By: Logan Bryan
Florida State fans everywhere should be on the look-out for a repeat for a few reasons: Jimbo Fisher, a revamped defense, and Florida State football has an advantage no other college football team in the nation has: Doak Campbell Stadium.
Fisher has certainly worked his way with his recruits, regardless of position. I actually believe this is the major reason why the Seminoles won the BCS National Championship Game last season: because Jimbo Fisher executes perfect discipline with every one of his players. His way with maintaining Heisman winner Jameis Winston throughout the season was phenomenal in my opinion. It is no surprise that Fisher secured the number one quarterback prospect this past signing season, as Winston’s run at Florida State may sadly be coming to an end here shortly.
Florida State’s defense was top five in the nation in pretty much every category. However, due to graduating seniors and players leaving school early for the NFL draft, most of their impact players on defense are gone and they have to find players who would be just as good, if not better. Without former defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruit, who left for Georgia, Florida State and fans don’t need to worry since the promotion of linebackers coach Charles Kelly to the same position has all the markings of success. Under Kelly as linebackers coach, FSU intercepted 26 passes. Kelly should have no problem working as defensive coordinator, as he has proven himself worthy in the past.
One of the best part about game days in Tallahassee is Doak Campbell Stadium. Recently I had the privilege to visit Florida State and I made sure to visit Doak. Since the start of the 1998 season, the Seminoles are 124-22-1 at home, and overall they are 268-90-4 at home. Playing in front of at least 82,000 people every Saturday can either make a team skittish, or fire up a team. Also knowing that Doak has more capacity than most NFL stadiums can do the same, which is why Florida State uses it to there advantage, and wins at home.
Maybe Florida State will win the first college football playoff. I won’t be surprised. You shouldn’t be either now.
Alex Turko (@aturko_23)
Last week I discussed offensive players that would need to step up in order for Florida State to repeat its success from last season. The Seminoles did not only lose five starters from the 3rd ranked total defense in the country, but vital leadership and experience. The commanding voices of Lamarcus Joyner, Terrance Brooks, Timmy Jernigan, Telvin Smith and Christian Jones have all disappeared from the locker room and practice field, leaving the Noles in desperate need for a vocal general. Young players will need to step up on the field first in order to have their leadership respected by their teammates. The positions that will need players step up are at middle and the outside linebacker opposite of Terrance Smith, along with nose tackle.
Florida State has been known for producing NFL linebackers for decades and the cupboard is once again full with talent. What these linebackers have in talent, they lack in experience. Replacing the vocal leadership of Telvin Smith may be impossible, but having someone step up in place of Smith at middle linebacker will be necessary. The front-runner to line up in the middle is junior, Reggie Northrup. Northrup is a classic “read and react” linebacker who is a sure tackler in space. We have seen him rack up tackles in bunches in garbage time and he will be expected to remain consistent as a starter. Behind Northrup is sophomore E.J. Levenberry, whose blend of size and athleticism earned him an opportunity to play as a true freshman and that experience should allow him to see plenty of playing time backing up Northrup in the middle.
On the outside, new defensive coordinator Charles Kelly will be looking for a linebacker to replace Christian Jones. Look for hard hitting junior Ukeme Eligwe to have a breakout season because of his versatility as someone who can rush the passer, stuff the run and drop back in coverage. Eligwe can play all three linebacker positions and put his hand in the dirt as a defensive end, as he saw numerous sets as a pass rushing specialist last season. Eligwe suffered a linsfranc foot injury this summer, which should keep him out of at least the first two games forcing the über talented freshman Matthew Thomas into the starting lineup. Thomas fought his way through a crowd of veterans last season to find his way onto the field in the first four games before a shoulder injury granted him a medical redshirt. Thomas might be the most athletic linebacker on the team and if he and Eligwe step up at outside linebacker, this unit could be extremely disruptive.
