Florida State Seminoles: cornellius carradine

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Dan Hicks galloped around the practice fields as Florida State opened fall camp Tuesday, no signs of the knee injury that ended his 2012 season a year ago -- almost to the day.

A lot has changed since the injury. Back then, he was a third-string tight end, moved from defensive end after three years because of a logjam of talented pass rushers. In the 12 months since, he's had surgery, recovered and swapped positions again, returning to his original place on the roster after a stampede of talented ends departed for the NFL. His lone mementos to a lost season are the scar on his knee and the No. 6 on his jersey, which now conflicts with the uniform worn by cornerback Nick Waisome.

Dan Hicks
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesDan Hicks has played in 27 career games at defensive end, but missed all of 2012 with a knee injury.
A year ago, Hicks was such a luxury that he wasn't needed on the defensive line, and he wasn't missed at tight end. Now, the fifth-year senior would rank as the second-most accomplished player on Florida State's roster at either position.

"Dan's had a tremendous summer," Jimbo Fisher said this week. "His conditioning has no signs of anything that's gone on."

That's good news for Florida State, which finds itself in a remarkably tenuous situation on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

In praising Hicks' physique, Fisher was offering an explanation for moving third-year sophomore Giorgio Newberry from defensive end to tight end -- the same swap Hicks made last year. It was a move Fisher said was first discussed weeks ago, but one that was made a necessity when senior Kevin Haplea succumbed to a knee injury and sophomore Christo Kourtzidis opted to transfer, leaving the Seminoles with just two scholarship tight ends.

But if Fisher was filling a need on offense, he also was robbing from a position on defense that lacked veteran experience to spare.

Newberry was no one's idea of a success story thus far. Physically, he's intimidating and his potential seemed high, but through two full years in the program, he'd yet to develop as a pass rusher. Still, he played in every game last season, which made him a rarity among FSU’s defensive ends.

All-ACC defensive ends Bjoern Werner, Brandon Jenkins and Cornellius Carradine were all selected in this year's NFL draft, which meant Florida State would be looking to fill a massive void at the position. Only Newberry and Mario Edwards Jr., who opened last season with a redshirt before injuries eventually forced him into the starting lineup, saw the field in 2012.

And yet Fisher said he's confident there is talent to spare.

"I feel very good about where we're at defensive end-wise," he said. "You've got to play both sides of the ball, and we've got just as many inexperienced guys at tight end. There was no apprehension whatsoever. It's something we would've done either way."

That might be true, but there's no avoiding the obvious numbers. Last season, in just 12 games, Carradine finished with 80 tackles, including 13 for a loss, and 11 sacks -- stats that dwarf the combined career totals of every member of FSU's current depth chart at defensive end.

Only Edwards and Hicks have seen serious game action. Redshirt freshman Chris Casher hasn't played in two full years after sitting out his senior season in high school and going down with an injury in his first game of 2012. Freshman Demarcus Walker figured to get an early start on his career by enrolling this spring, but NCAA eligibility issues kept him off the field during spring practice. Tuesday's start to fall camp represented the first official practice session of his career at Florida State. The same is true for fellow freshman Davarez Bryant and junior college transfer Desmond Hollin.

But Fisher insists he's not worried about the lack of experience.

"You have a great group of guys there that we feel very comfortable with the size and speed and the things we do," he said.

When the games begin though, establishing the pass rush may be more about scheme than personnel. New coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has implemented a blitz-heavy approach that players have embraced. He also comes from a 3-4 base system at Alabama, and the Seminoles could certainly employ those looks more often in 2013. Pruitt isn't just planning to throw his rookie pass rushers into the deep end of the pool, either. He's mixing and matching, finding alternative options in unlikely spots.

"In the spring we had some packages with me actually playing some D-end and coming off the edge a little bit," senior linebacker Christian Jones said. "And we're blitzing a lot more this year."

