Florida State Seminoles: Justin Shanks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"It's definitely going to affect [the defense] because Eddie's a big part of our defense," Mitchell said. "He's in a lot of our defensive packages. We're going to have to make some changes if he can't go. He's a very important part of our defense."
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State had the No.1 pass defense in 2013. It’s hard to believe it, but the secondary could be even better in 2014, with four possible first-round picks starting in the backfield.

Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher knows what he is going to get out of his defensive backs. However, the front seven is looking for players to emerge to alleviate the burden of losing tackle Timmy Jernigan and linebacker Telvin Smith. The defensive line needs a handful of role players to complement the starters, and the linebacking corps doesn’t have a definitive first-team unit just yet.

“I want to see those [starting linemen] take responsibility, and I want to see the quality depth behind it so we can get a quality rotation,” Fisher said. “I know we have plenty of guys capable.

[+] EnlargeEddie Goldman
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsEddie Goldman will start at defensive tackle, but Jimbo Fisher is hunting quality behind the junior.
“The leadership role at linebacker, Terrance [Smith] is there but who steps up at Mike linebacker? Who’s going to become the pass rushers, who’s going to be the DPR [designated pass rushers], who’s going to be the nickel ’backers, who’s going to be the first- and second-down ’backers?”

Standing at the podium for his first fall camp news conference, Fisher still displayed a palpable confidence as he elaborated on the defense’s questions, but he was cataloging them so he could return to them in another two weeks to see which have been answered.

Florida State has what looks to be a clearly defined set of starters on the defensive line with Mario Edwards Jr., Eddie Goldman, Nile Lawrence-Stample and Chris Casher. Defensive line inherently is a position that requires a bevy of fresh bodies, though, which is why Fisher is determined to uncover quality rotational players who will allow his starters to come off the field without the defense taking a step back.

There is no shortage of options behind Florida State’s starters. There are 10 backups along the line who are either freshmen or sophomores, and they average almost 6-foot-4 and 293 pounds. Keith Bryant, Justin Shanks and DeMarcus Walker were blue-chip recruits out of high school, and the defense needs those three to become primary rotational players with the idea they could be the starters in 2015. Florida State also brought in a number of freshmen, and Fisher said, physically, they already fit the Florida State defensive lineman archetype.

The luxury Fisher has is the younger players will all be able to learn from Edwards, who is in his second year in this defensive system but in his first as the unquestioned leader of the defensive line. The former No. 1 high school recruit, few players nationally are as physically gifted as Edwards.

“He’s so daggone big and athletic. He’s still 300 pounds, but we played a lot with those guys at LSU, 300-pound ends,” said Fisher, calling upon his days as an assistant in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “When you can do a standing back flip and a run a 5-flat [in the 40-yard dash] and bend like he does, you don’t worry.”

Behind the defensive line, Smith returns as a starter in the linebacker corps, but it is a tossup as to who will partner with him. Ukeme Eligwe, who is recovering from a Lisfranc injury, E.J. Levenberry and Reggie Northrup all played at least 13 games last season, and Matthew Thomas was shelved after four games in 2013 to repair a balky shoulder and preserve his redshirt. Thomas was a five-star recruit and one of the top players during the spring. When a player has a good practice, Fisher likes to say he “flashed,” and routinely this spring Fisher said “No. 6 flashed,” referring to Thomas.

As Fisher balances each player’s talents and weaknesses, the potential deciding factor ultimately could boil down to chemistry. Fisher said it’s often overlooked, but certain players raise their level of play when lining up next to certain teammates.

