Florida State Seminoles: ronald darby

ACC lunchtime links

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
12:00
PM ET
Lots of news out of Tallahassee ...

FSU spring spotlight: Tyler Hunter

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
11:00
AM ET
Spring practice is just a few weeks away for Florida State, and while the defending national champs return plenty of talent to make another run at a title, there are still some big question marks looming as the Seminoles begin work on the 2014 season. With that in mind, we’re looking at the five most intriguing players to watch this spring and projecting how they might fit into Jimbo Fisher’s plans in the fall.

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

Last up: S Tyler Hunter

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

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

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

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

FSU depth chart breakdown: Defense

January, 31, 2014
Jan 31
11:30
AM ET
Last week, we previewed Florida State’s offensive depth chart for the spring. This week, we’ll dig into the defense.

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

Defensive line

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

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

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

Linebacker

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

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

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

Safety

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

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

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

Cornerback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Rashad Greene (WR, 2011): Because of a midseason injury he appeared in just nine games, but Greene led FSU in catches (38), receiving yards (596) and receiving touchdowns (7). He was at his best when FSU needed him the most, hauling in a 56-yard TD against Oklahoma, racking up 98 yards and a score against Clemson and catching 12 passes for 163 yards against Wake Forest. He was named MVP of the Champs Sports Bowl after recording 99 yards against Notre Dame.

FSU's early 2014 power rankings

January, 21, 2014
Jan 21
1:30
PM ET
In the days after Florida State wrapped up its BCS National Championship run, we ran through our final Seminoles power rankings of 2013. But, of course, the football world moves quickly, and fans are already looking ahead to what could be in store for 2014. With that in mind, we’re taking an early crack at our preliminary power rankings for next season, with departing stars nixed from the countdown and emerging ones projected for 2014.

(Final 2013 ranking in parentheses.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honorable mentions: DT Eddie Goldman, G Josue Matias, G Tre' Jackson, LB Terrance Smith, S Nate Andrews, CB P.J. Williams, K Roberto Aguayo
It has been a season for the ages at Florida State, perhaps the best season in the program’s history. So filling out the end-of-year power rankings is no easy task. There’s a good case to be made for virtually any order -- well, any order after No. 1 — but this is what we came up with. (Previous rankings in parentheses.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honorable mentions: WR Kenny Shaw, LT Cameron Erving, DE Christian Jones, CB Ronald Darby, KR Kermit Whitfield, Red Lightning.
Florida State finished off a spectacular season with a national championship, and with Jameis Winston, Rashad Greene, Jalen Ramsey and a host of other stars returning for 2014, the expectations for next season are already sky high.

So if FSU is going to repeat as national champs, what are the big stumbling blocks on the road ahead? We take a look at the top five.

1. Rebuilding the defensive line.

[+] EnlargeTimmy Jernigan
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsWith Timmy Jernigan heading to the NFL, Florida State will have a big hole to fill in the middle of its line.
With Timmy Jernigan leaving early for the NFL draft -- he’s widely considered a top-15 pick — Florida State will have a huge hole in the middle of the line. But the Seminoles also need to find someone to rush off the edge, as Christian Jones did throughout the season and develop some depth after waving goodbye to Demonte McAllister and Dan Hicks. Nile Lawrence-Stample, Matthew Thomas and others could fill those voids, but it will be incumbent on emerging stars Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman to step up their games, too.

2. Developing new receivers.

It wasn’t a huge surprise, but it was nevertheless a relief when Greene decided to return for his senior season. Florida State’s receiving corps was exceptional in 2013, but it wasn’t deep. Kenny Shaw is moving on, and Kelvin Benjamin could follow. That leaves Greene as FSU’s only established, consistent receiver. Isaiah Jones, Jesus Wilson and Kermit Whitfield all got a taste of playing time in 2013, but they’ll need to do a lot more next season.

