Florida State Seminoles: timmy jernigan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will he meet that potential this year?

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

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

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

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

Reviewing the ACC pro days

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
2:30
PM ET
Pro days are now in the rearview mirror, with a month remaining between now and the NFL draft. With that, let's take a look back at some notable performances from ACC pro days this year.

Boston College (March 12)
Big name: RB Andre Williams. Representatives from 29 NFL teams were on hand to see the nation's top running back from last season. Williams says he improved on his combine 40-yard-dash time of 4.56. Also of note: Nate Freese, who went 20 of 20 last season on field goal tries, did not disappoint in front of his future employers, hitting a 60-yard try.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
AP Photo/Michael ConroyClemson WR Sammy Watkins in all likelihood will be the first ACC player drafted in May.
Clemson (March 6)
Big name: WR Sammy Watkins. Watkins stood on his 40 time of 4.43 from the combine but was there to help out quarterback Tajh Boyd, doing little to change the general consensus that he is the top receiver in this year's draft. Boyd said scouts told him his performance was much better than his showings at the combine and Senior Bowl, as he connected on short, intermediate and deep routes with familiar receivers in familiar environs.

Duke (March 26)
Big name: CB Ross Cockrell. Cockrell improved on his combine results, with Duke saying that his 40 time was sub-4.4, which is better than what he ran in Indianapolis (4.56).

Florida State (March 17)
Big name: Where to begin? DL Timmy Jernigan slightly improved his combine 40-time from 5.06 to 5.03. S Terrence Brooks, LB Telvin Smith, DB Lamarcus Joyner and LB Christian Jones all drew a crowd, but they declined to run the 40 in front of reps from all 32 NFL teams, content to sit on their combine performances.

Georgia Tech (March 28)
Big name: LB Jeremiah Attaochu. Attaochu ran drills at both linebacker and defensive lineman, recovering nicely from a hamstring injury in the Senior Bowl that forced him out of the combine. He said his 40 time was in the 4.5s. DB Jemea Thomas also impressed, reportedly running a 4.38 40.

Louisville (March 17)
Big name: QB Teddy Bridgewater. With scouts from 29 teams watching, Bridgewater was off target with several of his throws. He ran an unofficial 4.78 40 time, but the potential No. 1 pick misfired on at least 10 passes, leaving some questions lingering heading into the draft.

Miami (April 3)
Big name: OT Seantrel Henderson. This is the name that is going to stick out, as Henderson did not finish his workouts. His agent later told reporters that it was due to dehydration. With 30 NFL teams represented, quarterback Stephen Morris took a strong step forward, reportedly completed almost all of his 67 throws.

North Carolina (March 25)
Big name: TE Eric Ebron. Ebron stood on his 40 time from the combine of 4.60, but his pro day was marred by several dropped passes, though the always upbeat tight end was not stressed about the drops when speaking to reporters afterward.

NC State (March 25)
Big name: CB Dontae Johnson. Johnson showed his versatility, as he can play corner or safety, and he said he felt better than he did at the combine, where he ran a 40 time of 4.45 and jumped 38.5 inches in the vertical.

Pittsburgh (March 3)
Big name: DT Aaron Donald. College football's best defensive player rested on his combine numbers in the 40 (4.68) and bench press (35 times), but teammates Tom Savage and Devin Street helped themselves. Savage impressed during a scripted 100-throw workout while Street said he ran a sub-4.5 40.

Syracuse
Big name: LB Marquis Spruill. Spruill recovered nicely from a combine snub, weighing in at 231 pounds, nine pounds heavier than his playing weight. He did not disclose numbers. Running back Jerome Smith, meanwhile, said he ran in the 4.5-4.6 range, which would be an improvement over his combine time of 4.84.

Virginia (March 17)
Big name: OT Morgan Moses. A considerably different-looking Moses showed up at 311 pounds, roughly 20 pounds lighter from his playing days with the Cavaliers. After clocking in at 5.35 in the 40 at the combine, he unofficially ran between 4.9 and 5.06 at his pro day, though he pulled a hamstring during one of the runs, forcing him to miss the remainder of his drills.

