Florida State Seminoles: Vince Williams

Throughout the summer, Nole Nation will be counting down the 40 players we're projecting to make the biggest impact on the Seminoles' 2013 season, taking into consideration everything from experience to potential to their spot on the current depth chart.

Next up: No. 4 Telvin Smith

Position/Class: LB/Sr.

[+] EnlargeTelvin Smith
Cliff Welch/Icon SMITelvin Smith takes over as FSU's starting middle linebacker and undisputed leader of the defense.
What he's done: Smith's production has increased markedly each season he's been at Florida State, from recording 18 tackles as a freshman in 2010 to 42 as a sophomore and a career-best 64 last season. In each of the past two years, Smith has been an integral part of the platoon at middle linebacker with Vince Williams, anchoring the middle of the defense on passing downs while Williams was sturdy against the run. In addition to his impressive tackle totals for a part-time player in 2012, he racked up 9.5 tackles for loss (third on the team) and finished with three passes defended, three pass break-ups and a forced fumble. Despite his role as a part-time player, Smith also blossomed into one of the vocal leaders of the defense after the dismissal of his former high school teammate, Greg Reid, just before fall camp.

Where he's at: Smith's part-time status belied his impact in 2012. During his early tenure as the co-starter at middle linebacker, his skill set was limited primarily to passing downs, but throughout last season he grew more accustomed to handling the full range of responsibility. In 2013, he'll get a chance to show just how far he's come. Williams is gone, and the full-time job at middle linebacker -- along with the role of undisputed leader of the defense -- belongs to Smith. It's a big job, too. Last season, Smith and Williams combined for 123 tackles, a total that would have ranked second in the ACC had it belonged entirely to one player. Moreover, as new DC Jeremy Pruitt expands the role of Christian Jones on the weakside, Smith's responsibilities in the middle become even more pronounced. And while it was clear throughout 2012 that Smith was poised to become a star, he's now working without a net. Williams had been an established veteran counterpart, but there is no experienced depth at linebacker this year beyond Jones and Smith.

What's to come: It's tough to project exactly how much production Smith might have in 2013. His role is obviously far greater than it was a year ago, but the scheme on defense has changed, too. What's clear though is that, after Williams handled the bulk of the work on running downs in years past, Smith is going to prove he's up to that task. FSU was among the top rush defenses in the nation in each of the past two seasons, but Williams and the entirety of the starting defensive line have moved on. Smith now steps into the role of run stopper, and he'll need to prove it's a role he's comfortable with. His size (6-foot-3, 215) should help, and his punishingly physical approach will pay dividends. Perhaps as important, however, is his role as the vocal leader of a defense that is undergoing serious changes this season. If Smith can handle full-time work and keep the defense on an even keel throughout the season, there's a valid argument he'll be Florida State's 2013 MVP and a potential All-ACC -- or even All-American -- player.

Looking back at the 2013 draft class 

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

QB EJ Manuel
Selected by: Buffalo Bills, No. 16 overall
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- There weren't many mock drafts that pegged EJ Manuel as the top quarterback available, but Jimbo Fisher had a hunch his guy would impress a few teams.

Manuel's athleticism made him a popular prospect for teams looking to exploit the option offense, and his strong arm and experience in Fisher's pro-style scheme made him a viable option in more traditional sets. In the end, that was enough to convince the Buffalo Bills to take Manuel with the 16th overall selection in Thursday's NFL draft -- the first quarterback taken.

"You think about the journey, when I was a little kid, the ups and down," Manuel said after the selection. "I'm just so happy."

[+] EnlargeE.J. Manuel
Al Bello/Getty ImagesThe Bills selected Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel with the 16th pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
Manuel's emotions were held in check throughout a rocky 2012 season in which he led Florida State to its first ACC championship in seven years. Throughout the season, Manuel's mother was battling breast cancer, missing several of his games late in the season, but she was on hand Thursday in New York as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced his name.

"I knew she was doing what she had to do to get better," Manuel said before the draft. "Football is a special part of my life, but having my mom for a lot longer, that's what's really important to me. I'm just happy she'll be there."

Manuel's surprising early selection is another boon for Fisher, too, who has become a guru for creating NFL quarterbacks. Manuel's predecessor, Christian Ponder, went 12th overall in the 2011 draft, and former protege at LSU, JaMarcus Russell, was a top overall selection in 2007.