3. Finding new leaders on defense.

This might be the toughest task for Florida State. Telvin Smith, Lamarcus Joyner, Terrence Brooks, Jones and Jernigan weren’t simply the defensive standouts on the field, they were the heart and soul of the unit in the locker room. There’s still plenty of talent remaining on the unit, but no one who has had to step up and galvanize a locker room or push the younger players to work harder. Finding leaders on that side of the ball — Edwards, Goldman, Terrance Smith and Ronald Darby, perhaps — will be crucial to maintaining the unit’s immense production in 2014.

4. Managing the schedule.

If the knock on Florida State this season was that it wasn’t tested until the title game, the concern for 2014 might be that there are simply too many big tests. The Seminoles open in Dallas against Oklahoma State, but also have Clemson, Louisville, Notre Dame, Miami and Florida before the season is out. If this title was a victory for the ACC’s legitimacy on a national stage, the 2014 slate for Florida State only underscores how much tougher winning the league will be going forward.

5. Handling the hype.

It’s one thing to win when no one is expecting it. Winning when everyone has you pegged as No. 1 is a whole other challenge. Florida State will enjoy its national championship now, but in 2014, everyone will be gunning for the Seminoles, and the media scrutiny will be immense. Can Winston go a full offseason as a Heisman winner and national champion and not waver from his commitment to getting better? Can the coaching staff maintain that same level of dedication from a group that already has a title on its résumé? There’s a reason so few teams repeat as champions. It’s really hard to do.
Editor’s note: Each day this week Florida State reporter David M. Hale and Auburn reporter Greg Ostendorf will preview a position battle in Monday’s VIZIO BCS National Championship Game. Today's matchup is between Auburn’s wide receivers and Florida State’s defensive backs.

Auburn’s wide receivers: If there was ever a game for Auburn to stick to the run, this would be it. Quarterback Nick Marshall has struggled at times through the air and the Tigers are in for their most challenging test yet against a Florida State secondary that leads the nation in interceptions (25).

Expect a heavy dose of Marshall and Tre Mason running the read-option together like they’ve done all season.

Florida State still has to be wary of Auburn’s big-play ability. It starts with Sammie Coates who has emerged as a go-to wide receiver for the Tigers. He’s one of the fastest players in the SEC, if not the nation, and he leads the team with 38 catches for 841 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s second nationally in yards per catch (22.1) and all seven of his scores have come from more than 35 yards. It was his 39-yard touchdown grab in the final minute against Alabama that put Auburn in position to win that game.

The problem for the Tigers is that nobody has emerged opposite Coates. Freshman Marcus Davis had his moments early in the season, making key catches in critical situations. Ricardo Louis, who hauled in the 73-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass to beat Georgia, might be the most dangerous athlete on the team. But neither has been consistent.

When Auburn plays Florida State, it’s going to need a play in the passing game from somebody other than Coates. Whether it’s Davis, Louis or even tight end C.J. Uzomah, who’s healthy again, somebody is going to have to step up and make a play when their number is called. Nothing will come easy, though, against a talented Seminoles’ secondary.

Florida State’s secondary: Only five teams threw less often this season than Auburn, which runs the ball on 72 percent of its plays. When the Tigers do throw, however, they’ve mustered some big plays -- averaging 14 yards per completion.

The recipe for Auburn is pretty simple -- run, run, run, then go deep. It’s a plan that may run into some trouble against Florida State, however. The Seminoles’ secondary is the nation’s best for the second straight season. Lamarcus Joyner leads a deep and talented group that leads the nation in fewest yards per attempt (4.9), most interceptions (25) and lowest QBR allowed (18.1). Opponents have completed just 6 of 36 passes thrown 20 yards or more against them this year, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Coates and Louis both have good size to win some battles downfield, but Florida State can match that physicality with P.J. Williams (6-0, 190) and Ronald Darby (5-11, 190), who have both been exceptional this year. Darby has allowed just seven completions this year and allows the fifth-lowest completion percentage among AQ-conference defensive backs in the nation.

Marshall can keep some plays alive with his legs, giving his receivers a chance to get open downfield, but Florida State hasn’t been burned often this year. Sammy Watkins, Allen Hurns and Devin Street all found some success this season, which should provide a bit of optimism for Coates, but no QB has managed better than 7 yards per attempt against FSU’s secondary all year. In its last eight games, Florida State’s secondary is allowing just 4.5 yards per attempt with 6 TDs and 19 INTs.

