Florida State Seminoles: Christian Jones

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

Previous installments of this series can be found here.

Up today: Linebackers

Best of the best: Clemson

It's easy to see why many believe the Tigers have the best front seven in the ACC. In addition to having the strongest defensive front, they also have the strongest group of linebackers returning to the team. Stephone Anthony had a breakout season a year ago, finishing with 131 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in 802 snaps played. He should be a preseason All-ACC selection. Clemson did lose two starters in Quandon Christian and Spencer Shuey, but it returns experienced players at the position. Tony Steward and Ben Boulware will anchor the weak side. Both were ranked among the top linebackers out of high school, and if Steward can stay healthy, he is in line for a big year. At the other spot, Clemson has the option of playing a linebacker or nickelback depending on the alignment. T.J. Burrell and Dorian O'Daniel will be in the mix on the strong side.

Next up: Duke

The Blue Devils return the best linebacker duo in the ACC in David Helton and Kelby Brown, who finished as the top two tacklers in the conference last season. The two combined for 247 tackles a year ago and are back to anchor a group looking to improve both against the run and the pass. Their backups return as well, so there are not many depth concerns here. These two are as dependable as they come. Now, having said that, we would be remiss if we failed to mention Florida State. The Seminoles are losing two key players in Christian Jones and Telvin Smith and will be relying more on a five defensive back alignment, so there are some questions at the position. But this team has the talent to again be the best in the ACC once it gains some experience. As it stands now, Terrance Smith is the only linebacker with consistent playing time. Guys like Matthew Thomas and Reggie Northrup could develop into studs before the season's up.

Sleeper: Syracuse

The Orange return two of the more underrated linebackers in the ACC in Dyshawn Davis and Cam Lynch, who will be relied upon to anchor a defense with some serious questions on the defensive line. Though middle linebacker Marquis Spruill is gone, Syracuse coaches were pleased with the role Marqez Hodge played as a true freshman behind Spruill a year ago, so he spent a year in training preparing to take over the starting job. Davis and Lynch will be there to help Hodge along. Keep an eye on Louisville here as well. The Cards return hard hitter James Burgess and have moved Lorenzo Mauldin to outside linebacker/rush end. That should pay dividends.

Problem for a contender: Pitt

The Panthers have not gotten consistent linebacker play for years, so this position remains a question mark. Anthony Gonzalez and Todd Thomas return, but the Panthers have little in the way of depth to help them out. Thomas has the potential to be excellent. He had 72 tackles a year ago, but coaches are now hoping for more. Bam Bradley could also have an impact here, but only six lettermen are back from a year ago. There are also questions elsewhere in the conference. Will anybody step up to help out Denzel Perryman at Miami? And will Virginia Tech be just as good at linebacker without Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards?
The NFL draft concluded with 42 ACC players selected last weekend, and a slew more ended up signing free-agent deals in the days afterward.

Here’s a quick rundown of where the ACC’s undrafted free agents landed.

BOSTON COLLEGE
QB Chase Rettig, Green Bay Packers
OLB Kasim Edebali, New Orleans Saints
LB Steele Divitto, New York Jets
OT Ian White, San Diego Chargers
OT Matt Patchan, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
DB Albert Louis-Jean, Chicago Bears

CLEMSON
K Chandler Catanzaro, Arizona Cardinals
G Tyler Shatley, Jacksonville Jaguars
LB Spencer Shuey, Jacksonville Jaguars
CB Darius Robinson, Buffalo Bills

DUKE
RB Juwan Thompson, Denver Broncos
DE Kenny Anunike, Denver Broncos

FLORIDA STATE
LB Christian Jones, Chicago Bears
RB James Wilder Jr., Cincinnati Bengals
WR Kenny Shaw, Cleveland Browns
FB Chad Abram, Detroit Lions
DT Demonte McAllister, Seattle Seahawks
DT Jacobbi McDaniel, Cleveland Browns

GEORGIA TECH
DT Euclid Cummings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
CB Lou Young, Denver Broncos
DE Emmanuel Dieke, New York Giants