Like Newberry's move to tight end, the new approach to the pass rush was likely to a necessity regardless of the surprises Florida State has faced this summer. Werner, Jenkins and Carradine were the backbone to Mark Stoops' highly ranked defenses the past two seasons, and changes were required in the wake of their departures.

Giorgio Newberry
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreGiorgio Newberry's size could make him a valuable asset as a blocking tight end.
"The key to the game on both sides is the guys that put their hand in the dirt, and that's why we could play the way we did last year was the D-line," Fisher said. "But I think we've got just as good a group [in 2013]. I like our group better. I really do."

Optimism is easy to find this time of year, but Florida State has already walked the tight rope that comes with having limited options at key positions.

For now, Newberry fills the Seminoles' biggest hole. Hicks' health and the emerging Edwards, who has dramatically improved his physique from a year ago, offer possibilities in another significant area of concern.

Not all choices are supposed to be easy, and Newberry's move was the best option Fisher had, and FSU’s pass rush will make due with what's left.

"[If we weren't satisfied] we'd have tried to find something else to do," Fisher said, "but I felt very comfortable with those guys."
Throughout the summer, Nole Nation will be counting down the 40 players we're projecting to make the biggest impact on the Seminoles' 2013 season, taking into consideration everything from experience to potential to their spot on the current depth chart.

Next up: No. 12 Mario Edwards Jr.

Position/Class: DE/So.

[+] EnlargeMario Edwards
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsMario Edwards Jr. gave a glimpse of his immense potential during the final two games of his freshman season.
What he's done: The consensus No. 1 recruit in the nation a year ago, Edwards arrived at Florida State with much fanfare -- and more than a few extra pounds. Pegged as a pass rusher, Edwards opened fall camp checking in at more than 300 pounds, and it was clear from the outset he wasn't ready to contribute to an already stacked defense. He was slated to redshirt -- much to his chagrin -- but when Brandon Jenkins was lost for the year with a foot injury, Edwards was given a reprieve. He saw minimal action through the next 11 games, but a second season-ending injury to a defensive end finally opened up a full-time job. Edwards started the ACC championship game and Orange Bowl and accounted for 10 tackles as FSU won both.

Where he's at: The strong finish to his 2012 campaign offered ample optimism, and when Jenkins, Cornellius Carradine and Bjoern Werner all headed to the NFL this offseason, Edwards became the de facto No. 1 pass rusher on the team. Still, his turn in spring practice wasn't entirely inspiring. He'd clearly shed some weight, but new ends coach Sal Sunseri wants more progress. He'd clearly learned the ropes a bit, but Sunseri still feels Edwards is relying too much on natural ability. But the bottom line remains that Edwards is both the most talented defensive end FSU has and a virtual lock for a starting job.

What's to come: This is the big question. Edwards' ceiling is immensely high, and he could easily blossom into one of the most feared defenders in the nation this season -- particularly with Sunseri and Jeremy Pruitt's prodding. Of course, Edwards' lack of preparation in advance of his freshman season, his occasional pouting after he was pushed down the depth chart, and his continued struggles with his weight are all red flags. But if motivation is the key, FSU appears to have the right staff in place -- from Sunseri to Edwards' father, Mario Sr. -- and there's no argument that he'll be heavily involved in the scheme in 2013. Where he goes from there is almost entirely up to him, but the odds are, even if he doesn't reach his potential, he'll still be pretty good.
Each season brings with it new expectations, and a handful of Seminoles will bear the brunt of the pressure to perform in 2013. We're counting down the top 10 FSU players being counted on the most to help the Seminoles live up to expectations.

No. 2: DE Mario Edwards Jr.