Ostendorf: Edge Florida State

Hale: Edge Florida State
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State fans will be tearing the wrapping paper off presents tonight and tomorrow, but the Seminoles have already unwrapped a handful of surprises this year. Here’s a look at five of the biggest gifts Florida State got in 2013 en route to a berth in the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game:

[+] EnlargeKelvin Benjamin
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneKelvin Benjamin has finally lived up to his hype.
Joyner, Jones return: OK, so this was more of a late Christmas present from 2012, but when Lamarcus Joyner and Christian Jones announced in January they’d return for their senior seasons, it set the tone for what this year’s defense would be. Florida State lost all four of its starting D-linemen in the draft, taking 28.5 of the 36 sacks the Seminoles had in 2012 with them. The big question entering 2013 was who would provide the pass rush, and it turned out, Joyner and Jones were up to the task. Joyner switched from safety to corner and has wreaked havoc on corner blitzes this season. Jones moved from weakside linebacker to edge rusher and has provided a spark to a defensive line in transition. Together, they have seven sacks this season -- matching their combined career totals from their first three years in Tallahassee.

Winston is a star: This wasn’t a surprise, of course. Jameis Winston was pegged for stardom from the moment he arrived at Florida State. But who could’ve predicted just how good he’d be? From his astonishing debut against Pitt to his four-TD performance in the ACC championship game, Winston was a dynamic playmaker, mature passer and locker room leader. In August, his name was a trendy pick as a dark horse Heisman contender. By December, he was the runaway winner. Winston replaced a quarterback who went in the first round of the NFL draft, and he’s exceeded EJ Manuel’s production in every facet -- something we didn’t exactly anticipate before the season began.

Benjamin emerges: The long wait for Kelvin Benjamin to blossom into a star finally came to an end this year, thanks to the redshirt sophomore’s improved maturity. Benjamin always had the tools, of course. He made so many miraculous plays in practice that teammates spoke about his exploits as the stuff of legend. But on Saturdays, he hadn’t done much in his first two years at Florida State. Down the stretch in 2012, Benjamin was almost a non-factor -- catching just seven passes for 52 yards and no touchdowns in his final five games. This year, however, he’s gotten better each week, and he’s become perhaps the most dangerous receiver in the nation in the final weeks of the season. In his last five games this year, he’s caught 25 passes for 481 yards and nine TDs, including at least one in each game.

[+] EnlargeFlorida State
AP Photo/Nell RedmondFreshman DB Nate Andrews is FSU's leader in interceptions.
Freshmen in the secondary: Florida State had the best secondary in the nation last year, and the depth figured to be even better this season. With stars like Joyner, Ronald Darby and Terrence Brooks and emerging talent like Tyler Hunter and P.J. Williams, there didn’t figure to be much room for the true freshmen to make much of an impact. As it turned out, Jalen Ramsey and Nate Andrews performed too well to keep off the field. Ramsey became the first true freshman to start at corner for Florida State since Deion Sanders in Week 1, then when Hunter went down with a neck injury against Bethune-Cookman, Ramsey switched to safety and has started each of the final 10 games. Andrews emerged as FSU’s top DB off the bench and has turned his limited playing time into big rewards, leading the Seminoles in interceptions. For the season, FSU’s true freshmen have a combined for seven interceptions, five forced fumbles and 13 passes defended.

The other Smith: For the past two seasons, Telvin Smith had been the most vocal player on the field for Florida State’s defense. Meanwhile, the more reserved Terrance Smith flew beneath the radar. In 2013, both Smiths emerged as impact defenders. Telvin Smith, a senior, leads Florida State in tackles and has continued to be the emotional leader of the group, but when Jones moved to the defensive line midway through the season, Terrance Smith got his chance to shine, too. He’s now third on the team in tackles (55), has an INT, four passes defended and two sacks. Since Terrance Smith became a full-time starter, Florida State has allowed just 2.8 yards per rush.