Virginia Tech (March 19)
Big name: QB Logan Thomas. Thomas remains a fascinating prospect to keep an eye on in the NFL, and he threw well in front of NFL scouts at pro day. Corner Antone Exum impressed as well, running 40 times of 4.53 and 4.55.

Wake Forest (March 17)
Big name: WR Michael Campanaro. After seeing his final year end prematurely because of a shoulder injury, Campanaro, the only Demon Deacon to have garnered a combine invite, again impressed in receiver drills, making his case to become a potential mid-round pick. Nose guard Nikita Whitlock, meanwhile, saw himself lining up as a fullback for the first time in his career. Weather conditions were less than ideal for the NFL hopefuls.

ACC's lunchtime links

March, 19, 2014
Mar 19
12:00
PM ET
Links to help get you through your Wednesday.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Kelvin Benjamin has sat on the fringe of the first round of NFL mock drafts since he declared early. The powerfully built receiver passed the eye test at the combine, but an ordinary 40-yard dash time left some front offices questioning Benjamin’s first-round credentials. Those still apprehensive about his speed were hoping Benjamin would alleviate concerns at Florida State’s pro day Tuesday.

That didn’t happen. Benjamin decided not to run. He asked NFL teams to look at his body of work -- and body, all 6-foot-5, 240 pounds of it -- as proof he is a surefire first-round talent.

Following a dominant pro-day performance in position drills, undoubtedly far more teams are willing to overlook his 4.61 time in Indianapolis.

[+] EnlargeKelvin Benjamin
AP Photo/Gregory BullFSU's Kelvin Benjamin might not be the fastest WR, but as Jimbo Fisher said, "You don't want to play against that guy."
“I really wish he ran, but he has such a unique skill set with his ball skills and catch radius,” one NFC scout said.

While running routes, Benjamin showcased his ability to catch the football at its highest point and make the types of catches most NFL receivers can't. On one throw toward the boundary, NFL coaches cleared as the ball’s flight plan descended toward a coaching cluster. Benjamin hauled in the pass -- easily -- and on the next throw he reached behind to catch an underthrown and off-target toss.

And for those who still question his speed?

“I can open up that stride and stride all day,” he said. “You got a guy who can run 4.3, he’s going to get tired and not keep up with the stride all day.”

Noles coach Jimbo Fisher will be terse with NFL coaches asking if Benjamin is worth a first-round payday.

"You don't want to play against him. That's the ultimate thing,” he said. “I'm telling you this: You don't want to play against that guy. He changes the game.”

Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan will likely be the first former Florida State player taken, and both Mel Kiper and Todd McShay project him to the Cowboys at No. 16. Jernigan weighed in at 305 pounds Tuesday, six pounds heavier than at the combine. Most of the questions he was hearing about his stock surrounded his height (6-1) and sub-300-pound playing weight.

“I feel like they definitely wanted to see how well I could move, weighing a little bit heavier than I did at the combine and how well I could move agility-wise and how powerful I was,” Jernigan said. “I feel like I did a pretty good job showing that.”

NFL coaches intently watched the secondary drills, as Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks are both potential second-round picks. Brooks built upon his strong performance at the combine, excelling in position drills.

Joyner is rated higher than Brooks, but there is some trepidation among NFL scouts. Joyner struggled securing catches and one scout noted the need to be able to finish making the play on the ball. He said Joyner showed that in his film, but an NFC North scout chimed in that he is more worried about Joyner’s height. He measured in at just above 5-8.

“It’s a big concern,” the NFC North scout said. “You don’t see too many 5-8 corners.”

The biggest surprise among the defensive backs, and possibly the entire pro day was the attendance of Greg Reid. A three-year starter at cornerback for Florida State, Reid was dismissed from the team before his senior season. He enrolled at Division II Valdosta State but a torn ACL cost him his senior season. Instead of returning in 2013, he declared for the NFL draft but was not selected.