[+] EnlargeMario Edwards Jr.
Bob Donnan/US PresswireMario Edwards Jr. was going to redshirt in 2012, but those plans were scuttled when Brandon Jenkins was injured.
2012 performance: The past year was a roller coaster for Edwards. He arrived at Florida State as the most touted recruit in the country, a 300-pound behemoth expecting to make an instant impact at defensive end. Of course, FSU already had its share of talent at the position -- including three 2013 NFL draft picks -- and when the season began, Edwards was slated to redshirt. That didn't last long, though. Brandon Jenkins' injury opened up some playing time, and slowly but surely, Edwards dropped some weight and began to make an impact. When Cornellius Carradine's season ended with an ACL injury, Edwards emerged as the starter in the Seminoles' last two games, finishing the year with 17 tackles and 1.5 sacks.

Pressure point: The mere fact that Edwards was poised to redshirt to open 2012 underscores just how much depth FSU had at the position. This year, however, it's a much different story. Jenkins, Carradine and Bjoern Werner are all gone, and Edwards is the cornerstone of the Seminoles' pass rush. He certainly has the talent to make an instant impact, but last year he showed signs of a lack of maturity and an excess of weight. That's not necessarily an ideal scenario for a player whom Florida State will rely upon to key the pass rush.

If he succeeds: The Seminoles are in good position to move forward even without a bevy of veteran defensive linemen, with Edwards leading the charge. While Werner, Jenkins and Carradine all were exceptional players with bright NFL futures, Edwards' ceiling might be higher than any of them. Add the new defensive scheme from coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and there's a distinct possibility that Edwards doesn't just fill a void in 2013, but blossoms into one of the most fearsome defenders in the country.

If he fails: The truth is, there isn't much room for failure for Edwards in 2013. Florida State needs him to take the next step and become a productive pass rusher as much as it needs any player to perform. There simply isn't any significant established depth at defensive end, and several others -- Giorgio Newberry, Chris Casher -- remain works in progress. Even with Pruitt looking for ways to bring pressure from elsewhere, the line remains an essential keystone to FSU's defensive success, and if Edwards can't build on his late surge in 2012, there may not be a realistic Plan B.

Projection: Edwards showed enough in his late-season stint as starter last year that there's ample room for enthusiasm. Yes, he still needs to drop a few pounds, and yes, he still has a lot to prove. But Edwards' natural ability is so immense that he should find some measure of success regardless of how much he develops from here. That, of course, doesn't mean Jimbo Fisher will be satisfied with a solid performance. Edwards could be special, and while he might not reach elite status in 2013, the FSU coaches will be pushing him hard to get there.
Each season brings with it new expectations, and a handful of Seminoles will bear the brunt of the pressure to perform in 2013. We're counting down the top 10 FSU players being counted on the most to help the Seminoles live up to expectations.

No. 6: DT Timmy Jernigan

2012 performance: For the second season in a row, Jernigan was impressive in a role that was largely as a reserve. He did start two games while Anthony McCloud sat out with an injury, but Jernigan's primary work came off the bench, where he might have been one of the best backup defensive lineman in the country. He led FSU's interior line in tackles (46) and tackles for loss (8) and was a force against the run, where the Seminoles finished in the top three in the country in rushing defense for the second straight season.

Pressure point: In his first two years at FSU, Jernigan developed into a star, but he had the luxury of a prominent supporting cast. That won't be the case in 2013. The Seminoles lost five defensive linemen to the NFL, including both starters at tackle. That leaves Jernigan as the man every opposing offensive line coach will be scheming for.

Timmy Jernigan
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreTimmy Jernigan talked in the spring about wanting to become a leader for the FSU defense and a star performer on the field.
If he succeeds: A strong season would mean a lot for the Seminoles' D and for Jernigan personally. He's already being discussed as a potential first-round draft pick and one of the top underclassmen in the nation, but there remains a bit of skepticism about how he'll hold up in a bigger role in a more novice defensive line. If Jernigan answers those questions, it would be a boon for a young line in need of leadership and a strong push for Jeremy Pruitt's defense which, unlike last year, won't rely solely on pressure from the front four. Moreover, it would secure Jernigan's spot near the top of many NFL draft boards.