Stocking stuffers: Karlos Williams moved from safety to tailback in Week 2, and while he’s only had 14 first-half carries this year, he’s been dominant when he’s touched the ball, racking up 705 yards and 11 TDs; Roberto Aguayo hasn’t had to make a big kick all season thanks to an average margin of victory of 43 points for FSU, but he’s missed just one this season en route to All-America status; Kermit Whitfield’s role hasn’t been huge, but he’s averaging 31 yards per touch.

FSU's Darby dominates without hype

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
11:00
AM ET
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Ronald Darby might be a household name if his name was mentioned a bit more often.

The sophomore cornerback is rarely discussed during games. Florida State’s secondary has been dominant all season, but Darby’s work tends to fly beneath the radar. Darby doesn’t show up too often in the box score, either. His 12 tackles are tied for 24th on the team.

The anonymity isn’t a knock on Darby’s talent, though. The problem is, opposing quarterbacks are terrified to test him.

“Sometimes,” Darby said, “I get a little bored.”

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins, Ronald Darby
AP Photo/Richard ShiroSophomore CB Ronald Darby is so good in coverage that opponents rarely test him.
Darby has started eight games this season and has been on the field for the vast majority of Florida State’s defensive snaps, but only a handful of balls have come his way.

According to Stats LLC, Darby has been targeted just 22 times this season -- 29 times fewer than Florida State’s other starting corner, P.J. Williams. It’s a casual workload that illustrates the ample respect he receives around the ACC.

“They watch the film,” Lamarcus Joyner said when asked why teams shy away from testing Darby. “You see his size, you see his speed, his strength. He has everything you look for in a cornerback.”

Darby’s natural talent was obvious from his first days in Tallahassee last year. He wowed teammates immediately, and while he didn’t start a game as a true freshman, he was on the field regularly, recording eight pass breakups and 22 tackles en route to freshman All-America honors. He was named the ACC’s freshman defensive player of the year.

But all the momentum from his sterling debut season came to a grinding halt this spring when a groin injury required surgery and kept him on the sidelines well into the start of fall camp. Even once the injury was healed, the effects lingered. Darby’s blazing speed was diminished a tad, and in the early going, he was reluctant to test it.

Even now, nearly a full year after the surgery, Darby says he isn’t quite right.

“I’m still not 100 percent yet,” Darby said. “I’m still trying to get back. ... I got a lot better from the offseason until now. I run a lot better, cut a lot better.”

The improved fundamentals have more than made up for the marginal dip in pure speed.

Of those 22 passes thrown Darby’s way, two were picked off and just seven resulted in completions. According to Stats LLC, that’s the fifth-lowest completion rate allowed by any defensive back from an AQ conference. Of the four players ahead of him, three were first-team all-conference. Darby didn’t even get an honorable mention.

“He’s been locking it down,” safety Terrence Brooks said. “That’s all he can do.”

And if that effort hasn’t been enough to garner much national attention thus far, that could change on Jan. 6, when Florida State takes on Auburn in the VIZIO BCS National Championship. The Tigers don’t throw often, but they’ve got one of the country’s top big-play threats in receiver Sammie Coates.

In fact, Coates and the Auburn offense might be a perfect test for Darby. The Tigers run and run and run, and just when a cornerback appears to be getting a bit bored with the heavy dose of the ground game, the deep ball takes them by surprise. But Florida State just so happens to employ a cornerback who’s used to battling the boredom and pouncing on those rare chances to make a play.

“That’s why I just practice hard really,” Darby said. “So we can be perfect on game day.”

And perfection on the biggest stage might finally earn Darby some of the attention he has deserved all season. Add in a few more weeks for Darby to strengthen that groin injury and rebuild his speed, and Jameis Winston -- Darby’s roommate and practice-field nemesis -- has a good idea of what might be in store.

“I honestly think Darby could be the best cornerback in the country,” Winston said.

