Florida State Seminoles: Giorgio Newberry

The image is now part of Florida State lore, etched into the history books for all time. Jameis Winston lofts a pass into the end zone in the final minute of the national championship game. As he’d done so often in 2013, Kelvin Benjamin -- all 6-foot-5, 240 pounds of him -- overwhelmed his defender and hauled it in for the score.

The touchdown was the capper in the Seminoles’ third national title, but it was also the finale to Benjamin’s career in Tallahassee. He’s off to the NFL, where he’s projected as a potential first-round selection.

Now, Florida State is left to find a replacement, and Jimbo Fisher has a sense of humor about the difficulty of the task, joking with reporters he’d simply stack two of his current receivers atop each other.

At least Fisher can laugh about it, but the truth is, Florida State simply doesn’t have an obvious replacement because, well, players like Benjamin don’t come around very often.

Benjamin wasn’t always the most refined route runner or sure-handed receiver, but his raw physical ability was unparalleled. He was a mismatch every time he was on the field. While Florida State retains its best receiver in Rashad Greene, has some developing talent in Kermit Whitfield, Jesus Wilson and Isaiah Jones, and has three prized prospects arriving this summer, none provide the same physically imposing target that Benjamin did last season.

So, who picks up the slack for the 89 targets Benjamin received from Winston last season (not to mention the 74 for Kenny Shaw or the 38 for FSU’s departed backs)?

Fisher’s answer is probably somewhat accurate. The young receivers will all play their part, but none are likely to replace Benjamin’s production on their own. It will have to be a combined effort, and the new arrivals will need some time to adjust to the college game.

Of the receivers that remain, Jones is the tallest at 6-4, but he’s 50 pounds lighter than Benjamin and perhaps the least refined of the Seminoles’ current receiving corps. No other receiver on the roster -- including the incoming freshmen -- measures taller than 6-2. And size does matter. Since Fisher took over as playcaller in 2007, FSU has always had at least one receiver 6-5 or taller catch at least 30 passes for at least 450 yards. That won’t happen in 2014.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean Florida State will be without a physical mismatch in the passing game. It’s just likely that mismatch will come from its tight end.

Last season, Nick O'Leary blossomed to the tune of 33 catches for 557 yards and seven touchdowns. It was a breakthrough campaign for the junior tight end widely considered among the best in the nation coming out of high school.

O’Leary’s big season was a necessity, too. Florida State had no other options at the position after Christo Kourtzidis transferred and Kevin Haplea went down with a knee injury. Giorgio Newberry was moved from defensive end to tight end, but he was targeted just twice all year, once resulting in an ugly interception when Winston attempted to force the ball to his makeshift tight end against Wake Forest.

Now, there is some depth. Haplea is healthy. So, too, is redshirt freshman Jeremy Kerr. Two more tight ends arrive this summer. None possess O’Leary’s skill set as a receiver, but all could fit as blockers should FSU decide to run a two-tight end set with any regularity.



But O’Leary (6-3, 245 pounds) again will be crucial this season. He was targeted 42 times last season. Aside from Greene, all other returning receivers were targeted a combined 18 times by Winston last year. Winston routinely referred to O’Leary as his favorite target. That O'Leary caught eight of nine passes thrown his way on third down and had five grabs in the end zone only reinforced Winston's faith in him.

Still, three of O’Leary’s red-zone catches came in Week 1. After hauling in five catches for 161 yards against Clemson, O’Leary didn’t have more than three catches or 55 yards in any game the remainder of the year. He scored just once in FSU’s last seven contests. He was shut out in the national title game.

So why did O’Leary disappear as the year went on? It was likely as much because of FSU’s needs for him to be a blocker and Benjamin’s emergence as the physically dominant downfield target as it was any regression by O’Leary. Neither will be an issue in 2014, and Fisher said he’d like to see O’Leary’s receptions reach the 45 to 50 range by year’s end.

“You can do a lot of different things with Nick,” Fisher said. “He’s grown into this offense. I think he will be critical."

No, Florida State won’t have another Kelvin Benjamin this season. The Seminoles would be lucky to get another receiver with that skill set and body type again this decade. But there is talent at the position, as Fisher has made clear, and there is still a player who can provide some brute force in the passing game. It’s just a matter of opening things up for O’Leary and seeing if he can take the next step in an already promising career.