A few scouts buzzed that Reid, who can be signed by a team at any time, was the best defensive back participating.

“I was pleased to come out and show NFL coaches how I was doing and how far I’ve came,” Reid said. “I’m healthy and everything is going in the right track.”
Kelvin Benjamin, Timmy Jernigan and a host of other former Florida State players will work out for NFL coaches and personnel departments, and ESPN will have live coverage of the Seminoles' pro day.

Beginning at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, fans can use this link to access WatchESPN's online stream.

ESPN NFL draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have Benjamin and Jernigan as first-round picks in their latest mock drafts. Kiper and McShay both have Jernigan going No. 16 to Dallas, while Benjamin is projected as a late first-round selection. Kiper has Benjamin going No. 26 to Cleveland and McShay slots Benjamin two spots later to Carolina.

Lamarcus Joyner is on the cusp of being a first-round pick and will make his final push on Tuesday. Terrence Brooks is coming off a stellar combine performance and is talked about as a late second-round selection, and Devonta Freeman and Telvin Smith are possibilities for the third round.

In 2013, a record 11 former Florida State players were drafted.
Late last month, Terrence Brooks finally began feeling he was altering outside perceptions and wondered why it didn’t happen earlier. It’s not a case of too little too late, though, rather a change coming at the most opportune time.

The former Florida State safety will work out one final time for NFL coaches and personnel departments Tuesday at the Seminoles’ pro day (10 a.m. ET, WatchESPN). It gives him one final chance to confirm to front offices what they saw last month in Indianapolis. At the combine in February, Brooks ran the fastest 40-yard dash (4.42), had the best vertical jump (38 inches) and was fifth in the broad jump (9-feet-11) among safeties.

[+] EnlargeTerrence Brooks
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhTerrence Brooks turned heads at the combine with a 4.42 40-yard dash, and now looks to build on that at FSU's pro day.
“Definitely I feel like things are changing and teams are realizing how good I am,” Brooks said. “I’m still never satisfied, and some people are still caught in the hype of the big-name guys.”

A number of those big names come from the same defense as Brooks, although he acknowledges players such as Timmy Jernigan and fellow defensive back Lamarcus Joyner deserve it. He admits he felt lost in the shuffle in Tallahassee despite starting 27 of 28 games the last two seasons. The spotlight on the Noles’ top-ranked 2013 defense shined brightest on Jernigan, Joyner, Telvin Smith and even freshman Jalen Ramsey.

He feels some of that still stems from his high school career, when he was a three-star recruit. He was a reserve for Florida State until his junior season, when he permanently moved to safety. Brooks was invited to the Senior Bowl but still flew under the radar until February’s combine.

“I took that chip all the way through college, and even then making plays I still got overlooked on that defense,” he said. “I feel like the film doesn’t lie and [NFL teams] can watch that and see what kind of player I am.”

With his exceptional numbers in several combine drills, Brooks will only run the three-cone drill and shuttle before doing position-specific drills for scouts. At the end of the pro day he will meet with NFL teams, who will drill Brooks mentally and analyze his on-field acumen. His trainer, Roy Holmes, believes that’s where Brooks excels.

Holmes works with Brooks at EXOS and trains NFL prospects. Former No. 1 pick Andrew Luck trained with Holmes in 2012, and he said Brooks is similar when interpreting defensive schemes.

“He’s really calm, stays under pressure, pretty much a gamer, knows how to put people in the right places, and you saw that a little bit at the Senior Bowl when he started calling out coverages and different checks,” Holmes said. “He’s like a seasoned vet.”

There will be 19 members of Florida State’s 2013 national title team working out at the pro day, and six former players will also participate.