LOUISVILLE
DT Roy Philon, Pittsburgh Steelers
S Hakeem Smith, Tennessee Titans
DT Brandon Dunn, Chicago Bears
WR Damian Copeland, Jacksonville Jaguars

MIAMI
WR Allen Hurns, Jacksonville Jaguars
QB Stephen Morris, Jacksonville Jaguars
TE Asante Cleveland, San Francisco 49ers
DT Justin Renfrow, Arizona Cardinals
FB Maurice Hagens, Atlanta Falcons
S A.J. Highsmith, San Francisco 49ers
OG Jared Wheeler, Carolina Panthers
LB Jimmy Gaines, Buffalo Bills

NORTH CAROLINA
OT James Hurst, Baltimore Ravens
QB Bryn Renner, Denver Broncos

NC STATE
DE Carlos Gray, Green Bay Packers
TE Asa Watson, New England Patriots
DL Deylan Buntyn, New England Patriots

PITTSBURGH
P Matt Yoklic, Atlanta Falcons

SYRACUSE
CB Keon Lyn, Indianapolis Colts
CB Ri’Shard Anderson, Tennessee Titans
RB Jerome Smith, Atlanta Falcons

VIRGINIA
DE Jake Snyder, Minnesota Vikings

VIRGINIA TECH
DT Derrick Hopkins, Baltimore Ravens
LB Tariq Edwards, Miami Dolphins
WR D.J. Coles, Oakland Raiders
G Andrew Miller, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
DE James Gayle, Tennessee Titans

WAKE FOREST
DT Nikita Whitlock, Cincinnati Bengals
LB Justin Jackson, Detroit Lions
LB Zach Thompson, New York Jets

ACC lunchtime links

May, 6, 2014
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Who wouldn't want this sick picture of Jerry Glanville just chillin' on a motorcycle?

Reviewing the ACC pro days

April, 4, 2014
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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.

FSU instant impacts: Kain Daub

February, 21, 2014
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Jimbo Fisher closed out his fifth straight top-10 recruiting class earlier this month, but as he’s shown in years past, that doesn’t necessarily mean a bevy of big contributions from the incoming freshmen.

Some seasons, like 2011, Florida State relied heavily on the new recruits. Others, like 2012, only a select few saw routine playing time.

This week, we 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.

We’ve already looked at DT Demarcus Christmas, RB Dalvin Cook, DB Trey Marshall and FSU’s wide receivers.

Last up: LB Kain Daub

[+] EnlargeKain Daub
Courtesy of IntersportKain Daub's ability to contribute in several areas means he'll see the field for Florida State.
The player: A four-star prospect out of Jacksonville (Fla.) Sandalwood High, Daub arrives as one of the key members of FSU’s 2014 signing class. At 6-foot-4, 243 pounds, Daub excels as a pass rusher and run defender. While his skills in coverage still need some refinement, he’s got the versatility to work as either an inside backer or a pass rusher/OLB, depending on Florida State’s needs. During his final three years in high school, he racked up 22 sacks. As an early enrollee, he’ll be in the mix this spring with several jobs in the linebacking corps up for grabs.

The need: After three years of relative consistency at the position, Florida State’s linebacker corps is getting a nearly complete makeover in 2014. Gone are seniors Telvin Smith and Christian Jones, leaving only junior Terrance Smith with starting experience among the group. Last year’s position coach, Charles Kelly, is also moving to the secondary as he takes over as coordinator this year, and FSU has yet to officially announce his replacement. Fisher suggested Kelly will stick with a defensive scheme similar to the one Jeremy Pruitt ran in 2013, but that’s certainly not set in stone either -- meaning the amount of time FSU spends in a 3-4 vs. a 4-3 look isn’t entirely settled either.

The competition: There are a lot of job openings among the linebackers, but there’s also some stiff competition. It’s a deep group, despite being short on experience. Among the inside LBs, Reggie Northrup is the most experienced, having gained valuable reps in reserve duty in each of the past two seasons. E.J. Levenberry impressed as a true freshman in 2013, too. Among the outside linebackers/edge rushers, Ukeme Eligwe and Matthew Thomas both figure to push for playing time this spring. When fall camp opens, two more members of a talented signing class -- Jacob Pugh and Delvin Purifoy -- join the mix as well.