Nose Tackle is a position with a big question mark looming over it after the departure of Timmy Jernigan. Jernigan, who led the team in tackles-for-loss, was a key cog for this defense, especially in the BCS championship game where he was constantly in the Tigers backfield. With Jernigan wearing a Baltimore Ravens helmet now, FSU will look to Nile Lawrence-Stample (“NLS”) to clog up the middle. Stample has the bowling ball frame you look for in a nose tackle, and should be able to occupy blockers, allowing the linebackers to stay clean and attack the play. One thing that is uncertain with Stample is if he will be equally effective against the pass. He has the athleticism to rush the passer but will he be able to fight through a double team and get after the quarterback? Luckily for NLS, Florida State rotates their defensive linemen, which should allow him to stay fresh and remain effective throughout an entire game.
You have to think that most teams will be looking to take their licks on the Noles offense that includes Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston. This means the defense will be looked upon to keep FSU in games when the offense is not hitting on all cylinders. If these particular players can step up for Charles Kelly’s defense, the Seminoles will be extremely difficult to score on.
2014 Preseason All-ACC Football Team Announced
Defending National Champion and Preseason Favorite
Florida State Places Nine on Squad
Greensboro, N.C.—Led by preseason MVP and returning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston (Bessemer, Ala.), defending national champion Florida State placed nine players on the 26-man preseason All-ACC team announced Wednesday.
The team was selected by the media attending the 2014 ACC Football Kickoff held this past Sunday and Monday at Greensboro’s Grandover Resort.
Winston, who became the youngest player and only the second freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, the nation’s most coveted individual football honor, heads a team that includes nine players who earned first or second team All-America honors last fall, including six first team selections.
Winston and Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley (Adairsville, Ga.) are two of only three returning consensus All-Americans this year in college football. They are joined on the team by returning first-team All-Americans offensive tackle Cameron Erving (Moultrie, Ga.) and placekicker Roberto Aguayo (Mascotte, Fla.) of Florida State, strong safety Anthony Harris (Chesterfield, Va.) of Virginia and specialist Ryan Switzer of North Carolina (Charleston, W. Va.).
Aguayo, who set an NCAA single season mark for points by kicking (157), was the 2013 winner of the Lou Groza Award, given annually nation’s best placekicker. North Carolina’s Switzer tied an NCAA record with five punt returns for touchdowns, while UVa’s Harris led the nation in pass interceptions with eight. Florida State’s Erving was named the winner of the ACC’s Jacobs Blocking Trophy last fall, given annually to the league’s top blocker.
Joining them on the team are returning second-team All-Americans Duke wide receiver Jamison Crowder (Monroe, N.C.), who set an ACC single-season mark with 108 receptions in 2013; Blue Devil safety Jeremy Cash (Miami, Fla.) and Florida State offensive guard Tre’ Jackson (Jesup, Ga.).
Jackson and Miami running back Duke Johnson (Miami, Fla.) are the only returnees from last year’s preseason All-ACC squad.
The 26 members of the preseason All-ACC have combined to be named this month on a total of 62 preseason watch lists for major national individual awards including the Outland Trophy (6), Nagurski Trophy (11), Bednarik Award (11), Maxwell Award (6), Lombardi Award (11) and Walter Camp Award (6). All three of the wide receivers and linebackers on the team were chosen for the Biletnikoff and Butkus Watch Lists, respectively, and all four defensive backs made the Jim Thorpe Award Watch List as well.
While the Seminoles led with nine selections on the team, Duke, picked to finish second in the Coastal Division this year by the media in its preseason order of finish, landed four players on the squad, followed by Clemson and Virginia Tech with three players each; Miami with two and Boston College, Louisville, North Carolina, Syracuse and Virginia with one honoree apiece.
Winston, who led the nation in 2013 in pass efficiency and threw for 4,057 yards and 40 touchdowns, is joined in the backfield by Johnson of Miami, who ran for 920 yards and a 6.3 per-carry average in less than eight full games, and FSU’s Karlos Williams (Davenport, Fla.), who racked up 730 yards and an 8.0 per-carry average while sharing the Seminoles’ tailback position.
Winston was named on 97 of the 99 ballots collected, the most of any of the honorees with Beasley (96) and Johnson (95) not far behind.