Karlos Williams' move a worthy experiment

September, 13, 2013
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- On the first carry of his first practice as a running back, Karlos Williams burst through the whole with the same ferocity he'd displayed as a hard-hitting safety. He charged upfield, found linebacker Telvin Smith waiting, and delivered a massive blow.

[+] EnlargeKarlos Williams
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreAs a kick returner, Karlos Williams proved to have some skills with the ball in his hands.
This is why Jimbo Fisher is so intrigued by the possibilities of Williams, a former five-star recruit with a unique combination of size and speed, as an offensive threat. It also underscored some of the subtleties of the job Williams still needs time to figure out.

Williams smacked into Smith's shoulder, a potentially devastating blow to one of FSU's key defenders during an otherwise low-key drill during a bye-week practice session. Smith was livid. The two players -- colleagues on defense just days before -- tussled, with Smith emphatically reminding Williams that a reasonable level of caution is required on the practice field.

"We like to go hard," Smith said, "but at the same time, you've got to be smart."

The two quickly ironed out their differences, and Smith said he's eager to see Williams pulverize a few linebackers Saturday against Nevada. That might happen, too. Fisher insists Williams, who has practiced at tailback for just a week, will be a regular part of FSU's backfield rotation.

Fisher said he's optimistic this will be a smooth transition for Williams, and the Seminoles' coach has a track record to support his hunch. He's turned back-up defenders into all-conference stars on offense and converted underutilized backs and receivers into first-round NFL draft picks on defense. But change isn't always easy, which makes the Williams experiment all the more interesting.

"There's going to be a learning curve," Fisher said. "I don't mean he's going to run out there, look like Jim Brown. I don't mean that. There'll be a learning curve, but it's not as drastic as you'd think."

Williams played tailback in high school, too, so he's familiar with the basic concepts. His work on defense also gave him some behind-the-scenes insight into how to attack the opposition. With the ball in his hands, Fisher said Williams is a natural, making cuts and finding running lanes on instinct.

If it were up to Fisher entirely, Williams might have made this move a year ago, but he had to wait until Williams was ready.

"It's what I think you can be, where I think your best future is, and where you can help this football team," Fisher said. "But if you force somebody to do something they don't want to do, they're not going to be good at it."

Fisher's history suggests his instincts are rarely wrong. At LSU, he pushed for position changes for Devery Henderson and Corey Webster. Both went on to successful NFL careers at their new positions. At Florida State, Fisher pushed Xavier Rhodes to move from receiver to corner -- a move, Fisher joked, that resulted in Rhodes giving his coach the silent treatment for months. Rhodes was drafted in the first round of this year's NFL draft. The same might happen for left tackle Cameron Erving. He began as a defensive tackle, but Fisher prodded him to make a switch, and his cache with NFL scouts skyrocketed virtually overnight.

Even for Erving, a two-star recruit with a limited track record on either side of the ball, it wasn't an easy sales pitch. When Fisher first approached him about a move, Erving was reluctant. Like Williams, it took him a year to concede.

"It was hard to swallow at first," Erving said. "But I wanted this team to do well, and anything I can do for this team, it's over. It's done."

The moves made of necessity tend to be the tougher adjustments. Fisher tabbed redshirt sophomore Giorgio Newberry to move from defensive end to tight end before the start of fall camp, a decision driven by a massive run of attrition on the offensive side.

Newberry had shown plenty of promise as a pass rusher, but he'd yet to secure a starting job. The move to tight end didn't offer an obvious upgrade, but he understood the reason behind the request.

"I looked at it as helping the team out first," Newberry said. "When it comes to the team, I'll do anything, sacrifice anything. But it's a big sacrifice."

Newberry said it took him the entirety of fall camp to begin feeling comfortable in his new role, and he's still not sold on the change as permanent. When the season ends, he hopes to reevaluate his status. That's part of Fisher's pitch, too.

"Sometimes you make a mistake," Fisher said. "You move a guy, then you move him back."

Fisher insists Williams wasn't a bust at safety, though it's clear the one-time top recruit wasn’t living up to expectations. Instead, Fisher said, the move represents a chance to blossom into something special.

"He's 6-1, 232 pounds, runs a 10.5 100-meters -- can catch, can run, is very natural with the ball in his hand," Fisher said. "He can change numbers on a scoreboard."

While Fisher says the learning curve at running back might not be as steep as other positions, Williams' timetable to master the particulars is limited. He'll be learning on the fly, left with immense physical skills to cover up a limited foundation at the position.