Florida State expects at least one representative from all 32 NFL teams, which Trevor Moawad said should not come as a shock. The Vice President of Pro and Elite sports at API/EXOS, Moawad works with a handful of college programs and NFL draft hopefuls on developing the right mindset. Two teams who enlist his services are Alabama and Florida State, which stake claim to four of the last five national titles.

In his experiences with NFL front offices, Moawad said personnel departments specifically target Alabama and Florida State players. Noles coach Jimbo Fisher, who in 2013 had a record 11 former players drafted, previously worked under Nick Saban, who hired Moawad in 2007.

“They will be able to transition well wherever they get drafted,” Moawad said. “You want a player from Alabama, you want a player from Florida State. You want a player whose played for Jimbo Fisher because you know they have to be disciplined and understand what it takes to be successful.”
Aaron Donald of Pitt and Timmy Jernigan of Florida State were the two best defensive tackles in the ACC last season. But there has been some disagreement about who will make a better NFL prospect.

For months, Jernigan was rated higher than Donald on draft boards. But in his latest mock draft Insider, ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. has Donald going ahead of Jernigan for the first time. Kiper slots Donald at No. 14 to the Bears, while he predicts Jernigan will land at No. 16 to the Cowboys. In his previous mock draft, Kiper did not list Donald Insider at all.

So that leads to Monday's topic: Who will get drafted first: Donald or Jernigan? ACC reporters Andrea Adelson and Heather Dinich weigh in.

[+] EnlargeDonald
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesPitt DT Aaron Donald has done plenty to raise his draft stock since season's end.
Adelson says: Dominating Donald

So Kiper and the other draft experts are finally clueing in to what the rest of us have known for quite some time: Donald is the most dominant inside player available in the draft. Therefore, he must go ahead of Jernigan come May.

That all sounds simple enough, but nothing has come simply or easily for Donald. Overlooked for a majority of his career, Donald finally grabbed headlines with his thoroughly impressive senior season, winning every single major defensive player of the year award in college football. And yet, he was routinely knocked in early draft evaluations for his size.

While it is true Donald does not meet the ideal size requirements for a defensive tackle, it also is true that Donald does not play like most defensive tackles. His size (6-1, 285 pounds), has rarely been a big part of his game. He relies on his quick hands and overall speed to allow him to get past many linemen at the point of attack. Donald clocked a jaw-dropping 4.68 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine.

He might not weigh 300 pounds, but he is strong and powerful. He had 35 reps on the bench press at the combine, ranking second among all defensive linemen. His propensity for lifting began at age 12, when his father showed him what to do in the family weight room.

Beyond the physical tools, Donald has got a few intangibles that make scouts notice. Donald never ever quits on a play. His work ethic, and time dedicated to watching tape, also make him stand out.

SportsNation

Who will be drafted first?

  •  
    41%
  •  
    59%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,952)

Donald is no dummy. He has heard the knocks about his size since he went largely unrecruited out of high school. Pitt was the only BCS school to offer him a scholarship. So to put the questions about his size to rest, he decided to work harder than everyone, get stronger than everyone, and focus on the unique skill-set that would allow him to dominate at his position.

Even still, those tired old questions followed him after a monstrous senior season at Pitt. But they have been made moot again after standout performances at the Senior Bowl, NFL combine and Pitt Pro Day. Donald has proven himself over and over and over again. Skeptics have turned into believers every step of the way.

So when May rolls around, it should not surprise anyone to see Donald go ahead of Jernigan.

Dinich says: Game-changing Jernigan

If Kiper’s prediction is right, the Dallas Cowboys can’t go wrong in drafting Jernigan.

If, of course, the Bears don’t draft him first.

Mike Mayock, an analyst for the NFL Network, said the Chicago Bears should “sprint to the podium” if Jernigan is still available for the 14th pick. Right now, that’s where Kiper has Pitt’s Aaron Donald headed.

[+] EnlargeTimmy Jernigan
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsTimmy Jernigan was at his best in the Seminoles' biggest games.
It’s like choosing between five-star resorts. Both players are first-class, but while Donald racked up the individual awards and was the best player on an unheralded team, Jernigan separated himself from a cast of stars on the nation’s best team.