"I'm extremely happy for EJ," Fisher said in a statement released by the school. “He’s a tremendous young man who has been a great representative of Florida State University. He’s worked extremely hard to get to this goal. He’s one of the main reasons that this program has been able to get back to national prominence because of the sacrifices he’s made through his career as well as his development as a player. I’m extremely happy for him and his family. This couldn’t have happen to a better group of people.”

Florida State's return to national prominence was on display throughout the first round of Thursday's draft, even after Manuel was selected.

Defensive tackle Bjoern Werner went 25th overall to the Indianapolis Colts, while the Minnesota Vikings took cornerback Xavier Rhodes with the 26th pick. Both players were juniors who departed FSU a year early.

Werner was pegged as a potential top-five selection late in the season after leading the ACC with 13 sacks, but his stock dipped slightly following an underwhelming performance at the combine.

Rhodes, who came to FSU as a wide receiver before Fisher convinced him to switch to cornerback, might have been a first-round pick a year ago had a bowl-game injury not derailed his plans. He returned for 2012 and helped Florida State's secondary to a No. 1 ranking in the nation in pass defense.

"We were laughing about the day when he didn't want to move over to corner," Fisher said. "He was mad at me for a couple of months. But it's funny how you go back and reminisce when things work out like that."

The three first-round selections were the most for Florida State since 2006, when four Seminoles were taken. They had just three first rounders in the six drafts since.

FSU figures to have at least two more players go in tonight's second round. Right tackle Menelik Watson and defensive end Cornelius Carradine are widely projected as early second-round talent.

As many as a half-dozen more Florida State players could fill out the later rounds of the draft, including fullback Lonnie Pryor, linebacker Vince Williams, kicker Dustin Hopkins and defensive end Brandon Jenkins.

That would mark a massive shift in Florida State's NFL prospects after a dry spell in recent years. FSU has had just 11 players selected in all in the last four drafts prior to this year.

"Hopefully we can do that every year as we establish ourselves as a program," Fisher said. "We've revamped the type of recruiting we're doing and identified certain types of athletes we thought were difference makers and great kids. We've come a long way."
You look at the Florida State roster, and you look at the Florida State coaching staff, and the automatic assumption is this could be a rebuilding year for the Noles.

Jimbo Fisher does not see it that way. Not one bit. As spring practice opens today, Fisher needs to find new starters at some key positions, including quarterback, defensive end and linebacker. But he sees players who have had valuable playing experience ready to step right into starting roles, not wet-behind-the-ears freshmen in over their heads.

To him, there is no dropoff between the talent on his 2012 ACC winning team, and the talent on his 2013 team.

[+] EnlargeClint Trickett
Mitch Stringer/USA TODAY SportsThere will be a competition for FSU"s starting quarterback, but Clint Trickett has more game experience than the others.
"I ask people this: Lawrence Dawsey is arguably one of the best receivers in Florida State history," Fisher said during his pre-spring news conference earlier this week. "How many years did he start here? He started one year. How about Odell (Haggins)? He was a linebacker that got moved. Nowadays he’d be, 'Oh, he wasn’t what we said he was, you moved him.'

"Just because you don’t start a game doesn’t mean you’re not starter material. Do you understand what I’m saying? We’re establishing ourselves as a program again and guys still played as much ball as anybody else."

Fisher gave a host of examples. Every starter on the defensive line is gone -- ends Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine, and tackles Anthony McCloud and Everett Dawkins. But the players expected to move into the starting lineup played extensively last season. Mario Edwards Jr. and Giorgio Newberry will start with the first-team at end; Timmy Jernigan, perhaps the best interior lineman last year, moves up to start at one tackle spot.

Vince Williams and Nick Moody are gone at linebacker. Into the middle steps Telvin Smith, who has extensive game experience and should have no problems moving up.

Then of course, there is the quarterback spot, a position that folks across the ACC will be paying attention to as the competition begins. Clint Trickett starts out No. 1 on the depth chart, and here again is where playing time has helped him. Trickett has played in 16 games with two starts behind EJ Manuel the last two seasons.