Wide receivers Crowder and Florida State’s Rashad Greene (Albany, Ga.) are two of the 11 first-team All-ACC players who made this year’s preseason team and are joined by Louisville’s DeVante Parker (Louisville, Ky.). This trio of wideouts combined for 239 receptions for 3,373 yards and 29 touchdowns. They are joined by versatile Florida State tight end Nick O’Leary (Palm Beach, Fla.)., who had 33 catches and seven TDs for the Seminoles.
In all, 21 of the 26 players selected to this year’s preseason team earned first-, second- or third-team All-ACC honors last fall, and that doesn’t include Louisville’s Parker who earned first-team honors in the American Athletic Conference.
Erving and Jackson lead an offensive line that also includes three other seniors in Syracuse offensive tackle Sean Hickey (Murrysville, Pa.), Duke offensive guard Laken Tomlinson (Chicago, Ill.) and Boston College center Andy Gallik (Evergreen Park, Ill.)
In addition to Crowder, Tomlinson and Cash, Duke was represented on the team by linebacker Kelby Brown (Matthews, N.C.).
Clemson leads the defensive unit with all three of its honorees on that side of the ball in Beasley, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (Conyers. Ga.) and linebacker Stephone Anthony (Polkton, N.C.).
Two of Virginia Tech’s selections were on the defensive side as well with defensive tackle Luther Maddy (Delray Beach, Fla.) and cornerback Kendall Fuller (Baltimore, Md.) joining punter A.J. Hughes (Terra Haute, Ind.) on the squad. Fuller was the ACC 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year and was a consensus first-team Freshman All-American.
Completing the unit are Florida State junior defensive end Mario Edwards, Jr. (Gautier, Miss.), who had 9.5 tackles for loss last fall, Miami senior linebacker Denzel Perryman (Coral Gables, Fla.), who was sixth in the ACC in tackles per game (8.3) and FSU junior cornerback P.J. Williams (Ocala, Fla.), who keyed the nation’s top pass defense.
Alex Turko (@aturko_23)
Every season there is a player that emerges and creates a significant impact for the Seminoles. Last season it was Jameis Winston, Kelvin Benjamin, Nick O’Leary, and Chad Abram among others, who broke out for one of the best offenses in college football history. This season the Noles will need the same production from an otherwise unknown player to match the offensive output from a year ago. Attrition hits Jimbo Fisher’s team every year at the hands of the NFL draft, so replacing starters is nothing new. The positions that need players to blossom in order for the Seminoles to duplicate their national title run from last season are the wide receivers, offensive line (at center) and fullbacks.
Bryan Stork was “Mr. Consistency” on the offensive line last season, and that success earned him the Rimington Trophy and a fourth-round draft selection. Stork was a warrior that fought through numerous injuries and provided a general-like mentality to the rest of the offensive line. With questions at wide receiver, Jimbo Fisher is likely to run the ball more behind this senior laden offensive line. Enter Stork’s replacement Austin Barron. Barron has seen plenty of action in the past, starting on multiple occasions, and his experience should allow him to seamlessly slide in to the starting role at center and protect a bevy of talent in that backfield that includes a Heisman trophy winner.
Wide receiver should be a unit that finds it’s success through committee after losing Kelvin Benjamin. Rashad Greene will have to carry over his productivity from last season while facing more double teams from opposing defenses. Greene is a proven commodity but the questions begin to arise in finding a valid number two option. Seniors Christian Green and Scooter Haggins (injury prone) provide solid experience but neither have been an established weapon for FSU quarterbacks. Both will see plenty of playing time while they look to end their college careers with a bang. Jesus Wilson’s recent arrest for third-degree grand theft auto has raised more questions as Wilson emerged as the number two guy over spring practice. With Wilson’s status in limbo, sophomore Isaiah Jones will have to prove that he can be a valid option with his 6-foot-4 frame. Also competing for playing time is the trio of freshman studs, Ermon Lane, Javon Harrison and Travis Rudolph. Rudolph is the most polished at this stage and should get playing time immediately while Lane and Harrison could make their presence felt as the season progresses. Lane has a big frame and if he grasps the offense early on, he could help ease the pain of losing the physicality that Kelvin Benjamin brought to the table. Harrison’s impact may be on special teams as a returner, but is sure to get his shot to prove he deserves legitimate playing time.