If he fails: Few people are expecting failure from Jernigan, but rather question how much he'll advance in a full-time role and whether that will be enough to weather the storm after so much turnover on the line. A year ago, FSU's strength was its ability to get pressure without the blitz and its dominance against the run. Jernigan won't shoulder the entirety of the responsibility for maintaining that standard, but anything less than a marked step forward for the junior would certainly make a repeat performance from the rest of the line awfully tough.

Projection: During the spring, Jernigan said all the right things about wanting to become a leader for the defense and a star defender in the ACC. Unfortunately, his spring was cut short by a high ankle sprain. It's the second spring in a row in which Jernigan has gone down with a relatively serious injury, and that's perhaps the biggest concern right now. No one questions Jernigan's talent or ability, and while the larger role brings with it increased pressure, it's also a bigger opportunity for him to produce. And while life will be tougher without Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine flanking him, Jernigan does have the benefit of some veteran talent on the interior of the line. Expect another strong performance, even if the overall defensive line takes a small step back.
2012 record: 12-2
2012 conference record: 7-1
Returning starters: Offense 6, Defense 5, Kicker/Punter 1

Top returners

WR Rashad Greene, LT Cameron Erving, C Bryan Stork, LB Christian Jones, LB Telvin Smith, DB Lamarcus Joyner, DT Timmy Jernigan

Key losses

QB EJ Manuel, RT Menelik Watson, RB Chris Thompson, DE Bjoern Werner, DE Cornellius Carradine, CB Xavier Rhodes, K Dustin Hopkins

2012 statistical leaders (*returning)

Rushing: Chris Thompson (687 yards)
Passing: EJ Manuel (3,392 yards)
Receiving: Rashad Greene* (741 yards)
Tackles: Christian Jones* (95)
Sacks: Bjoern Werner (13)
Interceptions: Xavier Rhodes, Tyler Hunter* (3)

Spring answers:

1. Changes on D: New coordinator Jeremy Pruitt brought a slew of new schemes with him from Alabama, meaning the FSU defense won't look all that much like the one that finished second in the nation in 2012. With the loss of five former starters from the defensive line, that's probably a good thing. Pruitt's scheme will be more aggressive and bring a lot more blitzes, allowing FSU to get pressure from other areas.

2. Beating Hart: When right tackle Menelik Watson made the somewhat surprising decision to leave FSU after just a year to enter the NFL draft, all eyes turned to junior Bobby Hart, whose turbulent career with the Seminoles was already well documented. Hart started as a 17-year-old freshman in 2011, but problems with his work ethic derailed his sophomore season and he found himself on the bench. He appeared to work his way back into line coach Rick Trickett's good graces by the end of the spring, however, and he'll be crucial to maintaining the continuity of the line without Watson.

3. Famous Jameis: Jimbo Fisher still isn't calling the contest over, but it certainly looks like redshirt freshman Jameis Winston is in the driver's seat to take over for Manuel as FSU's new starting quarterback. Winston shined throughout the spring and delivered a monster performance in the Seminoles' Garnet and Gold game, completing 13 of 15 passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns. A week later, junior QB Clint Trickett announced he was transferring.

Fall questions:

1. Winston, Part II: Yes, the spring was impressive for Winston, but as Fisher was quick to point out, he'll need to pick up right where he left off in the fall if FSU is going to make a smooth transition at a position that's been remarkably stable for the past five years. Jacob Coker remains in competition -- and he should be fully healed after breaking a bone in his foot that limited this spring -- but the loss of Trickett puts a lot of pressure on Winston to step up, particularly with a daunting road contest at new ACC member Pittsburgh looming in the season opener.

2. New-look secondary: Lamarcus Joyner appeared to make a relatively smooth transition from safety to corner, but FSU didn't get much of a look at what will constitute the secondary in 2013. Key players such as Tyler Hunter, Nick Waisome and Ronald Darby were all hurt, while promising freshman Jalen Ramsey had yet to arrive. The group will finally all work together during fall camp.