The prediction: Daub has a lot going for him in the battle for playing time at linebacker. His versatility as either an inside or outside LB provides FSU’s coaches with options. His arrival in time for spring practice gives him a chance to settle into the scheme. But more than anything, his pure talent should make him a player worth watching. Attrition sapped a lot of veteran talent from the linebacking corps for several years, but Florida State’s past two recruiting classes have restocked the coffers, meaning the competition will be stiff for Daub. But his lack of experience won’t be held against him, and his ability to contribute in several areas -- including on special teams -- puts him in good position to see the field routinely, even if a starting job isn’t in the cards.
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?

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    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.

FSU room to improve: Defensive line

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

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

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

Next up: Defensive line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACC and the NFL combine

February, 11, 2014
Feb 11
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The NFL draft combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis will be held from Feb. 19-25 and will feature workouts, medical examinations, psychological testing and interviews for the 335 invited prospects. The ACC has a total of 46 players who will participate, including at least one player from every school (we included Maryland and not Louisville in this post, because it is from the 2013 season). National champion Florida State led the league with eight players heading to the combine, but UNC was right behind with seven. Don't cry ... you're gonna miss some of these names next year. Good luck to these guys.

Here is the official list of the ACC attendees:

BOSTON COLLEGE (5)
CLEMSON (4)
DUKE (1)
FLORIDA STATE (8)
GEORGIA TECH (2)
MARYLAND (1)
MIAMI (5)
NORTH CAROLINA (7)
NC STATE (1)
PITTSBURGH (3)
SYRACUSE (2)
VIRGINIA (2)
VIRGINIA TECH (4)
WAKE FOREST (1)

FSU depth chart breakdown: Defense

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

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

Defensive line

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

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

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

Linebacker

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

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

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

Safety

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

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

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

Cornerback

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

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

Status: A
It says a lot about the work Fisher, Pruitt and Mark Stoops have done over the past few years that FSU can lose a player of Joyner’s caliber and still likely have the best secondary -- and best pair of starting corners -- in the country.
Just a week remains until national signing day, and Florida State is on pace to add one of its deepest classes in years. Throughout Jimbo Fisher’s first four years on the job, he has managed to reel in plenty of talent. Here’s a look back at the top 10 signees who had the biggest immediate impact.

10. Christian Jones (LB, 2010): Played in all 14 games as a freshman, racking up 18 tackles with three sacks and added a forced fumble in a Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over South Carolina.

9. Lamarcus Joyner (DB, 2010): Played a limited role on defense but still accounted for 23 tackles and three passes defended. Blossomed into a weapon on special teams, racking up 329 yards on 16 kick returns.

8. Bjöern Werner (DE, 2010): Showed flashes of his brilliant future in a more limited role. Werner appeared in all 14 games, racking up 20 tackles, including six for a loss. He finished with 3.5 sacks.

[+] EnlargeLevonte Whitfield
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsKermit Whitfield wasn't a full-time player as a freshman, but he certainly made the most of his opportunities.
7. Nate Andrews (S, 2013): He started just one game for Florida State as a freshman, but his impact on defense was immense, leading the Seminoles with seven takeaways (four interceptions, three forced fumbles). He also racked up 35 tackles.

6. Kermit Whitfield (KR, 2013): Whitfield touched the ball just 25 times as a freshman, but he made the most of his opportunities. He racked up 818 all-purpose yards (32.7 yards per play) and scored four times, including a dramatic kickoff return for a go-ahead touchdown in the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

5. Ronald Darby (CB, 2012): Splitting time at corner, Darby tied for the team lead with eight pass breakups, recorded 22 tackles and forced a fumble en route to becoming a Freshman All-America selection.

4. Timmy Jernigan (DT, 2011): Despite coming off the bench all season in 2011, Jernigan was a force in the middle of a talented defensive line. He recorded 30 tackles, tops among FSU’s interior linemen, including six for a loss. He had 2.5 sacks and his three QB hurries ranked third on the team.