Still, Fisher sees promise. So, too, do Williams' teammates. Smith has the sore shoulder to prove it.

"He's got that energy, got that motor, and his legs don't stop moving," Smith said.

It's an experiment, but it's not an arbitrary one. Fisher's history suggests he's a man who understands where talent is best utilized, and in Williams' case, standing on the sideline as a backup safety wasn't ideal.

Whether the experiment pays off isn't really the point, Fisher said. It's whether the risk was worth taking.

"Sometimes you can be really good at one thing and great at another," Fisher said. "We'll see."

Seminoles in preparations for Pitt

August, 26, 2013
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jimbo Fisher finally put the biggest question of fall camp to rest Friday, officially naming Jameis Winston his starting quarterback. But if Winston's position on the depth chart finalized one lingering issue, a handful of other questions remain as the Seminoles begin their final week of preparation for the season opener at Pittsburgh.

Here's a quick rundown of what's left on Florida State's preseason to-do list:

Developing receivers: A knee injury will keep Jarred Haggins on the sideline all season, meaning Florida State is now down three senior wide receivers. Add in a finger injury that has limited junior Rashad Greene for the past week, and a position that figured to be among the deepest on the Seminoles' roster is now a major concern. Greene should be fine for the start of the season, but it's apparent that Florida State will still need to rely on a trio of freshmen to step up. Fisher has raved about Jesus Wilson throughout camp, and Levonte Whitfield and Isaiah Jones have talent to spare, but the transition to the college game is rarely a seamless one.

Dan Hicks
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesDefensive end Dan Hicks, who missed all of 2012 with a knee injury, is still wearing No. 6. So is cornerback Nick Waisome. One of them will have to change numbers before next Monday.
Grasping the defense: The response from players has been universally upbeat, but even the most optimistic of Florida State's defenders admit there's still work to be done in learning Jeremy Pruitt's new defensive scheme. Florida State ranked in the top three nationally in total defense in each of the past two seasons, and there's enough buzz among the returning players to think this year's unit could be even better, but Pruitt's scheme is a challenge. The team has worked extensively on mastering the nuance throughout fall camp, but when the season begins next week, Pruitt said fans might see a more watered-down version. "When it comes to game week, we're only going to call what they know," Pruitt said. "You throw a lot of stuff at them, hope part holds, and as the season progresses, you pull out what you need each week."

Depth at tight end: Fisher tried to put a happy face on the situation when camp opened, but the lack of depth at tight end remains a major concern. Giorgio Newberry made the switch from defensive end just a week before camp began, and while he's got the size to do the job, he's definitely a work in progress. Freshman Jeremy Kerr remains sidelined with a knee injury, and Fisher continues to tinker with options, using freshman defensive end Davarez Bryant at tight end during practice last week. While Fisher is eagerly toying with his options, the fact remains that starter Nick O'Leary is going to need to shoulder the burden for a thin group behind him.

Two for six: It's perhaps the silliest debate of camp, but the implications could be significant. When defensive end Dan Hicks switched from tight end this spring, he kept his old uniform number. The problem, however, is that cornerback Nick Waisome was already wearing the No. 6 jersey. Since then, neither player has been willing to give it up, meaning FSU can't use Hicks and Waisome -- both projected starters -- on the field at the same time. Fisher said he's leaving it up to the players to decide, likely in hopes one would be mature enough to choose playing time over a jersey number, but thus far neither player has caved.

Playing time for rookies: The freshman receivers figure to be necessities on offense this season, but beyond that, it's tough to tell where the rest of the newcomers fit in. Running back Ryan Green, cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive end DeMarcus Walker are among the most impressive freshmen of the fall, but Fisher said he wouldn't be surprised if the great majority of this year's class avoids a redshirt. Aside from Kerr, quarterback John Franklin and a couple of the offensive linemen, virtually every member of the Class of 2013 remains in the mix for playing time.