3. Just for kicks: Redshirt freshman Roberto Aguayo showed off his powerful leg during FSU's spring game, connecting on three long field goals, including a 58-yarder to close out the game. Still, replacing the NCAA's all-time leading scorer among kickers won't be an easy task. Dustin Hopkins was as reliable as it gets for FSU, and Aguayo still needs to show he can handle the pressure of making a big kick with the game on the line.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Nothing was going to change. That was Jimbo Fisher's story to start the spring, regardless of the massive overhaul of his defensive coaching staff.

Sure, new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt would bring a few new wrinkles from his old stomping grounds at Alabama, but in the big picture, Fisher assured, Florida State's defense would still look much as it did for the past three seasons under Mark Stoops.

By the end of the spring, however, it was clear Fisher had downplayed the impact his new coaches would have. The Seminoles spent weeks watching tape of the Crimson Tide. Pruitt installed new verbiage, new calls, new schemes and a whole lot of new blitz packages. And when a rather vanilla spring game ended, even Fisher was ready to ratchet up the expectations.

[+] EnlargeKarlos Williams
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonKarlos Williams made several big plays in pass defense last season, but could be used in more blitzes in 2013.
"You ain't seen blitzes yet," Fisher said.

If the quarterback battle was all the buzz among Florida State fans this spring, it's the defense that created the most excitement inside the locker room. Pruitt's approach completely restructured the simplified scheme Stoops had used with such success the past three seasons, and that meant new opportunities for the Seminoles' defenders and plenty of confusion for the offense.

The only problem was that FSU had just four weeks to master it before the long summer began.

"That's the hardest part, because at some point we were trying to relate last year's calls to this year's calls, and you really can't do that," safety Terrence Brooks said. "You've got to forget all that. It's learning a whole new defense."

The large-scale changes were bound to occur given the three new coaches on defense. But shaking things up also brings risk.

Stoops' unit was immensely successful, finishing second in total defense in 2012 and fourth in 2011. And the beauty of Stoops' approach was in its simplicity. He asked his defensive backs to cover, asked his linebackers to stop the run and asked his front four to generate pressure. Blitzes were the exception, not the rule.

"Stoops made it really, really simple," Brooks said. "I feel like he was a genius for that, getting the defense to be that good, but so simple."

Maintaining that simplicity might have been difficult regardless of the coaching changes, though. With the loss of five defensive linemen and one of the nation's top cornerbacks to the NFL, changes were inevitable. Ends Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine had been immensely successful in generating pressure without blitzing, but that's a luxury Pruitt won't get a chance to enjoy.

Instead, Pruitt's scheme takes some of the responsibility away from the defensive front and opens up the game plan for the athletes off the line of scrimmage -- and that's an exciting proposition for players such as new starting safety Karlos Williams.

"I feel like we will be way more aggressive than we have been because we're just doing a lot more -- we're a lot more active," Williams said. "But you all can watch it and see what happens."

Blitzes come from all over the field, and Pruitt has created dozens of new looks. Linebackers creep up to the line of scrimmage, ends drop into coverage, defensive backs are blitzing routinely. It's chaos for the offense -- but it's not entirely simple for the defense, either.

"We all felt overwhelmed at some point, but all those little things and calls, it really helps a lot because it gives us a chance to make so many more plays," Brooks said. "It's amazing to see on film how Alabama did it. They had guys dropping into coverage, all the different calls they had, but they all made a lot of plays off those little calls."

But picking up all those new calls was crucial. As a new crop of freshmen arrive this summer and a handful of veterans return from injuries, it will be the responsibility of FSU's veteran defenders to pass along what they learned from this spring's four-week crash course.