“We’ll mix and match and also see who plays well together,” Fisher said. “Sometimes people don’t look at that. Some guys play better beside certain guys, and creating those packages is going to be critical.”
Florida State opens spring practice next week, and there are plenty of big questions waiting to be answered. Before Jimbo Fisher gets his chance to weigh in on those discussions, however, we’re taking a crack at finding the answers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First up: DT Nile Lawrence-Stample

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

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

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

Outlook: There’s a lot to like about Lawrence-Stample, from his strong recruiting pedigree (he was an ESPN 150 player in 2011) to his work ethic in practice. Coaches raved about his progress last spring when he wrapped things up with four sacks and nine tackles in the Garnet & Gold game. But all that practice field success didn’t translate into a big 2013 season. Expect Lawrence-Stample again to be a hot name this spring as he works to secure a full-time starting job, but questions will linger on whether he can translate those performances to game days in the fall. Replacing Jernigan is one of the biggest concerns for Florida State in 2014, and Lawrence-Stample’s play this spring could help make it an easier transition.
Jimbo Fisher closed out his fifth straight top-10 recruiting class earlier this month, but as he has shown in years past, that doesn’t necessarily mean a bevy of big contributions from the incoming freshmen. Some seasons, such as 2011, Florida State relied heavily on the new recruits. Others, such as 2012, only a select few saw regular playing time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

FSU room to improve: Defensive line

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

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

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

Next up: Defensive line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FSU depth chart breakdown: Defense

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

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

Defensive line

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

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

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

Linebacker

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

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

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

Safety

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

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

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

Cornerback

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

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

Status: A
It says a lot about the work Fisher, Pruitt and Mark Stoops have done over the past few years that FSU can lose a player of Joyner’s caliber and still likely have the best secondary -- and best pair of starting corners -- in the country.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The 2012 signing class brought 16 new faces to Florida State, but after a full year on campus, fans have seen only a glimpse of what the group, ranked as the No. 2 class in the nation, can do.

Nine members of the 2012 class saw action last season, and only defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. earned a start. But even Edwards' progress comes with an asterisk. He was slated to redshirt when the season began, and he only worked his way onto the field -- and later, into the starting lineup -- thanks to a series of injuries.

[+] EnlargeRonald Darby
Geoff Burke/Getty ImagesCornerback Ronald Darby got considerable playing time as a freshman and will compete for a starting position next season.
After a year largely spent on the sidelines, the Class of 2012 is poised to make an impact this season. Here's how we see things shaping up.

The wild card

Marvin Bracy, WR

Bracy skipped spring practice to focus on track, and now it seems entirely possible that decision could be permanent. Bracy has world-class speed, and if he chooses to go pro as a sprinter, he'd wave goodbye to his FSU football career. A decision could come any day.

Waiting their turn

Justin Shanks, DT

Despite FSU losing its two starting tackles, the position is still chock full of talent, which has managed to overshadow Shanks -- something that's awfully hard to do to a player pushing 320 pounds.

Colin Blake, CB

Blake battled injuries early in 2012 and ended up redshirting. He might have had a chance to earn a regular role this season, but Lamarcus Joyner's move to corner likely makes the field a bit too crowded. Blake will see work on special teams, but he'll need a few starters to go down with injuries before regular playing time is available in a crowded secondary.

Sean Maguire, QB

To Maguire's credit, he conceded nothing during FSU's quarterback competition this spring. Still, the writing was on the wall. Maguire has a good arm and solid long-term potential, but the job isn't likely to be his for at least a few more years.

Under-the-radar players to watch

March, 14, 2013
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- With spring practice less than a week away, the fervor surrounding some of the most-hyped storylines of 2013 has already been raging for months. The three-way battle at quarterback, the return of Bobby Hart to the limelight, Lamarcus Joyner's move to cornerback -- Jimbo Fisher already has plenty to keep his eye on.

But while those stories will continue to headline Florida State's preparations for the 2013 season, there are a handful of other intriguing players to watch this spring. They might not be in the running for a starting job, but they should offer plenty of reasons to watch as they look to impress a new group of coaches and find their own niche for the upcoming season.

Mario Pender (RB/RFr.)