Secondary shake-up: It's a good problem to have, but Florida State's logjam of talent in the defensive backfield still leaves some question marks as the season approaches. When Lamarcus Joyner shifted from safety to corner, the questions about playing time began, and Pruitt has been quiet about potential answers. Joyner, Waisome, Ramsey, Ronald Darby and a slew of others are in the mix for regular reps, and Fisher has hinted that the Seminoles' defensive backs will be rotating early and often.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- On the line, Florida State checks in at an average of 317 pounds. In the backfield, James Wilder Jr. cuts the frame of a linebacker and delivers hits accordingly. For good measure, the Seminoles have even moved 280-pound former defensive end Giorgio Newberry to tight end.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
AP Photo/Don Juan Moore Jimbo Fisher is looking for Florida State to become more physical in its short-yardage offense this season.
Even with all that heft bearing down on defensive fronts in 2013, Jimbo Fisher isn't satisfied. He's toying with the idea of adding a few more big bodies to the mix in the form of defensive linemen Jacobbi McDaniel (6-0, 295) and Mario Edwards Jr. (6-3, 278), who have both gotten reps at fullback this fall.

In other words, Fisher isn't playing it safe when it comes to moving the pile on short yardage.

"Just because they're big doesn't mean they'll block people," Fisher said, "but we have a chance to be very physical at the point."

That's a sizable understatement, but Fisher realizes the significance of success on those short-yardage plays, and it's an area where he sees room for improvement in 2013.

It's not that the Seminoles were bad in short yardage last season. In fact, they made some dramatic strides from a dismal performance in 2011.

Overall, FSU converted 57 percent of it's short-yardage plays (2 yards or fewer to go) last season, good for seventh in the ACC and up 14 percentage points from the year before, when the Seminoles were dead last in the league. Florida State averaged 4.6 yards per rush in short-yardage last year, which led all ACC teams.

The momentous improvement from year to year ought to be cause for celebration, but there is some gray area to the numbers.

Yes, Florida State made a big leap forward in its short-yardage success in 2012, but the improvement in those situations was far less dramatic than the overall running game, which nearly doubled its production from 2011.

FSU scored 40 touchdowns on the ground last season, second-best in the ACC and ninth in the nation, but its goal-line conversion rate was just fifth in the league.

On third-and-short last season, FSU converted a woeful 54 percent -- ninth-best in the conference. Fisher's crew wriggled out of trouble by converting all three of its fourth-down tries, including a game-saving run by Wilder against Virginia Tech, but there's no doubt that was a bit too close for comfort.

But perhaps most importantly, Florida State had a legitimate size advantage at the point of impact in most games, and Fisher expects his unit to take advantage. With that in mind, he's doubling down on that idea this fall by bringing McDaniel and Edwards over from the defensive line.

"With those other guys, you've got to have some heart to stand in front of that and actually stand it up," Wilder said. "Jacobbi, what's he, 280, 300? Boy, you've got to have some heart to hop in front of that. It definitely opens up holes."

That's the plan anyway. Of course, size isn't everything, as Florida State has learned in the past.

The move from defense to offense isn't exactly rocket science, Fisher admits, but there is some nuance to the job. McDaniel and Edwards both have the athleticism to complement their heft, but they'll also need a little seasoning in the role.

"It's a lot harder on offense than it is on defense," Fisher said. "You've got to find [the opposition]. On defense, they're coming to you. It's a little different, but they're both very athletic and fluid, so they do it pretty natural."

The concept isn't entirely new for Florida State either. Former defensive end Bjoern Werner handled the job a handful of times in the past few seasons, too. What's different about this year is that longtime fullback Lonnie Pryor has moved on, and the backfield shakeup at least offers some room for innovation.

In fact, McDaniel hasn't even ruled out a little change-of-pace in the role, saying he hopes to grab a pass or two when the defense is least expecting it.

"I'm going to take full advantage of that," McDaniel said. "I'm going up for it, and I'm bringing it down. I still have it. Every day before practice we're playing catch. It's still there."

That may be pushing the limits of Fisher's grand experiment, but the bottom line remains the same. Florida State figures to have a distinct advantage when it comes to sheer bulk this season, and the Seminoles want to make sure that translates into an elite short-yardage offense.

"Those boys just want to go back there and hit something," Wilder said of his new backfield mates. "[They're] like me. They need that contact, and they can open up a hole for me and the other running backs."
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."

FSU's fall camp position battles

August, 4, 2013
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State opens fall camp this week, and while the bulk of the starting lineup appears firmly in place, there are a handful of key position battles to watch as the Seminoles set their sights on the season opener in Pittsburgh.

[+] EnlargeMario Edwards Jr.
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesDefensive end Mario Edwards Jr. was the No. 1 high school prospect in the nation in the Class of 2012.
Defensive end

The candidates: Mario Edwards Jr. (So.), Dan Hicks (RSSr.), Giorgio Newberry (RSSo.), Chris Casher (RSFr.), DeMarcus Walker (Fr.), Davarez Bryant (Fr.), Desmond Hollin (Jr.)