Truth be told, linebacker Christian Jones said, they could've used a few more weeks to prepare. But all things considered, Jones is confident the summer will prove to be a productive time even without Pruitt's immediate oversight.

"This spring, we pretty much put in the whole playbook," Jones said. "The guys have done a pretty good job of picking it all up, but it's a lot of stuff. It's a lot of checks, change the fronts a lot."

The new defense presents some pressure, but Jones isn't complaining. It might take a while longer to get everyone on the same page, but when it all comes together, this new defense could be awfully fun to watch.

"It's spring, so they've got to throw all that stuff in so we can know it in the fall," Jones said. "Once we get to the fall and can game plan, I think we'll have a real scary defense."

Looking back at the 2013 draft class 

April, 29, 2013
Florida State registered a nation-leading 11 NFL draft picks over the extended weekend. NoleNation takes a look back at how they were scouted coming out of high school.

QB EJ Manuel
Selected by: Buffalo Bills, No. 16 overall
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Spring practice arrived with some significant questions, and it ended with at least a slightly clearer indication of some answers. This week, we'll take a look at five of the biggest question marks of the spring and decipher what we learned and how much further the Seminoles have to go before the season kicks off.

Next up: The defensive line

The question: Five former starters are gone, likely all headed to the NFL, so what will become of Florida State's once-vaunted defensive line without Bjoern Werner, Cornellius Carradine and Co.?

Timmy Jernigan
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreTimmy Jernigan moves into the starting lineup at defensive tackle, having already proved himself as a backup.
The possibilities: The interior of the line appears to be in good hands with Timmy Jernigan stepping into a starting role, freshman Eddie Goldman getting a crack at a bigger job, and veterans like Demonte McAllister and Jacobbi McDaniel around to provide stability. On the edge, there are bigger questions as Mario Edwards Jr. looks to live up to his recruiting hype, Dan Hicks returns to defense, and Giorgio Newberry and Chris Casher work to establish themselves.

What we learned this spring: Perhaps the biggest lesson of the spring wasn't about who would fill the void on the defensive line but rather how new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt planned to scheme around it.

It's not that the pass-rush responsibilities will be shifted completely away from the defensive ends, and technically speaking, FSU isn't moving toward the 3-4 base defense Pruitt ran at Alabama, but there have clearly been some marked changes to the scheme.

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Mario Edwards Jr. might be the heir apparent to a trio of NFL-caliber defensive ends this season, but he's still got a ways to go to match the consistency of Bjoern Werner, Cornellius Carradine and Brandon Jenkins.

[+] EnlargeMario Edwards
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsMario Edwards Jr. has been up and down in his first spring at Florida State.
Jimbo Fisher said he's seen improvement in his sophomore pass rusher, but Edwards has struggled to put a series of good plays -- and more importantly, good practices -- together.

"He's still got to come on," Fisher said. "He's got to play much more consistent and get a little more of an urgency to him."

Edwards, who had five tackles, including 1.5 for a loss, in Monday's scrimmage, said he's trimmed 25 pounds off his frame since he arrived last summer, but new defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri said there's still room for improvement.

"He's finding out that with what I want to do, it's taxing and we've got to get him into better shape," Sunseri said. "He's going to fight through it, and he's going to be good. He's got a lot of talent."

Fisher echoed those sentiments, saying that while Edwards might not be where he needs to be yet, he's not far off from where Werner and Jenkins were at the same point in their careers.

"He's that guy, a young guy, but he can take off," Fisher said. "He's at that stage where a lot of those other ends were. But he's got to continue to grow and let us push him."

For his part, Edwards said he's far more comfortable now than he was eight months ago, and new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's defense has helped the adjustment.

"It's no more reading, it's just see it and go, more of an attack," Edwards said. "And being my second year, the speed of the game has slowed down. I'm feeling more comfortable."