“Timmy was one of the leaders on our defense and a big part of our success these past three seasons,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He was one of the most dominant defensive linemen I’ve been around in all my years coaching.”

Jernigan’s stat line is impressive -- career highs for tackles (63), TFL (11.0) and sacks (4.5) in 14 starts. But it doesn’t completely capture the impact he had as the anchor up front. He wasn’t always the one making the game-changing play, but odds are he had a hand in influencing it.

Jernigan had nine tackles in the BCS national championship win over Auburn – in spite of flu-like symptoms - and a career-high 10 tackles in the ACC title game against Duke. While his NFL auditions haven’t increased his draft stock as much as Donald’s, Jernigan is still talented enough to be the ACC’s highest-drafted defensive tackle.

Last year, Jernigan produced his best numbers in spite of being constantly doubleteamed, and the attention he drew opened up opportunities for Florida State’s linebackers and blitzing corners. His versatility is one of his best attributes, but his strength is stopping the run.

He has the ability to shed offensive linemen and was a big reason FSU’s run defense ranked No. 18 in the country. His technique will only improve, and he already has the strength and size to clog the middle.

“I can play a 3-technique, and when it’s a pass situation and you want to go to a three-man front, you can put me on the nose guard right on the zero,” he said at the NFL Combine, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “I can get pressure from the middle. I feel like that’s where my game changes from everyone else.”

The Bears should jump on the chance to let him prove it.
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 set an NFL draft record in 2013 with 11 players selected during the seven rounds. The Seminoles will push for that number again, and they will be off to a good start after Day 1 of the draft, according to one ESPN NFL draft expert.

Todd McShay released his Mock Draft 3.0 Insider on Thursday, offering his predictions for the first round of the draft, which will begin May 8. For the fourth time in the past five classes, at least one Florida State prospect will be taken in the first round, McShay believes.

It is an Insider post, so only subscribers will be able to get to see McShay's full mock. We will not spoil the surprise, but it should be no shock that to FSU fans that Timmy Jernigan and Kelvin Benjamin find themselves in the first round. As to where those two land, you will have to be a subscriber to see that.

Both Jernigan and Benjamin declared early for the NFL after their junior seasons. Jernigan totaled 63 tackles, a strong number for an interior defensive lineman, 11 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Benjamin hauled in 54 catches for 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Regarding Jernigan, McShay writes that "He is very strong and quick versus the run ... and Jernigan could come in and make an impact."

As for Benjamin, McShay has him pegged with a second-round grade but "he's tempting because of his size and catch radius ... [and] he'd be a great red-zone weapon."
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.

FSU spring spotlight: Tyler Hunter

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
11:00
AM ET
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.

[+] EnlargeTyler Hunter
AP Photo/Steve CannonReturning from a season-ending neck injury has Tyler Hunter primed to return to his leadership role in FSU's secondary.
We’ve already discussed Nile Lawrence-Stample, Mario Pender, Christian Green and Reggie Northrup.

Last up: S Tyler Hunter

Credentials: In 2012, Hunter won the job as Florida State’s top nickel back, and he delivered solid results for a secondary that finished the year ranked as the country’s top pass defense. He was poised for even bigger things in 2013, winning the starting safety job in fall camp and getting off to a strong start on the field. In Week 3, however, Hunter suffered a potentially career-threatening neck injury making a tackle and he didn’t play again the rest of the season. Surgery repaired the damage, however, and Hunter insists he’s ready to get back on the field in 2014.

How he fits: Florida State lost perhaps its best defender in Lamarcus Joyner, but Hunter provides a perfect candidate to replace the All-American. Joyner moved from safety to corner in 2013, excelling in coverage at nickel and as a pass rusher, where he led Florida State with 5.5 sacks. Hunter lacks the top-end speed that Joyner had, but he’s still fast and would be comfortable at safety, corner or nickel (not to mention punt returner). Whether he fills a role similar to Joyner’s remains to be seen, but his combination of skills and experience gives FSU plenty of options.