Fullback is the position that is all guts and no glory and despite just one season as a starter, Chad Abram was one of the better fullbacks to pass through Florida State. Abram brought soft hands, speed and a road-grading mentality to the backfield. His contributions were often over looked due to his position, but trust me when I say that the running backs were well aware of his abilities. Abram helped pave the way to Devonta Freeman’s 1,000 yard season, which was the first time a Nole has broken the 1,000 yard mark since 1996. This season we may see another immediate contributor at the fullback position by the ways of sophomore Freddie Stevenson. The former linebacker is familiar contact and showed his athletic ability in the Garnet & Gold game in April. Stevenson strictly played running back after injuries held all 4 other backs out of action. He more than held his own, rushing for 85 yards on 18 carries. Stevenson’s physicality is what got him his scholarship and he will be using that every down to open holes for one of the most talented backfields in the nation.
If these offensive players emerge to provide consistent production, the Seminoles’ offense could once again see a record-breaking season. Find out which defensive players will need to step up for new defensive coordinator, Charles Kelly, in my next blog.
Alex Turko (@aturko_23)
It isn’t often that an undefeated defending national champion could be improved, but that is just the case with this year’s Seminoles. Jimbo Fisher may have lost seven studs to the NFL along with his defensive coordinator and I think he will be fielding a better team this season.
Everyone points to receiver as a deficiency and the offensive strategy is sure to shift from an aerial brigade to a lethal ground attack. FSU features great talent in the backfield highlighted by the Seminoles' yard-per-carry leader from last season, Karlos Williams. I don’t just think that Williams will be an All-American, but I think he’ll be in New York for the Heisman voting. This is going to be the hardest backfield to defend for opposing defenses since the three-some of Greg Jones, Leon Washington and Lorenzo Booker.
Williams brings a scary blend of speed and power while Mario Pender, Ryan Green and Dalvin Cook all possess top-end speed and agility that will create little drop off when Karlos Williams needs spelled. This may be the fastest offense that Florida State has ever fielded, with speed spread out all over the field. Not to mention that the Seminoles still have the Heisman trophy winning quarterback in the backfield.
I have yet to metion what most experts believe is the best offensive line in the country, a unit that returns four starters from last season while the one new starter (center Austin Barron) is a senior with starting experience.
It may be a tall order to have the number one secondary in the country again after leading the nation in interceptions and passing yards allowed last season, but don’t be surprised if this group puts up better numbers from last year’s squad. P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby are the best cornerback duo in the nation.
Tyler Hunter returns at safety after injuring his neck against Nevada last season. Hunter was a headhunter at safety who is a beneficial part of the defense against the run and the pass. Jalen Ramsey will shift into Lamarcus Joyner’s role at nickel and look to improve upon his freshman All-American season while key reserver Nate Andrews should slide into the starting free-safety spot. Andrews quietly lead the team in interceptions off of the bench and should have a spectacular season with the increased playing time.
The defensive line took a hit with the departure of Timmy Jernigan and will look to Nile-Lawrence Stample to fill his shoes. Stample is a big body very capable of taking over at the zero-technique. It will be a defensive tackle by committee approach, but with the talent at that position, the fresh legs should provide a huge amount of production. I expect the sack numbers to increase after finishing 30th in the country last season. New defensive coordinator Charles Kelly is rumored to call more blitzes which will have offensive lines across the nation trembling.
At linebacker Matthew Thomas will take over outside for Christian Jones and add a heavy dose of athleticism to the lineup. Terrance Smith will look to build on his extremely productive season where he emerged as one of the biggest playmakers on the defense. Every linebacker on the roster is capable of starting and making a huge impact so look for a deep rotation at this position.
It might be too much to ask for the Seminoles to win it all again although with their roster and experience it is hard to expect anything less. Before last season I thought the team was a year away. With a sophomore quarterback with weapons at his disposal, there should be no stopping this offense. On defense I would be shocked if there was a team that put up more than 24 points this season. So in the end, anything short of a championship will be a bust.