The situation: Florida State lost three top pass rushers to the NFL from last year's team, leaving a major void in a key area. Edwards appears all but certain to earn one of the two starting jobs after closing out 2012 in that role. On the opposite side, however, things are up for grabs. Newberry figured to be the top candidate entering spring practice, but Hicks -- nine months removed from ACL surgery -- made a big push. Walker might have been in the mix, too, but NCAA eligibility issues kept him on the sideline after he enrolled early.

The projection: Hicks' strong spring vaulted him to the top of the depth chart for now, and it's clear he's ready to play a sizable role after being shuffled to tight end a year ago. Odds are, however, this will be an area of some mixing and matching early on, with Hicks, Newberry and Casher all likely to see playing time alongside Edwards.

Linebacker

The candidates: Terrance Smith (RSSo.), Reggie Northrup (So.), Ukeme Eligwe (RSFr.), Nigel Terrell (RSJr.) and five incoming freshmen

The situation: Seniors Telvin Smith and Christian Jones offer a formidable pairing atop the depth chart, but the rest of the linebacker position remains in flux. None of the candidates have any significant experience, and while Terrance Smith looked to take an early lead as the starter on the strong side throughout the spring, there are endless possibilities on how the two-deep at each position might shake out.

The projection: Because FSU will run a majority of its defensive plays in nickel and dime sets, there may not be a need for a third linebacker routinely. Still, the coaching staff knows it needs to develop depth behind its two seniors, and identifying a pecking order is crucial. Northrup, Smith and Eligwe are likely the top contenders for regular playing time, but freshman Freddie Stevenson was an early enrollee who impressed this spring, and freshman Matthew Thomas might have more upside than anyone at the position.

Quarterback

The candidates: Jameis Winston (RSFr.), Jacob Coker (RSSo.), Sean Maguire (RSFr.)

The situation: What was a wide-open, four-man race this spring now looks to be Winston's job to lose. He was impressive throughout spring practice, dominated the spring game and has enjoyed immense hype and enthusiasm from the fan base ever since. Still, Fisher has been quick to point out that nothing is set in stone at the position yet, and Coker, who endured a foot injury that limited him this spring, figures to keep the pressure on Winston as fall camp begins.

The projection: In spite of Fisher's pronouncements, it would be a shock if anyone other than Winston got the starting nod in Week 1. By all indications, the redshirt freshman has continued to develop this summer, has handled all the publicity with aplomb, and his potential is undeniable.

Defensive back

The candidates: Lamarcus Joyner (Sr.), Nick Waisome (Jr.), Ronald Darby (So.), Tyler Hunter (Jr.), P.J. Williams (So.) and others

The situation: This falls under the category of good problems to have, but FSU's wealth of talent in the secondary is causing at least some confusion on the depth chart. Joyner switches from safety to corner this year, leaving five talented and experienced corners vying for limited playing time alongside presumptive starters at safety Terrence Brooks and Karlos Williams. The versatility of the group -- particularly Joyner, Hunter and P.J. Williams -- offers some options for new DC Jeremy Pruitt, but finding enough playing time for all the talent on the roster may be a tall order.

The projection: There is likely to be a healthy dose of mixing and matching this year, with Karlos Williams getting reps at linebacker, Joyner, Hunter and P.J. Williams shifting between corner, nickel and safety, and other options like Keelin Smith and Colin Blake vying for reps, too. Still, Joyner is the unquestioned leader, so his playing time should be secure, and Darby, Waisome and Hunter will likely grab the lion's share of what remains.

Wide receiver

The candidates: Kelvin Benjamin (RSSo.), Christian Green (RSJr.), Willie Haulstead (RSSr.), Levonte Whitfield (Fr.), Jarred Haggins (Sr.), Isaiah Jones (Fr.), Jesus Wilson (Fr.)

The situation: Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw have a firm grip on starting jobs, but injuries, defections and suspensions have seriously limited FSU's depth in the passing game. Fisher needs at least one or two more receivers to step up into bigger roles, with none looming larger than the uber-talented Benjamin. Green and Haulstead -- afterthoughts a year ago -- are aiming for comeback seasons, while Whitfield's speed makes him an immediate threat, and Wilson has garnered early praise for his work in summer seven-on-seven drills.