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E.J. ManuelJohn David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsEJ Manuel's workout at Florida State's pro day Tuesday was on point and helped the quarterback secure an invitation to April's NFL draft.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- EJ Manuel was eager to wrap up his throws at Florida State's pro day -- not just because he had a host of NFL scouts carefully critiquing each motion, but because he had plans for when it was all over. Today is also Manuel's birthday.

"I just had to knock this out, and now I can go celebrate," he said.

After solid showings at the Senior Bowl and the NFL combine, Manuel already believed he had plenty to celebrate before throwing for scouts today. He has worked his way into the mix of top quarterbacks available, met with more than two dozen teams, and earned an invite to the NFL draft in New York.

"When I got the invite, I was about to cry, really," Manuel said. "That was probably my biggest goal. I know there was a lot being said about me going into it, but I never listened to it. I continue to work hard, did well at the Senior Bowl and the combine, and the naysayers have pushed me to have a bigger chip on my shoulder."

Manuel insists he's not bitter about any criticism along the way, but he said it has pushed him to work harder.

He certainly appeared to help his cause today. Jimbo Fisher watched carefully and said Manuel was accurate on all of his throws and looked sharp in the process.

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It's been a while since pro day workouts at Florida State came with quite so much fanfare, but this year's event, which gives former FSU stars a chance to workout for NFL scouts and executives, is chock full of intrigue.

Although more than a dozen former Seminoles will be participating in today's workouts, a few have a bit more to gain (or lose) than the rest. Here's a quick look at which of FSU's NFL hopefuls has the most on the line today.

E.J. Manuel
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsBig, experienced, athletic EJ Manuel could climb draft boards thanks to a weak quarterback crop.
EJ Manuel (QB): The names at the top of the draft boards for most teams looking for a quarterback have been shuffled a handful of times throughout the year, and Manuel has largely hovered on the periphery. But while the overall class is considered weak, Manuel could be viewed as a solid investment. He's got the physical tools to warrant first-round consideration, and he's worked for five years in an NFL system at FSU. While he didn't overwhelm observers during the combine, pro day offers a second chance to impress on his home turf. Jimbo Fisher believes a strong performance could have Manuel in the late first, early second-round mix.

Bjoern Werner (DE): When the season ended, Werner was a hot commodity, with some mock drafts projecting him as a top five selection and, perhaps, the highest drafted Seminole in program history. That enthusiasm has cooled a bit, however, after a mediocre performance at the NFL combine. It's not that Werner was bad, but so much of what he does best is underscored far better in game conditions than a scouting combine. Still, he can make up some of the ground he lost with an impressive day on campus, which could mean quite a bit financially. Last year's third overall pick (the highest Werner's been on draft boards) signed for more than $20 million. The 30th overall pick (where ESPN's Mel Kiper currently has Werner projected) signed for less than $7 million.

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Spring questions: New-look pass rush 

March, 14, 2013
Editor’s note: Each day until the start of spring practice, we’ll pose a question facing Florida State's football team as it moves toward the 2013 season. Today’s question: How will the defensive front look after a wave of departures from last year's group?

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- By the time next year's NFL draft is complete, five former Florida State defensive linemen figure to hear their names called. That's an impressive indication of just how much talent was on this unit for the past two seasons, but it also underscores one of the biggest questions of this spring: How can Jimbo Fisher replace so many departing stars in one group?

In 2012, FSU finished in the top three in the country in rush defense (91.9 yards per game) for the second year in a row, and for the third straight year, the Seminoles led the ACC in sacks (36). As far as pass rushers go, Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine were the most prolific defensive end tandem in the nation. But aside from quarterback, no area of the roster figures to get as big a facelift for 2013.

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From the impending quarterback competition to finding replacements for departing juniors, Jimbo Fisher will have his work cut out for him during the next few months as he lays the groundwork for 2013.

[+] EnlargeMario Edwards Jr.
Bob Donnan/US PresswireMario Edwards Jr. is still raw, but he has proven to be one of the best defensive ends in the nation.
With that in mind, we're going to go position-by-position looking at Florida State's strengths and weaknesses as the Seminoles prepare for the start of spring practice.

