Florida State Spring Football Position Preview: Defensive Tackle

This is eighth in a multi-part series covering the various position groups as Florida State begins Spring practice.   So far we've looked at Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers, Offensive Line, Tight Ends/  H-Backs, and Defensive Ends.  There is no way to sugarcoat how bad FSU's defense was last season.  Straight by the raw numbers, FSU was 108th out of 120 teams nationally.  Common sense, however, says that to go solely by aggregate yardage allowed is silly as it doesn't adjust for competition level.  The advanced metrics account for opponent quality and they say FSU's defense was somewhere between 80th to 92nd out of 120.  Of the 66 major conference teams, FSU was on the level (or worse than) only Louisville, Kansas, Indiana, Duke, Stanford, Kansas State, Iowa State, Illinois, and of course, Washington State.  The last defenses to be this bad in ACC play were some of the mid-decade Duke teams.  If you want more comparisons and perspective, check out Closing The Book On The 2009 FSU Defense.

Defensive Tackle Coach Odell Haggins

If asked to select which defensive position unit played the best last season, I would say either cornerback or defensive tackle.  But being the best unit on a really bad defense really isn't anything to brag about.  The defensive tackles played about average in my opinion.  They are coached by Odell Haggins.  A lot of people didn't expect Coach Jimbo Fisher to retain Haggins, but he did.  I think that says something about the former 'Nole great.  Someone I trust told me that Haggins is a very good cook, but between 2005-2008, he wasn't the best grocery shopper.  I think that's a good analysis.  His recruiting in 2005-2007 absolutely left something to be desired.  And he has also suffered a good bit of bad luck at the position with guys like Letroy Guion leaving early to be a late-round draft choice, Callahan Bright failing to qualify and then getting arrested before he could make it out of junior college, Justin Mincey's academic safari, Paul Griffin's torn ACL (never recovered), Emmanuel Dunbar's broken back, Budd Thacker's high drama/ low production career, the signing day switcharoo by Marvin Austin, and Moses McCray's elbow problem.  

But things look to be getting significantly better.  Under a new staff with clear direction and renewed energy, I'm told Odell is the fun, vivacious Odell Haggins again.  And that is really good news for the 'Noles.  The recruiting has really stepped up.  FSU has qualified all 5 of its last 5 defensive tackle commitments.  And those guys are not scrubs.  Among them are a 5*, a 4*, and 3 3*'s (including a JUCO).  In 2008 FSU signed and placed Anthony "Amp" McCloud of Thomas Co. Central HS (Thomasville, GA).  Many believed he was a better player than current Clemson NG Brandon Thompson (4*).  Of course, McCloud had no chance to qualify and was not reviewed by the recruiting services.  But he went to JUCO and is now back.  The chance that a defensive line JUCO sign-and-place recruit ever makes it to his original college of choice is very poor, and it is an encouraging sign that FSU identified the talented prospect, found a home for him, laid out a plan to get him back, and got the kid back.  More on him later.  FSU already has two elite defensive tackle commitments for the upcoming recruiting class, and while they might not have come from Haggins' geographically designated recruiting area, there is no doubt that the interaction between potential future position coach and recruit plays a big part in the decision.  Some believe that Haggins is being given this year to prove that he can still get it done.  Judging by the current recruits and the young talent at the position, he'll be back in 2011 when the 'Noles defensive interior could be one of the best in the nation.  

The Departed

FSU loses three players at the defensive tackle position in Budd Thacker, Justin Mincey, and Kendrick Stewart.  Each had their moments in their FSU careers and each probably had their worst year as seniors for a variety of reasons into which I don't need to delve too deeply.  All three struggled with injuries and all three were ill-fitting pieces to a rather disorganized defensive puzzle.  While not completely downplaying their losses, I will say that if they were theoretically allowed to come back this season, they would be second teamers at best.  None were considered starters.  This year, FSU doesn't have a single Senior starter on the defensive interior.  If FSU can get through 2010 it should have a dominant defensive interior in 2011. 