3. Jalen Ramsey (DB, 2013): The first true freshman to start at cornerback for Florida State since Deion Sanders, Ramsey made an about-face four games into the season, taking over at safety when Tyler Hunter went down with an injury. He finished third among DBs with 49 tackles (two for a loss), recorded a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception for the nation’s top secondary.

2. Devonta Freeman (RB, 2011): Injuries on the offensive line stymied FSU’s running game and injuries in the backfield thinned the depth chart, but Freeman still stepped up to rack up a team-high 579 rushing yards with eight touchdowns in 12 games. He went on to lead Florida State in rushing in all three seasons he spent in Tallahassee.

1. Rashad Greene (WR, 2011): Because of a midseason injury he appeared in just nine games, but Greene led FSU in catches (38), receiving yards (596) and receiving touchdowns (7). He was at his best when FSU needed him the most, hauling in a 56-yard TD against Oklahoma, racking up 98 yards and a score against Clemson and catching 12 passes for 163 yards against Wake Forest. He was named MVP of the Champs Sports Bowl after recording 99 yards against Notre Dame.
The ACC's three quarterbacks struggled to get their North squad on the board Saturday, throwing three total interceptions in a 20-10 loss in the Senior Bowl.

[+] EnlargeStephen Morris
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaMiami QB Stephen Morris completed 10 of 18 passes for 89 yards and two picks at the Senior Bowl.
Clemson's Tajh Boyd, Miami's Stephen Morris and Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas combined to go 21 of 39 for 137 yards with no touchdowns. Thomas, who impressed all week down in Mobile, Ala., with his arm strength, threw just five passes, completing four. He was sacked five times for a total loss of 39 yards.

"I don't think I had much time to do anything with it," Thomas said, according to the Associated Press.

The other two quarterbacks managed to stay on their feet but accounted for the trio of turnovers.

Morris completed 10 of 18 passes for 89 yards with two picks. Boyd went 7 of 16 for 31 yards with one interception, adding two rushes for eight yards.

“Just talking to the linemen, they said these guys are kind of quick coming off the ball," Boyd said, according to the AP. "You've got to go out there and try to help those guys out."

One notable bright spot offensively for the ACC was the play of Michael Campanaro, who caught two passes for 11 yards for the North and returned three punts for 24 yards. The former Wake Forest receiver saw his first game action since Nov. 2, when he suffered a broken collarbone in a loss at Syracuse.

The ACC's biggest victory came two days earlier, when on Thursday night Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald added one more line to his résumé, as he was named most outstanding player for the week of practice.

"Donald is a very explosive defensive tackle," Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons and North team coach, said in a statement. "I've been very impressed with him. He's short in stature by NFL standards and doesn't maybe have all the measurables, but he's one of the more explosive guys we have on the North squad. He's done a very nice job both in the running and the pass game."

Below are ACC player statistics from Saturday. Scouts Inc. lauds a number of ACC players from the week of practice in its superlative post here.


QUARTERBACKS
Stephen Morris, Miami: 10 of 18, 89 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs, 0 sacks
Tajh Boyd, Clemson: 7 of 16, 31 yards, 0 TDs, INT, 0 sacks, 2 rush, 8 yards
Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech: 4 of 5, 17 yards, 5 sacks (39 yards)

WIDE RECEIVERS
Michael Campanaro, Wake Forest: 2 catches, 11 yards, 3 punt returns for 24 yards

DEFENSE
Christian Jones, LB, Florida State: 6 tackles
Telvin Smith, LB, Florida State: 5 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss
Kareem Martin, DE, North Carolina: 4 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss
Dontae Johnson, DB, NC State: 2 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, 1 breakup
Terrence Brooks, S, Florida State: 2 tackles
Jeremiah Attaochu, LB, Georgia Tech: 1 tackle
Jemea Thomas, S, Georgia Tech: 1 tackle

FSU's early 2014 power rankings

January, 21, 2014
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In the days after Florida State wrapped up its BCS National Championship run, we ran through our final Seminoles power rankings of 2013. But, of course, the football world moves quickly, and fans are already looking ahead to what could be in store for 2014. With that in mind, we’re taking an early crack at our preliminary power rankings for next season, with departing stars nixed from the countdown and emerging ones projected for 2014.