FSU Power Rankings: Week 9

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
11:00
AM ET
Few changes at the top after the starters rested in the second half, but here are this week’s Power Rankings. (Last week’s spot in parentheses.)

1. QB Jameis Winston (1): The back-and-forth scoring decision on a throw to Kelvin Benjamin was finally ruled an interception. That kept Winston from topping three touchdowns and 300 yards for his fifth straight game against an ACC foe. He finished with 292.

2. CB Lamarcus Joyner (2): Four tackles, a TFL, a pass breakup and a QB hurry. Not bad for 30 minutes of work.

3. WR Rashad Greene (4): Greene has now scored in six of seven games this year and 10 of Florida State’s last 13 overall.

4. LB Telvin Smith (3): Six tackles, a fumble recovery, a pass breakup and a QB hurry. Also not bad for 30 minutes of work.

5. DT Timmy Jernigan (5): Three tackles, including one for a loss against NC State. Jernigan continues to eat up interior linemen, opening things up for FSU’s linebackers.

6. RB Devonta Freeman (6): 12 carries, 92 yards and two touchdowns, and Freeman is well on his way to snapping that ridiculous 17-year drought without a 1,000-yard rusher.

7. S Terrence Brooks (NR): Brooks is quietly becoming one of FSU’s premier defenders. He racked up the defensive hat trick Saturday, picking off a pass, forcing a fumble and recording a TFL.

8. LB Christian Jones (7): His new role rushing off the edge has made all the difference. Jones had four tackles, a sack and a QB hurry against NC State. He has 3.5 TFLs in the last two games after just one in his first four games.

9. LT Cameron Erving (8): Easy day for Winston means a big day for the O line, and Erving was exceptional once again.

10. WR Kenny Shaw (9): Shaw had just three catches for 44 yards against NC State, both season lows, but he’s still on pace to top 1,000 yards for the year.

Honorable mentions: TE Nick O’Leary, WR Kelvin Benjamin, DT Eddie Goldman, RB Karlos Williams, CB Ronald Darby

What we learned: Week 9

October, 27, 2013
10/27/13
2:00
PM ET
Once again, Florida State's offense rolled up big points, topping 40 for the seventh straight game, and the defense was dominant, shutting out NC State while the No. 1 unit was on the field. But the Seminoles 49-17 win over the Wolfpack provided a few other bits of insight, too.

Winston plays with emotion: No surprise here. Jameis Winston is the emotional leader of Florida State's offense, and he never has hidden his exuberance on the field. But as the Seminoles rolled to a 35-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, Winston admits he let his emotions -- and the excitement of the hot start -- get to him when he should've remained focused. "It was my fault that the second quarter was the way it was," said Winston, who was just 5-of-12 for 63 yards and an interception after the first quarter. "When we go up 35-0, I've got to say, 'Hey guys, let's put our foot on their throat.' I was having fun out there. Everyone was having fun. But there was a point in time I should've said, 'Let's get this thing rolling.' "

Turnovers set the tone: For the second straight week, Florida State forced a turnover on the opposition's first drive, followed with a touchdown, and never looked back. It has been a remarkably consistent formula: The defense makes a play, the offense cashes in. In the past two weeks, Florida State has seven takeaways, including two interceptions from Ronald Darby, who appears fully healthy after a quiet start to the season. For the season, FSU is plus-eight in turnover margin and is on pace for 28 takeaways, which would be its most since 2007.

Fisher isn't worried about style points: It would've been easy for Jimbo Fisher to keep his starters in through at least the end of the third quarter, rack up a monster win over another ACC team and hope to impress enough voters that FSU maintained its slim lead over Oregon for the No. 2 spot in the BCS standings. Instead, Fisher sent his backups in for nearly the entire second half -- something he couldn't remember ever doing in his career -- and said he doesn't plan on running up the score, even if it doesn't win his team any support with voters. "I'm not going to go out there and embarrass this game," Fisher said. "If they can't tell we dominated that game early and put it away -- I just think that's bad for college football, in my opinion."

