Every day while catching up on my daily Nole must reads, I very often wonder to myself, "Are my 2009 Noles going to be better than last year’s team?"
Thank you for playing along, and we are almost finished. So far we have analyzed, discussed, and you have voted on whether the Defensive Line, the Receivers/Tight End, the Secondary, and the Offensive Backfield, will be better, the same, or worse than last years equivalent unit. Today we will take a look at the Linebackers, to determine if this unit has progressed, expected to continue at the same level, or regressed, in comparison to last years linebacking unit.
Going into this last offseason, all 3 of the units making up the defense (defensive line, linebackers, and secondary) clearly needed to be addressed if there was going to be any noticeable improvement in 2009
With the graduation of Derek Nicholson and Toddrick Verdell, the Seminoles lost their top two tacklers of the 2008 season. The pair combined for 147 tackles, 23 TFL, 5 Scks, 5 QBH, 3 FF, 4 FR, 2 PBU, and 1 INT. With these two players now gone, this revamped linebacking corps is considered by many to be the main concern of the entire defensive unit.
All of the LB position were wide open for competition during this last spring drills, and while there was some very good competition for the two starting jobs left open, many questions remain unanswered. Chuck Amato only had six scholarship linebackers available during those drills, and with Dekoda Watson out rehabbing his elbow, the offense shredded the defense for most of the spring. In addition, four of the six linebackers on the spring two-deeps were just sophomores.
Even though they will be playing together as a unit for the first time, there has been some talk that the linebacking corps have developed a close knit relationship, both on and off the field during this past off season. I hope that this is the case, because they will need to communicate, trust, and to cover for each other when mistakes are made.
Let's get right to it.
2008 STRONG SIDE LINEBACKER=Dekoda Watson started 7 games, Kendall Smith started 3 games, and Kenny Ingram started 3. Ingram who was listed as a safety, filled in due to injuries and suspensions and he is now gone.
Dekoda Watson=Going into his last season at FSU and one of the few defensive veterans left over from the 2008 campaign, Watson is expected to be the emotional and physical leader of the Seminole defense this year. Watson was the lone Seminole to land a spot on the All-ACC defensive squad. He has recorded 96 tackles over the last two seasons for Florida State and he played his best football at the end of 2008 with 28 tackles over the final four games of the year. An athletic linebacker, who reminds me some of Michael Boulware, Watson nearly matched his career high in tackles (50) last season (47) despite missing six starts due to the suspension and to various injuries. Watson missed all of the spring sessions after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his left elbow, but contributed as a coach by teaching and helping to develop the younger linebackers. He has the athleticism, the big-play ability, anticipates the snap count very well, and explodes on movement. Watson is amazingly strong for his size with 48" shoulders and a 26" waist. While recovering from his surgery, since he could only do ab exercises, he was quoted as saying "I’ve got abs to my throat almost."
2008 MIDDLE LINEBACKER=Derek Nicholson started all 13 games, was the leading tackler and he is gone. TT=81, TFL=15, SCK=1, QBH=3, PBU=1, FR=4, FF=2.
2008 PROJECTED MIDDLE LINEBACKER=Junior Kendall Smith will get the first crack at replacing Nicholson, followed by Senior Recardo Wright.
2008 WEAKSIDE LINEBACKER=Toddrick Verdell started 12 games, was the teams 2nd leading tackler, and he too has left. TT=66, TFL=8, SCK=4, INT=1, PBU=1, QBH=2, FF=1. Verdell injured his groin against Colorado and sat out against Miami, when Bradham started in his place.
2008 PROJECTED WEAKSIDE LINEBACKER=Two true sophomores Nigel Bradham, and Nigel Carr sit atop the depth chart as the weakside linebacker.
OTHERS WHO CONTRIBUTED IN 2008 AND ARE OUT=Vince Williams is injured
OTHERS WHO MAY CONTRIBUTE IN 2009=???????????
So there you have it. There are some pretty big shoes to fill and there are many questions that need to be answered by this years linebacking unit. The biggest question I think, is how well has Dekoda Watson recovered from his surgery. This question will start to be answered later today as practice finally begins. Can Smith and the 2 Nigels perform as effectively, or anywhere near the level of Nicholson and Verdell? Can this unit, with it's lack of depth, stay healthy all season? Does Chuck Amato still have it in him, and can he work any kind of miracles with this group?
My answer to every question with the exception of Watson's recovery is NO!
If Watson has truly and fully recovered, and if he can stay healthy, IMO the strongside position will PROGRESS.
IMO, the middle and weakside linebacking positions will REGRESS.
The lack of depth of this unit is a major concern. I hope I am wrong, but I have no confidence in Amato and I don't think he will bring much to the party. And finally, while this is not part of this debate, my questions about the defensive lines ability to keep blockers off the LB's, will only add to the hardships this group faces this season.