The projection: Benjamin is perhaps the biggest wild card on Florida State's roster. His talent is immense, but he's had difficulty showing consistency during his first two years in Tallahassee. If he blossoms into a star in 2013, it would be a huge boon to the Seminoles' offense, but don't be surprised if at least one of the freshmen manages to make some noise, too.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State had 10 players finish in the top four at their position in preseason All-ACC balloting, which should underscore the significant amount of talent Jimbo Fisher is bringing back for the 2013 season. But while Lamarcus Joyner, Timmy Jernigan and Christian Jones provide a strong foundation, and Karlos Williams, Mario Edwards Jr. and Jameis Winston offer ample potential for the future, the most interesting portion of the Seminoles' roster might be the players in the middle -- established veterans whose potential still far outweighs their production.

As FSU gets set to open fall camp next week, we're looking at five players approaching a make-or-break season. Another marginal year could mean they're labeled career disappointments, while big seasons could push the Seminoles to a second straight conference championship.

Nick O'Leary (Jr./TE)

[+] EnlargeNick O'Leary
Elsa/Getty ImagesNick O'Leary has considerable talent, but mental mistakes have held the junior back.
O'Leary arrived as perhaps the best tight end prospect ever to attend Florida State, but his first two years have been rather pedestrian -- 33 catches, 416 yards, three touchdowns and a handful of bone-headed miscues. With backup Kevin Haplea done for the year with an ACL injury and Christo Koutzidis' decision to transfer, there's no margin for error for O'Leary in his junior season. He'll be a crucial part of both the running game as a blocker and a valuable asset for a new quarterback as a safety valve in the passing game.

Giorgio Newberry (RS So./DE)

At 6-foot-6, 280 pounds with good athleticism and mobility, Newberry is a physical beast that has tantalized coaches and fans for two full years. What he hasn't done is provide much actual impact on the field. He opened last season as part of FSU's rotation at defensive end, but even after two starters succumbed to season-ending injuries, his playing time remained limited. He showed some flashes of improvement this spring, but still appears to be behind Dan Hicks on the depth chart.

Kelvin Benjamin (RSSo./WR)

Perhaps no player on Florida State's roster has enjoyed as much hype and excitement as Benjamin through the past two seasons. He's been a practice-field star, making acrobatic catches and using his sizable frame to push defenders around downfield. The problem, Fisher said, is that Benjamin has worried too much about making those same highlight-reel plays on game day rather than focus on doing the little things right. Coaches and teammates have assured Benjamin is making strides this offseason, and that could be crucial for a receiving corps in need of a viable No. 3 option with senior Greg Dent suspended indefinitely.

Bobby Hart (Jr./RT)

Hart's mental lapses have been well documented, and he spent virtually all of 2012 in line coach Rick Trickett's dog house. That trend might have continued into 2013 had Menelik Watson not bolted for the NFL, but as it stands, Hart appears the heir apparent at right tackle -- for better or worse. He showed good signs of improved play and, perhaps as important, improved maturity this spring. If he can live up to his recruiting pedigree as a junior, Florida State could have one of the top lines in the country.

Terrance Smith (RS So./LB)

Florida State appears in good shape at the top of the linebacker depth chart, with Jones and Telvin Smith both among the ACC's best. Beyond the two seniors, however, there's virtually no experienced depth. That's where Terrance Smith steps in. He's entering his third season on defense and has played in 15 games already -- though largely on special teams. He spent the spring working with the first-team defense on the strong side, and while he might not be the most talented of the young linebackers, he's the oldest and can help set the tone for the rest of the group.
Timmy JerniganBob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsDefensive tackle Timmy Jernigan hasn't only emerged as one of the best players of FSU's deep 2011 class; he's become one of the nation's best at his position.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jimbo Fisher lost 11 players from last year's ACC champions to the NFL draft, but he's not too worried about a dip in talent on this season's roster.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Position/Class: DE/Redshirt senior.

What he's done: Hicks turned in two solid seasons as a reserve defensive end in 2010 and 2011, backing up Brandon Jenkins and tallying 34 tackles (7.5 for a loss) and two sacks. But with FSU enjoying an abundance of pass rushers and a crunch at tight end, Hicks was moved to offense before the 2012 season. Whether the move would've been a positive for Hicks remains a mystery. He tore his ACL in fall camp and missed the season, and by the time spring practice arrived in 2013, he was back at his old position.