The other three players competing for the starting job -- Jacob Coker, Sean Maguire and Jameis Winston -- have either limited or no game experience. That does not take them out of the mix by any stretch. Fisher already said the position is wide open, and he has no timetable to make a decision. But having game experience is certainly not going to hurt him as the Noles try to find their leader on offense.

"From a talent standpoint, I think we’re still a very talented football team and we have guys with a lot of experience still playing," Fisher said. "We look at returning starters sometimes, it’s a very misleading factor about depth of a team and how much guys have played behind them. I’m excited about these young guys. Even though they’re new starters, they've still played like starters."

As for the coaching changes, six new assistants will be on the field this spring, including new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. But Fisher downplayed those changes as well, saying nothing would change about philosophy or with the schemes the Noles run.

"We're going to do things the Florida State way, the way we've been doing," Fisher said.

That means plugging new guys into the starting lineup and believing there will be few hiccups along the way.
It's been a while since pro day workouts at Florida State came with quite so much fanfare, but this year's event, which gives former FSU stars a chance to workout for NFL scouts and executives, is chock full of intrigue.

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

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

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

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2013 Spring Preview: Linebackers

February, 22, 2013
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Christian JonesKim Klement/US PresswireChristian Jones stepped up in 2012 after moving to Will linebacker, compiling 95 tackles, seven for loss. He'll be a key part of the FSU linebacker corps in 2013.
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.

Previous entires can be found HERE.

Next up: Linebacker

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Noles 2013 snapshot: Tyrell Lyons 

February, 21, 2013
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With national signing day now beyond us, NoleNation takes a closer look at the next crop of Seminoles.

Vitals: Linebacker Tyrell Lyons (Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast), 6-foot-2, 220 pounds.

Committed: Feb. 25, 2012.

ESPN.com grade: 81, four-star prospect.

ESPN.com rankings: No. 33 outside linebacker in the country, No. 186 player in the Southeast and the No. 74 player in the state of Florida.


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Noles 2013 snapshot: E.J. Levenberry 

February, 20, 2013
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With national signing day behind us, NoleNation takes a closer look at the next crop of Seminoles.

E.J. Levenberry Jr.
Courtesy of Eric LevenberryWhile he might redshirt in 2013, incoming linebacker E.J. Levenberry could get into games late.
Vitals: Linebacker E.J. Levenberry (Woodbridge, Va./C.D. Hylton), 6-foot- 3, 230 pounds.

Committed: April 24, 2012.


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State of the Noles: Linebackers 

February, 19, 2013
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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 where the scheme might be as much in question as the personnel: Linebacker.

Current scholarship linebackers (11): Reggie Northrup (So.), Terrance Smith (RSSo.), Nigel Terrell (RSJr.), Christian Jones (Sr.), Markus Uligwe (RFr.), Telvin Smith (Sr.), Matthew Thomas (Fr.), Freddie Stevenson (Fr.), Tyrell Lyons (Fr.), E.J. Levenberry (Fr.), Ro'Derrick Hoskins (Fr.)

Potential early departures: FSU brings a talented group of five freshmen into the fold this season, and several -- Thomas in particular -- have NFL potential, but at this point, none of the younger players have enough experience to appear likely to leave early.


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Noles 2013 snapshot: Ro'Derrick Hoskins 

February, 19, 2013
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With national signing day now beyond us, NoleNation takes a closer look at the next crop of Seminoles.

Vitals: Linebacker Ro'Derrick Hoskins (Orlando, Fla./Evans), 6-foot-3, 215 pounds.

Committed: Feb. 25, 2012.

ESPN.com grade: 83, four-star prospect.

ESPN.com rankings: No. 14 outside linebacker in the country, No. 79 player in the Southeast region, No. 35 player in the state of Florida and No. 168 in the ESPN 300.

Picked Florida State over: Auburn and Louisville.


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Noles 2013 snapshot: Matthew Thomas 

February, 11, 2013
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With national signing day now beyond us, NoleNation takes a closer look at the next crop of Seminoles.

Vitals: Outside linebacker Matthew Thomas, 6-foot-3, 205 pounds.

Committed: Feb. 6, 2013.

ESPN.com grade: 90, five-star prospect.

ESPN.com rankings: No. 1 outside linebacker in the country, No. 6 player in the Southeast region, No. 4 prospect in the state of Florida and the No. 6 player in the country.

Picked Florida State over: Miami and Southern Cal.