Helmet stickers: Week 9

October, 27, 2013
10/27/13
10:00
AM ET
The starters weren’t in the game for more than a few snaps after halftime, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some impressive performances in Florida State’s 49-17 win.

WR Rashad Greene: The junior from Albany, Ga., continues to slide under the radar, but Jimbo Fisher said Greene is playing as well as anyone on Florida State’s roster. On Saturday, Greene caught eight passes for 132 yards, including a 42-yard TD. It was Greene’s fourth 100-yard game of the season and his eighth touchdown. Seven of his eight catches Saturday went for first downs.

S Terrence Brooks: For the second straight game, Florida State’s defense set the tone early by forcing a turnover on the opposition’s first drive. This time it was Brooks, who picked off Brandon Mitchell’s first throw, setting up an FSU touchdown. On NC State’s fourth drive, Brooks was back at it, forcing a fumble -- the second of Florida State’s three takeaways. He added two tackles -- one for a loss -- for good measure.

RB Devonta Freeman: Like Greene, Freeman hasn’t basked in the spotlight much this season, but he’s delivering significant results. He carried 12 times Saturday for 92 yards and two touchdowns, pacing an FSU ground game that averaged nearly 8 yards per carry (not counting sacks) and scored four times. Freeman is on pace to become Florida State’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 1996.

Hat tips to: Ronald Darby appears fully healthy and picked off a pass for the second straight game; Jameis Winston wasn’t at his best, but he threw for 292 yards and three TDs, Levonte Whitfield racked up 99 all-purpose yards in the second half, including a nifty 31-yard touchdown run on a reverse in the fourth quarter.

Joyner impressing in new role for FSU

October, 23, 2013
10/23/13
1:00
PM ET
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State was fresh off a dominant win in Death Valley. The defense shut down Clemson’s offensive juggernaut, and Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd turned in one of the worst performances of his career.

Lamarcus Joyner was jubilant, pronouncing FSU’s secondary the best in the country. His rationale, he said, was simple.

[+] EnlargeLamarcus Joyner
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesCornerback Lamarcus Joyner has seven interceptions in his Florida State career.
“We have a bunch of physical specimens in the secondary,” Joyner said, pointing out P.J. Williams, Jalen Ramsey and Ronald Darby before turning his attention inward. “Not myself though. I’m only 5-8.”

The self-deprecation was intended as a joke, but Joyner knows his height is a weapon used against him by the opposition and talent evaluators in the NFL. That’s why he was pegged as a mid-round selection had he entered the draft following the 2012 season, and that’s why he switched from safety to corner this year.

Joyner’s height sets him apart from his more imposing counterparts, but he’s using this season to showcase a plethora of skills that more than make up for his stature.

In Saturday’s win over Clemson, Joyner was the catalyst. He finished the game with eight tackles, while creating three turnovers. Each one underscored Joyner’s versatility.

On Clemson’s first play from scrimmage, Boyd completed a short pass to slot receiver Stanton Seckinger. Joyner closed quickly, walloped the receiver and stripped away the football. The forced fumble shocked even Joyner’s teammates.

“I had to do a double take,” said safety Terrence Brooks, who recovered the fumble. “I looked at it one time and said, ‘OK, that can’t be the ball.’ ”

Joyner’s second takeaway came on a corner blitz. It’s a new role for the senior this season. He had just one sack in his career prior to this season, but his speed makes him a weapon off the edge, and on Saturday, he pounced on Boyd with such instantaneous fury, the Clemson quarterback had no chance to prepare for impact. The ball tumbled away, and Mario Edwards Jr. scooped it up and rumbled into the end zone for a score.

The final addition to Joyner’s turnover hat trick came on a play he’d flubbed all week in practice.

All those corner blitzes had gotten the attention of the opposition, and coordinator Jeremy Pruitt knew Clemson would be looking for it. The plan was for Joyner to show blitz, then drop into coverage and hope Boyd would fall for the trick. Over and over in practice last week, Joyner failed to execute the play, but Pruitt told him to keep at it.