Competition: Florida State’s secondary is jam-packed with talent, from young studs like Jalen Ramsey and Nate Andrews to established stars like Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams. What it’s potentially lacking -- and what the defense as a whole is missing without Joyner, Telvin Smith and Timmy Jernigan -- is an established veteran leader. Hunter set that tone last spring as the unquestioned leader of the defense, spending countless hours studying film of Jeremy Pruitt’s new scheme, then organizing seven-on-seven drills throughout the summer to ensure his teammates had the system down pat.

Outlook: For the past five years, Florida State’s defense has had the luxury of on-field leadership, courtesy of Lowndes County High. First it was Greg Reid. Then it was Telvin Smith. In 2014, Hunter is the heir apparent. He was integral in transitioning the Seminoles into Pruitt’s new defensive scheme last year, and he’ll play a similar key role as Charles Kelly takes over this spring. But more than just leadership, Hunter needs to provide impact on the field. With his neck injury behind him, he could easily slip into a hybrid role filled so nicely by Joyner last year, and he could establish himself as one of the ACC’s biggest impact players in what promises to be an exceptional secondary.

Players on the rise after combine

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27
2:00
PM ET
ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay put together a list of their top risers and top fallers after the NFL combine wrapped up earlier this week. Three of the four players mentioned as defensive risers come from the ACC:
ACC fans understand how terrific these players were throughout their careers so it is no surprise they each did well in Indianapolis. But what sticks out the most is the way Donald continually has to prove himself. Not only was Donald a consensus All-American this past season, he won every single major defensive award in the country. And yet, Donald has to continue to fight skeptics because he is considered small to play in the interior in the NFL.

That could all change now that NFL scouts are getting a full appreciation for what Donald can do. ESPN Insider Bill Polian said Donald was one of the most impressive players at the combine. Kiper and McShay write:
Donald has hit the trifecta: great regular season, great Senior Bowl week, great NFL combine. He ran 4.68 and bench-pressed 225 pounds 35 times, and did so at 285 pounds. He could be a mid-first-round pick.

Interestingly enough, his performance may even vault him ahead of more highly-regarded Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, pegged as a first-rounder since he declared himself eligible for the draft. Jernigan has continually had to answer questions about his stamina during the draft process, and then turned in a so-so performance in Indianapolis. Kiper and McShay list him as one of three defensive fallers, writing:
Jernigan didn't have a single area in which he really distinguished himself in terms of the drills, which may lead to some questions about his upside after a fantastic season. I still think he's a first-round prospect, but a guy like Donald could jump him.

Both players have been disruptive forces during their careers, but the combine has been known to send stocks soaring or tumbling. Having said that, the draft is not until May. Both have their pro days to look forward to, and scouts will continue to break down film and ask questions. Many more mock drafts will be released in the days, weeks and months to come.

I still believe Jernigan will be a first-round pick, but it seems there are more believers in Donald today than there were a month ago. What took so long?
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.
Florida State has had one of the best defensive fronts in the nation in the last two seasons, but the Seminoles will have a major challenger to that claim when 2014 rolls around.

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

SportsNation

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

  •  
    33%
  •  
    58%
  •  
    9%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,741)

Andrea says Clemson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clemson leads them all.

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

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

David says Florida State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Scene and Heard: Top 10 Predictions
In a conversation with ESPN's Antonietta Collins, national recruiting reporter Gerry Hamilton breaks down the recruiting momentum building at Auburn and offers predictions for where the top 10 recruits will commit.Tags: Trenton Thompson, Kerryon Johnson, Jeffery Holland, Martez Ivey, Torrance Gibson, Cece Jefferson, ESPN 300, RecruitingNation, high school football recruiting, Gerry Hamilton
VIDEO PLAYLIST video