When it comes to sheer intrigue, the entirety of Florida State's returning redshirts could probably make the list -- with Jameis Winston probably atop it. But while there will be genuine interest in Justin Shanks' weight or Marvin Bracy's speed, it's Pender who likely leads the pack in non-QB buzz from fans. The highly touted tailback missed all of 2012 with a groin injury and is just now getting back into full swing. His workouts during fourth-quarter drills earned raves from Fisher, who compared his burst and home-run ability to Chris Thompson -- only Pender is a bit bigger and stronger. Does that mean a job awaits this fall? Not exactly, but he'll definitely have his coaches' attention.

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State of the Noles: Defensive Tackle 

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Timmy JerniganAP Photo/Don Juan MooreTimmy Jernigan should be one of the ACC's elite defenders in 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.

Up next, a position that will see plenty of turnover in 2013: Defensive tackle.


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Noles 2013 snapshot: Keith Bryant 

February, 14, 2013
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With national signing day now beyond us, NoleNation takes a closer look at the next crop of Seminoles.

Vitals: Defensive tackle Keith Bryant (Delray Beach, Fla./Atlantic), 6-foot-2, 292 pounds


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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.

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.

Previously: Cornerback, Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Next up: Defensive Tackles

[+] EnlargeMike Gillislee, Demonte McAllister, Christian Jones, Timmy Jernigan
Kevin Liles/US PresswireDemonte McAllister (97) took a step forward in his junior season.
2012 recap: Florida State's defensive line was as hyped as any unit in the country entering the season, and the veteran group did little to disappoint, despite a heavy dose of injuries. While the ends took top billing, it was once again the run stuffers up the middle that set the tone. Seniors Everett Dawkins and Anthony McCloud turned in their usual quiet-but-productive seasons, while Timmy Jernigan proved his freshman campaign was no fluke, blossoming into one of the most dominant interior linemen in the country as a sophomore. Demonte McAllister took a step forward as a junior and Eddie Goldman, the highly touted freshman, played sparingly but effectively. Overall, the tackles helped Florida State finish third in rush defense nationally, the second straight year it finished in the top 3.

Departures: Stalwarts Dawkins and McCloud were never the most hyped guys on FSU's defense, but for the past two seasons, they were often the foundation of a unit that dominated opposing run games. Both departed at year's end as seniors, part of a massive overhaul on the D line that will see the Seminoles replace all four of their starters. Still, there's a wealth of talent -- as many as six potential impact players -- at the tackle position that should make for a relatively smooth transition.

Arrivals: Four-star commitment DeMarcus Walker (Sandalwood/Jacksonville, Fla.) is among FSU's most prized recruits from the class of 2013, while the Seminoles will also add a top recruit from the 2009 class when senior Jacobbi McDaniel finally returns from an ankle injury that kept him out for much of the past two seasons. Redshirt freshman Justin Shanks (6-2, 340) should be an intriguing addition to the lineup as well.

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FSU's emerging stars for 2013

January, 10, 2013
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In the months before spring football begins, there will no doubt be plenty of talk about all the talent Florida State lost -- from senior leaders like Lonnie Pryor and Everett Dawkins to talented juniors like Xavier Rhodes and Bjoern Werner.

[+] EnlargeDemonte McAllister
Kim Klement/US PresswireFSU's Demonte McAllister is emerging into a force.
Those discussions will inevitably be countered by enthusiasm about the future, too. Freshman Ronald Darby had an exceptional year in 2012 and is poised to blossom into a star. Defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. got a crack at the starting role in the final two games of the season and delivered strong performances. Karlos Williams' star has been on the rise for two full seasons now, and he appears ready for a breakthrough. And, of course, the questions of who will take over at quarterback will be ubiquitous.

But as the sun sets on 2012 and the preparations for 2013 begin, here are five more players who didn't exactly earn raves last season but could prove to be significant contributors for Florida State in the season to come.

Kelvin Benjamin (So./WR)

Background: It's somewhat odd that, after more than a year of continuous hype, Benjamin appears to be flying a bit below the radar now. Chalk it up to a rather disappointing finish to 2012. After racking up 25 touches for 476 yards and four TDs in his first nine games, Benjamin mustered just seven catches for 52 yards and no scores over the final five.

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