Where he's at: The return to defensive end for Hicks makes a lot of sense. FSU lost three veteran ends to the NFL this offseason, and Hicks brings a level of experience that the rest of the group lacks. Still, he wasn't immediately pegged for a starting job. It took a stellar performance during spring practice to turn heads, but by the time FSU wrapped up its annual Garnet and Gold Game, the senior appeared safely in position to win a spot atop the depth chart.

What's to come: Hicks has more experience than any of his colleagues at defensive end, but even he's new to the system being put in place by Jeremy Pruitt and Sal Sunseri. Still, no one appeared to grasp the scheme quicker this spring than Hicks, and after a star-crossed four years in Tallahassee, he was clearly eager to make up for lost time. His size and strength should make him a capable replacement for the departed Jenkins, and even if he shares reps with Giorgio Newberry or Chris Casher, Hicks figures to post career highs across the board and potentially develop into one of the better pass rushers in the conference.
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. 25 Giorgio Newberry

Position/Class: DE/Redshirt sophomore.

What he's done: After sitting out the 2011 season as a redshirt, Newberry figured to be a central player in Florida State's rotation at defensive end in 2012. When the season started, he appeared well on his way to securing that job, too. He opened as the primary backup for Bjoern Werner, and in his debut against Murray State, Newberry forced a fumble and recovered another. But it was mostly downhill from there. He finished the season with just 13 tackles, saw playing time diminish as the season went along, and by the time Cornellius Carradine went down with an ACL injury in December, it was Mario Edwards Jr., not Newberry, who was the clear choice to replace him.

Where he's at: If Newberry's progress in 2012 proved to be a bit disappointing, he earned a significant reprieve this year when Werner departed early for the NFL, leaving both starting defensive ends spots vacant. Edwards again appears to have a firm grip on one, but Newberry entered the spring as the leading contender for the other job. It was clear from the outset that new ends coach Sal Sunseri saw promise in Newberry, and he rode the sophomore hard throughout spring practice. Whether the added motivation worked, however, remains to be seen. By spring's end, it was Dan Hicks who had turned in the more impressive performance, but plenty of hope remains that Newberry can step up this fall.

What's to come: Newberry has plenty of natural talent, and his combination of size (6-foot-6, 275 pounds) means coaches will always be intrigued with what he might be capable of doing. This spring, he got a chance to test his skills in coverage, too, and that appears to be a role he could excel in. But the promise of Newberry's future has never been in doubt. What's troubling is how few steps he's taken toward achieving it. Sunseri praised Newberry's work ethic this spring, and with more time to study under the new defensive coaching staff, perhaps things click for him when fall camp begins. Regardless, he won't have the luxury of learning on the sideline in 2013. Ready or not, Newberry will be asked to play a significant role on a unit thin on experienced pass rushers.
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. 28 Chris Casher

Position/Class: DE/RSFr.

What he's done: It's been two years since Casher took a meaningful snap on the football field. His senior season in high school was derailed by eligibility issues after transferring schools, and a knee injury ended his 2012 campaign at FSU after just a few reps. That's meant a good deal of rust for the talented defensive end, but he was healthy throughout spring practice and managed to show some flashes of potential under new position coach Sal Sunseri.

Where he's at: There's no doubting Casher's talent, and at 6-foot-4, 248 pounds, he's got a good blend of speed and strength. But corralling all that talent into a productive season is going to be a challenge thanks to all the downtime the past two years. Casher was solid this spring, and he benefitted from new DC Jeremy Pruitt's system that asked him to drop into coverage more and occasionally work as a stand-up rusher in a 3-4 set. Those are all things that complement Casher's skill set and allowed him to make a strong enough impression that playing time seems likely this fall. Still, he's behind Mario Edwards Jr., Dan Hicks and Giorgio Newberry at defensive end, and he'll face a challenge from two new freshmen this fall.

What's to come: Pruitt's scheme fits Casher perfectly, and that should work to his advantage this fall. Edwards appears secure in a job on one side of the line, and Hicks had a strong enough spring to vault to the top of the class on the other. But Casher's athleticism might make him a slightly better fit long-term, and the slow development of Newberry opens the door to an expanded role. Still, simply getting back on the field and contributing in any way in 2013 would be a big step forward for Casher. At a minimum, he'll see action as a reserve end and on special teams, and his future remains bright.
This week, NoleNation is digging into the most hotly debated topics of the summer in an effort to separate fact from fiction as the Seminoles get set for the 2013 season.