(Final 2013 ranking in parentheses.)

1. QB Jameis Winston (1): OK, this one was easy. Winston won the Heisman in his first season on the field, but expectations will be even higher for 2014. So what will he do for an encore? Having four-fifths of his offensive line back certainly makes the job a bit easier.

[+] EnlargeRonald Darby
AP Photo/Richard ShiroRonald Darby was excellent in 2013 despite being slowed by an injury. The 2014 season could be even better if he's healthy.
2. CB Ronald Darby (NR): Quietly, Darby was among the most dominant corners in the ACC in 2013, with quarterbacks avoiding him at all costs in spite of a groin injury that never completely healed. He figures to be 100 percent in 2014, meaning FSU could pair Darby and P.J. Williams in the secondary for arguably the best set of starting corners in the country -- even without Lamarcus Joyner in the mix.

3. WR Rashad Greene (4): Winston attempted 384 passes in 2013, and Greene was on the receiving end of more than 30 percent of those targets. He led FSU in receiving for the third straight season, catching 76 balls for 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns. More importantly, the receivers responsible for 206 of Winston’s other targets are gone, putting Greene at the forefront of a revamped receiving corps.

4. RB Karlos Williams (NR): Among AQ-conference tailbacks with at least 90 carries in 2013, none rushed for more yards per carry (8.0) or scored with more frequency (one TD per 8.3 rushes) than Williams. With Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. gone, Williams is in prime position to become FSU’s second straight 1,000-yard rusher.

5. S Jalen Ramsey (8): In Week 1 of 2013, Ramsey became the first true freshman to start at corner for the Seminoles since Deion Sanders. Three weeks later, he moved to safety and didn’t miss a beat. Ramsey started every game and racked up 49 tackles while anchoring the nation’s top pass defense. With a year of experience under his belt, 2014 could be even better.

6. LT Cameron Erving (NR): The expectations have been monumental for Erving since he first switched from the D-line to left tackle, and while he hasn't exactly reached star status -- hence, his decision to return for his senior year -- he’s made significant strides each season. He’ll be the anchor of a veteran O-line in 2014 and potentially one of the best left tackles in the nation.

7. DE Mario Edwards Jr. (9): He tended to get overlooked a bit in 2013 because of Florida State’s myriad of defensive stars, but Edwards was exceptional in his first season as a full-time starter. He tied for second on the team with 9.5 tackles for loss (the most among returning players) and had 3.5 sacks, an interception and a forced fumble. Perhaps as noteworthy, in the two games Edwards missed last season, opponents averaged 191 yards on the ground against FSU. In the 12 games he started, they averaged 113.

8. TE Nick O'Leary (NR): In 2013, O’Leary was FSU’s most reliable receiving target, catching 76 percent of the balls thrown his way while setting career highs in catches (33), yards (557) and touchdowns (seven). But O’Leary also only scored once after Nov. 1, and following his astonishing performance against Clemson (five catches, 161 yards), he didn’t have more than three grabs or 55 yards in a game the rest of the season -- including being held without a catch in the BCS title game. There’s room for O’Leary to improve, and with so much transition among FSU’s receivers, he figures to get plenty of chances to do it.

9. KR Kermit Whitfield (NR): He touched the ball just 25 times in 2013 and still racked up a whopping 818 all-purpose yards while scoring four touchdowns. Whitfield’s eight offensive touches figure to increase markedly next season as he steps in for Kenny Shaw as FSU’s top slot receiver, and his speed makes him a threat to score every time the ball is in his hands.

10. LB Matthew Thomas (NR): An injury cut Thomas’ 2013 season short after just five games of limited action as a true freshman, but he flashed the potential that made him a five-star recruit. Now, with Telvin Smith and Christian Jones gone, Thomas figures to land a starting job and blossom into a legitimate star.