Previous entires can be found here.

Next up: Defensive Ends

2012 recap: Once again, Florida State's defense was among the best in the country, and once again the success started with the pass-rushers up front. Even after Brandon Jenkins went down in the opener with a foot injury, FSU's dynamic pass rush exceeded expectations, with Cornellius Carradine stepping up to provide 80 tackles and 11 sacks before a season-ending injury of his own, while Bjoern Werner established himself as one of the country's best players, recording 13 sacks, 18 TFLs and 8 pass breakups. Mario Edwards Jr. came on late to showcase his skill set, too, finishing with 17 tackles and 1.5 sacks despite limited playing time.

Departures: Few teams in the nation will lose more talent at one position that FSU does at defensive end. Had injuries not sidetracked Carradine and Jenkins -- hurting their draft prospects in the process -- it's possible the Seminoles would've produced three first-round picks just from the defensive end spot alone. As it is, Werner could be the school's highest drafted player in history. Werner, Jenkins and Carradine combined for 25 sacks in 2012 and 62.5 in their careers.

Arrivals: The Seminoles lost virtually all their experienced defensive ends, but they'll bring in a fresh crop of talent for 2013. Chris Casher played in just one game last season before an injury ended his season, but his combination of size and speed make him a dangerous weapon. Demarcus Walker was one of FSU's top recruits, and he's enrolled early this spring. Fellow freshman Davarez Bryant and juco transfer Desmond Hollin will also compete for playing time.

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State of the Noles: Defensive End 

February, 12, 2013
When it comes to recruiting, coaches need to be thinking long-term. It's not just about which holes must be filled immediately, but rather where the needs might be in two or three more years.

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

Today, we're looking at one of FSU's most productive positions under Jimbo Fisher: Defensive end.

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FSU's biggest 2013 holes to fill

January, 30, 2013
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. A year ago, there wasn't a lot of mystery looming over spring practice at Florida State. Signing day brought another crop of highly regarded talent, and spring practice storylines included more injuries than marquee position battles.

That won't be the case this year as a rash of departures from both assistant coaches and underclassmen mean the signing class is still in flux and the depth chart has plenty of spots up for grabs.

So, as the Seminoles' spring kicks into high gear, here are the five departures that have left the biggest voids that will need to be filled over the next few months.

1. Quarterback

[+] EnlargeFlorida State
AP Photo/Phil SearsJacob Coker's size and athletic ability will be big factors in FSU's QB competition.
Going: EJ Manuel ended a five-year tenure in Tallahassee with a mixed reputation among the fans. Among NFL scouts, however, things seem a bit more uniform. Manuel starred at last week's Senior Bowl, and with NFL teams increasingly interested in versatile quarterbacks capable of running the read option, Manuel's pro prospects look brighter.

Coming: FSU has a deep reserve of QB talent in Clint Trickett, Jacob Coker and Jameis Winston. The question is which one of them can take over the job on a full-time basis. Trickett enters spring practice atop the depth chart, but Coker and Winston have too much talent to cede the job without a fight.

2. Right tackle

Going: Menelik Watson's time at Florida State amounted to only about eight months, but he made his presence felt. The junior college transfer anchored FSU's offensive line in 2012, and since announcing his intentions to enter the NFL draft -- something of a surprise to FSU coaches -- his profile has steadily increased. Several recent mock drafts have Watson as a first-round selection.

Coming: The obvious answer at right tackle would be Bobby Hart, who started eight games there as a freshman before being relegated to a reserve role last season. Hart's maturity, attitude and relationship with line coach Rick Trickett have all been called into question at times, however, making him anything but a safe bet to win the job. Further complicating matters, FSU lost one of its top recruits in Austin Golson, leaving just two commitments in what was supposed to be a big offensive line class.

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