On Saturday, things hardly went according to plan. A miscommunication on the sideline meant only 10 players were on the field, but Joyner sold the blitz so effectively that it didn’t matter. Boyd’s pass found Joyner’s hands, and the misery for Clemson’s quarterback continued.

“I dropped into my zone and on that particular night I just seemed to do what I was coached to do,” Joyner said. “I was able to bait Tajh into throwing an interception.”

The first play was a product of Joyner’s strength. The second, his speed. The third, his smarts. It was precisely the type of showcase he’d hoped for when he decided to return for his senior season.

“I’m at nickel, I'm at corner, I get to blitz, I get to play man-to-man,” Joyner said. “I get to do all those things I wanted to do coming back for my senior year. When he sold the defense to me, I just committed myself to it."

The expanded role has meant more measurable production. Joyner is second on the team with 33 tackles and is on pace to shatter his previous career high. His three sacks and four takeaways leads the team. NFL scouts are taking notice.

"He's got tremendous range and ball skills and brings the right kind of mentality to support the run,” said Phil Savage, a longtime NFL talent evaluator and current executive director for the Senior Bowl. “The way the league is now, everybody's looking for three and four corners at least. There's going to be a bigger market for him at that position than there would've been at safety most likely. The big question is going to remain his height, going against the Calvin Johnsons and Andre Johnsons and the guys that are out there that have just that overwhelming size. But hey, they make 6-foot corners look bad at times."

Of course, by the time the 2014 draft comes around, the Clemson game will be ancient history and Joyner will still be 5-8. That much, he can’t change.

But while the behemoth receivers at the NFL level figure to have a distinct advantage, the guys who go up against Joyner every day know it won’t be so simple.

“It don’t matter how big he is,” said 6-5 receiver Kelvin Benjamin. “He is going to compete. He is like a dog. If you got that bone in your hand, he’s coming to get you.”

There are some skills that aren’t measurable, Jimbo Fisher said. So much of what sets Joyner apart isn’t his size or speed or smarts.

“He’s short, he’s not little,” Fisher said. “He packs a big punch, and his heart’s as big as the world.”

Week 8 helmet stickers

October, 20, 2013
10/20/13
10:00
AM ET
Florida State didn't simply win its biggest game of the year Saturday. It dominated. From the opening snap -- a forced fumble that set up a TD -- to the final drive, the Seminoles showed they belong in the discussion as the best team in the country. These three players had the biggest hand in making it happen.

QB Jameis Winston: It almost seems foolish to be surprised by anything Winston does anymore because he's clearly shown there's no limit to what's he's capable of accomplishing. His latest showcase included 22-of-34 passing, 444 yards, three touchdowns through the air and one more on the ground. In each of Winston's four ACC games this season, he's managed at least 300 yards and three scores.

WR Rashad Greene: In truth, the whole receiving corps deserves kudos for its performance Saturday. Nick O'Leary racked up 161 yards on five catches. Kelvin Benjamin made a trio of acrobatic grabs -- though one was called back by penalty. Kenny Shaw caught five passes, too. But it was Greene who once again dominated the Clemson defense, catching eight passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns. In three career games against the Tigers, Greene has 20 receptions for 280 yards and four scores.

CB Lamarcus Joyner: It was a stellar performance by the defense, which was prepared for everything Clemson tried, and a handful of players stood out. Telvin Smith had 11 tackles, Ronald Darby had an interception, Mario Edwards Jr. returned a fumble for a score. But it was Joyner who was the real star. He set the tempo for the game, forcing a fumble on Clemson's first play from scrimmage, and he added two more takeaways in the first half (one fumble, one INT). For the game, he finished with eight tackles and a sack, and he was crucial in holding Tajh Boyd to perhaps the worst game of his career.

Hat tips to: O'Leary, Smith, Benjamin.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

FSU Recruiting Builds On BCS Title Win
Craig Haubert breaks down the Seminoles' efforts to translate on-field momentum to success in recruiting.Tags: Derwin James Jr., De'Andre Johnson, Tyrek Cole, Florida State Seminoles, Jimbo Fisher, Nike's The Opening
VIDEO PLAYLIST video