First up: The defense.

Fact or Fiction: Under new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, Florida State's defense can expect even more production in 2013 than it had a year ago.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It's Rankings Week at Nole Nation, and each day we'll be counting down the top teams, players and matchups of the 2013 season. In our last installment, we look at FSU's top recruiting needs for the Class of 2014.

1. Offensive tackle

It's been a relatively prolonged dry spell on the recruiting trail for FSU when it comes to the offensive line, with tackle in particular being a concern. As it stands, the Seminoles have three natural tackles projected on the roster beyond 2013, but Bobby Hart remains a wild card after an up-and-down two years, Wilson Bell has yet to arrive on campus and Cameron Erving could be headed to the NFL early if he turns in a strong junior campaign. Florida State needs to make a splash with this class, adding not only at least one or two game-ready options, but depth as well.

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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.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- By any significant measure, the difference between Timmy Jernigan's role as a reserve the past two seasons and the starting job that awaits him in 2013 shouldn't be a major overhaul.

Jernigan was already on the field for a majority of snaps throughout most games, and his impact on the defensive line already included more tackles than any other FSU interior lineman in 2012. Still, there's something about hearing his name announced before each game and knowing he's officially secured the job of starter on a unit that's been among the best in the nation in recent years that Jernigan relishes.

"I've been waiting a long time," he said. "So I'm really excited about it."

Jernigan's enthusiasm isn't entirely inflated either. Sure, his playing time isn't likely to shift dramatically, and he's already proven he's capable of handling a sizable role on the defense. But what's truly different for the junior defensive tackle in 2013 isn't about reps or tackles but about his place in the hierarchy of the defense.

For the past two seasons, FSU's line has been the foundation of its defensive scheme. The unit has helped the Seminoles finish in the top three in the nation stopping the run in both 2011 and 2012, and last month, it sent five players on to the NFL, including all of last year's starters.

That, of course, means a massive overhaul for the unit, but thanks to Jernigan's presence -- along with potential breakout stars like Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman -- the expectations haven't dipped much. And that's a burden Jernigan hadn't been asked to carry before.

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

[+] EnlargeTimmy Jernigan
AP Photo/Phil SearsAs a sophomore, Timmy Jernigan led all FSU defensive tackles in tackles last season.
When it comes to production, there's little reason to question Jernigan's ability to handle a bigger share of the spotlight. As a reserve the past two seasons, he's racked up 76 tackles, including 14 for a loss, and four sacks. Despite playing behind Anthony McCloud and Everett Dawkins -- both in NFL camps now -- Jernigan established himself as a star, and he's already currying attention as a potential first-round selection in next year's draft.

That attention is nice, he admits, but his bigger role in 2013 isn't about burnishing his resume for the next level.

"It inspired me to work even harder toward what I want," Jernigan said. "I'm not really worried about the NFL or anything like that because there's so much more I feel like I have to do here in Tallahassee. I'll worry about that when it's time."

What Jernigan needs to do this season isn't simply a repeat of past performance either.

Jimbo Fisher has been quick to shrug off concerns about the massive changes on the defensive line, noting that Jernigan and Demonte McAllister were already FSU's most productive tackles, but it's hard to ignore the notion that life gets more difficult without established talent surrounding them.

That means Jernigan has to pick up the slack as the centerpiece of the line and help bring along the younger talent alongside him.

Before an ankle injury sidelined him midway through the spring, Jernigan was taking reps alongside a bevy of potential partners on the line, from veterans like Jacobbi McDaniel and Giorgio Newberry to youngsters like Edwards and Goldman. The rotations, he expects, will continue well into the fall, but he admits it's hard not to be impressed by the potential of some of the young guns.

"I like what they're doing because they're asking questions, they're very humble," Jernigan said. "They understand we have all the talent in the world up front but the biggest thing is we've got to get everything going. Those guys are going to be just fine. It's just a matter of understanding what you're doing. Not understanding slows you down, but those guys are going to be just fine."

Of course, Jernigan is dealing with a bit of a learning curve, too. While his position group was spared in the overhaul of FSU's coaching staff this offseason, the new, aggressive schemes being implemented by defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt have added some wrinkles to what had been a relatively straightforward approach.

But like the move from reserve to starter, Jernigan sees the changes as an opportunity to impress.

"That's what I like," Jernigan said. "I like to get off the ball and attack blockers rather than absorb them. It's going to be a positive. I'm very excited about it."

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