed allows him to fit well at safety, corner and nickel. Replacing Joyner is impossible, but Hunter could be in for a huge 2014.

Out: Terrence Brooks, S

He has been an under-the-radar performer since he arrived at FSU as a three-star recruit, but Brooks has been consistently good at safety for two years.

In: Nate Andrews, S

Brooks found a perfect protégé in the similarly underrated Andrews, and the relationship has already paid dividends. Andrews started just one game, but he leads the Seminoles with seven takeaways (four INTs, three forced fumbles) and is second on the team with eight passes defended.

Out: Telvin Smith, LB

For the past two years, there has been no louder voice in the locker room than Smith, and in 2013, he blossomed on the field, too, leading FSU in tackles.

In: Reggie Northrup, LB

Northrup hasn’t started a game in his two seasons at Florida State, but when he’s been on the field, he has proven to be a big-play defender. He has 46 tackles this season, and he has a skill set to both play the run and in coverage. Terrance Smith is FSU’s only returning linebacker with starting experience, but there’s ample depth at the position, led by Northrup.

Out: Christian Jones, OLB

Jones' move from traditional linebacker to edge rusher was a turning point for Florida State’s defense, helping to seal the edge and add another dynamic pass rusher to the D line.

In: Matthew Thomas, OLB

An injury ended Thomas’ season after just five games, but his potential is immense. He had two tackles for loss in his limited playing time, and his athleticism and strength could make for a smooth transition into the role Jones defined so well in 2013.

Out: Kenny Shaw, WR

Always a reliable option in the slot, Shaw blossomed as a senior and is on pace for 1,000-yard season while also handling punt return duties.

In: Levonte Whitfield, WR

Whitfield may lack Shaw’s consistency, but his big-play potential is through the roof. He racked up 646 total yards and three TDs on just 21 touches (an average of 31 yards per touch) as a runner, receiver and kick returner. It was valuable experience as a freshman, and Whitfield should be an excellent fit in the slot in 2014.

Out: Bryan Stork, C

As Florida State’s line developed from disaster in 2011 to dominant in 2013, Stork was the centerpiece. The veteran leader of the group has been the foundation for the unit’s growth.

In: Austin Barron, C

Losing Stork is big, but Barron is no rookie. He has six career starts already under his belt, and he has worked routinely with the first-team line during practices this season while Stork has nursed a foot injury.

Out: The underclassmen

No one has made it official that they’re leaving, and with so much talent on the roster, plenty of Florida State’s draft-eligible underclassmen could decide to come back for what figures to be another big season in 2014. Of the group, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan -- widely considered a first-round selection -- is the most likely to depart. Beyond that, tailbacks Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr., receiver Kelvin Benjamin, tight end Nick O’Leary, and lineman Cameron Erving will all have big decisions to make.

In: The next regime

Replacing Jernigan will be a tough task, but Nile Lawrence-Stample (14 tackles, 2 QB hurries) took some big steps in 2013. Karlos Williams (705 yards, 11 touchdowns) is ready to pick up the slack if either tailback leaves, while Jesus Wilson and Isaiah Jones will see their workload at receiver increase in 2014. Kevin Haplea returns from a knee injury, though he’s unlikely to match O’Leary’s productivity in the passing game. Wilson Bell earned rave reviews before an injury ended his season, but he could step into a vacancy at tackle should one arise in 2014.

Instant analysis: FSU 41, Miami 14

November, 2, 2013
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It was billed as a return of one of college football’s best rivalries. For the first time in nine years, Miami and Florida State met with both ranked in the top 10 and both undefeated.

The first half saw Miami prove the hype was deserved, and Jameis Winston struggle for the first time in his career, but by the time it was over, Devonta Freeman and the third-ranked Seminoles had once again asserted their dominance, thumping No. 7 Miami 41-14.

It was over when: Nate Andrews picked off Stephen Morris on Miami’s first drive of the fourth quarter, effectively ending the Hurricanes’ hopes for a comeback. Miami moved the ball relatively well on the previous drive, but Nile Lawrence-Stample stuffed Duke Johnson on a fourth-down run, leaving the Hurricanes with no wiggle room the rest of the way. Unfortunately for Miami, Morris coughed up his second pick three plays into its next drive, and Florida State (8-0, 6-0 ACC) largely ran out the clock from there.

Game ball goes to: Freeman. The Miami native picked up the slack when Winston, the redshirt freshman quarterback, struggled, and for the second consecutive season, he was the difference in a Seminoles victory over their in-state rival. Freeman finished the game with 29 touches for 176 yards and three touchdowns. His 48-yard catch-and-run was the game’s highlight play, but his punishing style in the ground game was the tone-setter.

Stat of the game: 44. That’s the number of rushes for Florida State’s offense, tallying a total of 192 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. On a day when the passing game scuffled at times, the runners -- including Winston, who converted two third downs with his legs -- made all the difference. There were big runs -- 19-yard scampers by both Winston and Freeman -- and a bunch of tough ones that helped FSU dominate the time of possession and control the tempo of the game. The 44 rushes were a season high for the Seminoles.