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Noles snapshot 2013: Freddie Stevenson 

January, 23, 2013
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To gear up for signing day, and beyond, NoleNation takes a look at each Seminoles commitment in the Class of 2013.

Vitals: Linebacker Freddie Stevenson, Bartow, Fla./Bartow, 6-foot-1, 230 pounds

Committed: July 4, 2012

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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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Instant analysis: FSU 31, NIU 10

January, 2, 2013
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It wasn't exactly the easy win so many predicted, but Florida State's size and speed advantage helped the Seminoles outlast upstart Northern Illinois 31-10 to win their first Orange Bowl since 1996.

Record-setting NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch found no room to work, and Florida State's dominant defense showed few flaws in its first game without departed coordinator Mark Stoops, while EJ Manuel accounted for 321 yards of offense and two touchdowns to lead the Seminoles.

It was over when: Xavier Rhodes forced a fumble from Da'Ron Brown on a second-down run with 11:15 left to play in the game. Northern Illinois had just converted a fourth-and-1 and was driving in hopes of cutting FSU's lead to seven, but the fumble was the dagger that ended any hopes of an upset. The play was reviewed, but officials ruled the ball was coming out of Brown's grip before his knee hit the ground, and the Seminoles quickly capitalized on the turnover with a Lonnie Pryor touchdown.

Game ball goes to: Pryor. The senior fullback has toiled in the shadows for four years at Florida State, earning immense respect within the locker room but relatively little fanfare outside it. Tuesday's game was different. While the rest of the FSU running game struggled, Pryor was brilliant. He opened the scoring with a 60-yard touchdown run -- the longest of his career -- and put the icing on the cake with his 37-yard touchdown after NIU's fourth-quarter fumble.

Turning point: There were plenty, but NIU's two turnovers were killer. The fumble by Brown was the last straw, but a third-quarter interception by Terrence Brooks squelched another promising Huskies drive. Brooks picked off Lynch at the FSU 13-yard line to protect a slim seven-point lead.

Stat of the game: Lynch entered the game as one of the most dynamic offensive players in college football, but he found out yards are far tougher to come by against Florida State. Coming into the game, Lynch had racked up 1,771 rushing yards -- fourth most in the nation -- and was averaging 6.5 yards per carry. But Christian Jones, Telvin Smith, Vince Williams and the FSU linebacking corps was exceptional, hitting him repeatedly and giving him nowhere to run. Lynch had bragged earlier in the week that NIU planned to wear FSU down late, but the opposite was true, and the junior quarterback finished with just 44 yards rushing on 23 carries, while completing just 36 percent of his throws.

Unsung hero: It's tough to call Manuel an unsung hero, but in a season in which he's earned just as much criticism as praise -- and maybe more -- he wrapped up a five-year career at Florida State with a solid performance. Manuel completed 27 of 39 passes for 296 yards through the air and added another 26 rushing with a touchdown. He missed a few passes -- something his critics will be happy to note -- but he connected on far more. When the FSU offense needed him, he made the throws he had to make. Manuel never lived up to his immense promise at FSU, but he was surely a very good quarterback, and he ends his career as an Orange Bowl champion and winner of four straight bowl games.

What it means: Northern Illinois shrugged off the legions of doubters and proved an unexpectedly competitive opponent, but in the end, Lynch and the Huskies simply didn't have enough to make a late charge. For Florida State, it was yet another inconsistent performance in a season that has been filled with them. But it was also the school's first BCS win in 12 years, and it marked just the second time in program history that FSU has won 12 games in a season.

The Big Board: Rebuilding the D 

December, 17, 2012
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Florida State hasn't made it official, and Jimbo Fisher has remained coy on the subject, but it certainly appears the Seminoles will have a new defensive coordinator soon, with all signs pointing to Fisher hiring Alabama defensive backs coach Jeremy Pruitt.

The hire would come as a minor surprise, given Pruitt's lack of experience as a coordinator and the 3-4 base defense run at Alabama, but he's a rising star in the profession and a strong recruiter. That could loom large given the amount of turnover Florida State figures to endure on defense this offseason.

In addition to the coaching staff, which must replace Mark Stoops and D.J. Eliot -- as well as linebackers coach Greg Hudson, who could move to an administrative position -- FSU will be looking to revamp the bulk of its defense.

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