Honorable mentions: DT Eddie Goldman, G Josue Matias, G Tre' Jackson, LB Terrance Smith, S Nate Andrews, CB P.J. Williams, K Roberto Aguayo

ACC players in the Senior Bowl

January, 21, 2014
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Senior Bowl practices are underway this week, and wouldn't you know it -- scouts have their eyes on the quarterbacks.

That means Stephen Morris, Logan Thomas and Tajh Boyd are firmly in the spotlight this week among featured ACC players participating in the college all-star game, a critical first step in evaluations for the NFL draft in May. Scouts Inc. lists Thomas as the highest rated quarterback among the three and broke down what each has to accomplish this week.

For Thomas: The need to "thrive with an even playing field."

For Morris: More consistency with footwork and ball placement as a passer.

For Boyd: "Show improvement throughout the week with pro-style progressions and anticipation as a pocket passer."

Scouts Inc. also lists Miami offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson and Virginia offensive tackle Morgan Moses as having the most to prove.

Here is a look at all the ACC players participating in the Senior Bowl, with the game set for Saturday. Boston College running back Andre Williams was invited but pulled out so he can continue to rehab his injured shoulder.
It has been a season for the ages at Florida State, perhaps the best season in the program’s history. So filling out the end-of-year power rankings is no easy task. There’s a good case to be made for virtually any order -- well, any order after No. 1 — but this is what we came up with. (Previous rankings in parentheses.)

1. Jameis Winston, QB (1): Heisman Trophy, national champion, household name, media darling-turned-national scandal… so, what’s left for Year 2 for Winston? After everything that happened in 2013, however, that final drive in Pasadena was the highlight.

2. Timmy Jernigan, DT (3): It’s so easy to overlook Jernigan’s impact until he’s not in the lineup. That was never more clear than against Auburn. Now, FSU will have to find a replacement. It won’t be easy.

[+] EnlargeRashad Greene
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsRashad Green stepped up to play a major role in the title game.
3. Lamarcus Joyner, CB (2): Perhaps no player more epitomized the four-year rebuilding job under Jimbo Fisher, and no player deserved to have it end the way it did than Joyner. He was the star commit when no one knew what was next for Florida State, and he and Fisher helped will the program back to elite status.

4. Rashad Greene, WR (6): Others always seem to get the hype, but for three straight years, there has been no more consistent weapon on FSU’s offense than Greene. His catch and run for 49 yards on that final drive is the reason Florida State won the national championship. The funny thing is, if you watched the Virginia Tech game last year, it looked oh so familiar.

5. Telvin Smith, LB (5): He finished with 15 tackles and was exceptional in slowing one of the best running games in the country. But what Smith brought to FSU off the field this year is his lasting impact.

6. Kelvin Benjamin, WR (9): It was an ugly first half for Benjamin, and there were more miscues in the second half. But when he went up for that final pass from Winston, everyone knew exactly how that play would end. Now, Benjamin is a Sports Illustrated cover boy.

7. Devonta Freeman, RB (4): It’s a bit of a misnomer. It hasn’t really been a 17-year drought of 1,000-yard rushers. Plenty of FSU teams have rushed for far more than that, and plenty of players were more than capable. But fate or injury or bad luck managed to keep them from it eclipsing the mark individually. But perhaps it was destiny, so that someone as deserving as Freeman could finally be the one to end the streak.

8. Jalen Ramsey, S (NR): With so many key defensive players departing, Ramsey is one of the biggest reasons for optimism in 2014. His emergence this year was nothing short of spectacular. A secondary that has been the best in the nation the past two seasons is in good hands.

9. Mario Edwards Jr., DE (NR): Edwards really progressed as the season went along, and he was huge in the BCS title game. Next year, he’ll likely be playing to impress NFL scouts, and he’ll be the most crucial cog on a revamped D line.

10. Bryan Stork, C (NR): To truly appreciate all Stork has done, go back and watch the film from the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl, when the line was a mess. Stork has been the veteran who managed that transition and eased the development for the guys around him, and his impact on the FSU offense has been immense.

Honorable mentions: WR Kenny Shaw, LT Cameron Erving, DE Christian Jones, CB Ronald Darby, KR Kermit Whitfield, Red Lightning.
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.

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