What Miami learned: It’s not at an elite level yet. Al Golden’s bunch actually put up more of a fight than a lot of pundits believed it would, but in the end, Miami got most of the breaks it needed and still wasn’t particularly close to knocking off Florida State. Johnson ran fairly well, Morris made some of his best throws of the season, and Winston gave Miami 14 points. That was supposed to be the recipe for an upset, but it wasn’t to be. Miami (7-1, 3-1) has clearly made progress, and with the black cloud of NCAA sanctions mostly gone, that progress should continue. But Florida State is clearly playing at another level.

What Florida State learned: It can win without Winston. It’s not that the phenom was horrible, but he did throw two big interceptions that led directly to Miami’s two first-half touchdowns. Both occurred on deep balls over the middle, while the bulk of his success came on check-downs to Freeman and tight end Nick O'Leary. Still, Winston’s struggles didn’t exactly hamper the offense. The unit piled up 517 yards, led by Freeman’s big game. Of course, while it was Winston's worst performance thus far, he still finished 21-of-29 for 325 yards.

What it means: Florida State has made its case for the BCS. The rest is up to the voters. Yes, the Seminoles still have five more games to impress, but there won’t be another showcase like Saturday’s game. The remaining slate -- Wake Forest, Syracuse, Idaho, Florida and a potential rematch with Miami in the ACC title game -- won’t have the same hype, but the Seminoles’ two wins over top-10 teams by a combined 92-28 margin make an awfully strong argument that, if they finish the season without a loss, they belong in the national title game.
Timmy JerniganBob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsDefensive tackle Timmy Jernigan hasn't only emerged as one of the best players of FSU's deep 2011 class; he's become one of the nation's best at his position.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jimbo Fisher lost 11 players from last year's ACC champions to the NFL draft, but he's not too worried about a dip in talent on this season's roster.

Sure, Florida State waved goodbye to its share of veterans, but the 2013 lineup remains remarkably well established.

"From a talent standpoint, this is still a talented football team," Fisher said. "We have the least amount of starters back in the ACC, but we have more junior and senior starters than we had a year ago. We have a lot of guys who played significant snaps. They still played a lot of plays in big games."

In fact, of the 22 projected starters currently atop Florida State's depth chart, only two -- quarterback Jameis Winston and defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. -- were part of Florida State's two most recent signing classes. Instead, the bulk of the talent -- 10 projected starters -- comes from Fisher's 2011 signing class, a group that figures to define this season's team.

While Fisher's fingerprints were all over the 2010 class, that was a group that largely came together while former coach Bobby Bowden still headed the program. It wasn't until 2011 that Fisher had the chance to build a class from start to finish, and the results were impressive.

The first thing to notice about the 2011 class was its size. Fisher brought in 29 players, including two junior college transfers, in hopes of filling a massive talent gap that had developed in Bowden's final years. A few never arrived on campus, a few more quickly departed, but the bulk of the class has already made its mark.

On offense, three-fifths of Florida State's line comes from the Class of 2011. Both of its primary tailbacks, two of its top three receivers and its top tight end were also in that group.

On defense, Timmy Jernigan, Karlos Williams and Nick Waisome are ensconced in the lineup already, and a bevy of rising stars including Tyler Hunter, Terrance Smith, Giorgio Newberry and Nile Lawrence-Stample are in line for regular reps.

In all, 20 of the 27 freshmen signed in 2011 figure to be part of Florida State's two-deep to open the 2013 season -- from the hidden gems of the class such as Hunter and Tre Jackson to the heralded stars such as Williams and Jernigan.

"It shows you your evaluations," Fisher said. "That's something we constantly analyze in recruiting because whether it's three-star, four-star, five-star recruit doesn't matter. At the end of the day, we go back to our classes -- how we progress, who do we miss on, how they're growing? That's something we evaluate on how we do our business. That class seems like it's a very successful class."

While the depth of the class has proven to be strong, there's plenty of top-end talent. Defensive end Cornelius Carradine, a juco transfer, likely would have been a first-round pick in April's NFL draft had he not suffered a late-season injury. Jackson, Rashad Greene, Josue Matias, Nick O'Leary, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. all attracted preseason All-ACC votes this summer and have NFL futures. And then there's Jernigan, who is already being pegged as one of the top interior linemen in the nation.

"I feel like it's my D-line now," Jernigan said this spring. "I'm trying to be a leader."

That's exactly what Fisher wants to hear from his rising veterans, and the 2011 class has responded.

Not only has Jernigan taken charge of Florida State's revamped defensive line, but Greene, Wilder, Freeman and Hunter have all established themselves as the locker room's most important voices.

"I've been very pleased with that, and a couple of guys have blossomed into leaders that I never thought would," Fisher said. "Hopefully that's the player development, the enhancements no one sees, that a couple of those guys evolved into those roles that are team leaders."

The classes that followed 2011 offer their own highlights, too, and more are likely on the way. But as Florida State prepares to open fall camp, the rewards of Fisher's first full season of scouting, recruiting and development have gone a long way to establish precedent.

"It was a pretty high success rate in that group, it has been so far," Fisher said. "That reinforces why we keep doing things right."

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