Out For Spring/ Not Yet On Campus

Because this is a Spring preview, I am not going too in-depth into guys who are either not yet on campus, such as 6'5" 290 lb DT recruit Cam Erving and 6'3" 300 lb DT recruit Damien Jacobs.  I'm also not going to discuss players who are out for Spring due to injury, such as the 6'2" 302 lb Moses McCray.  The Junior from Tampa Hillsborough started 9 games despite wearing a huge elbow brace after having what I think was Tommy John surgery.  McCray is incredibly athletic and strong.  He's a former wrestler from his high school days.  And he is nasty. 

But to be able to show his skills he needs to be healthy and have functional use of his arm.  McCray recently had some more work done on his elbow and will miss Spring while healing.  I am not worried about McCray missing time.  He is incredibly strong and adds weight easily.  That's not to say that he doesn't need work on his technique, but I am worried that his elbow is becoming a chronic issue.  FSU needs him in the Fall and no game that counts has ever been played in April.  Aside from Ponder's continued rehab from his shoulder operation, McCray's elbow is Florida State's most important body part.

Young Stud

Jacobbi McDaniel

From the moment he stepped on the field at Madison County HS (FL), people knew Jacobbi McDaniel was a stud.  He crushed the scouting camps before his senior year in high school, dominated as a senior, destroyed the all-star games, earned his 5* rating as the top defensive tackle in the country and played about as well as one could ask of a true freshman defensive tackle.  He would have played even better if not for sustaining a knee sprain thanks to a cheap shot from USF's scumbag offensive lineman Chaz Hermann.  On a side note, Hermann is an extremely dirty player who tries to injure people to make up for his own lack of talent.  

The 6'0" 292 lb Sophomore will now be asked to take the next step.  I went back and watched every snap McDaniel played last year.  He was FSU's best defensive lineman.  And that was in spite of some of the things the defense asked him to do, including a ridiciulously excessive amount of stunting and twisting.  Running McDaniel to the outside and bringing Craig Yarborough to the inside isn't an effective way to stop anything other than the 'Noles' chance of winning. 

Defensive Tackle is probably the 2nd or 3rd toughest position to play as a freshman, behing quarterback and arguably offensive tackle.  McDaniel needs to continue to get better at everything, but his low center of gravity and powerful base paired with his amazing quickness is something that few people on the planet possess.  He arrived to FSU carrying a fairly large amount of bad weight and has been steadily trading the baby fat for muscle.  I'm not aware of any lingering knee issues and provided there aren't any, McDaniel need only to stay healthy, continue to get stronger, gain more experience, improve his recognition, and work on being more consistent with his technique to have a chance at an All-Conference selection. That might sound like a lot but it really boils down to "stay healthy and progres at a reasonable rate."

Inside, I'll profile the other three defensive tackles available for Spring ball.  

The New Guy

Welcome Anthony "Amp" McCloud to the picture.  As discussed above, McCloud was one of the best players in Georgia in 2008 but had no chance of getting into college, so he went the JUCO route.  If he had the grades he would have been a high 4* type recruit.  Thankfully, he graduated with his AA in 3 semesters and enrolled in FSU this Spring.  He showed up at around 315 lbs but is now down to 6'2" 300 lbs. 

The fanbase's expectations for McCloud are way too high at this point.  While the kid is undeniably a talent, he has not played a down of football since November 2008.  McCloud sat out the 2009 season to focus solely on his academics so that he could graduate early and enroll at FSU this January.  It was expected that he would show up out of shape considering that he wasn't playing ball and didn't have a college-level weight facility available to him.   

So what to do with a rusty, out of shape, very athlethic, raw, promising player?  Work him hard and coach him up, of course.  McCloud has already lost 20 lbs of bad weight since arriving on campus and is focusing on getting stronger as he becomes re-acclimated to working out in a college weight program.  It should be noted that McCloud is a redshirt Sophomore and not a Junior, by virtue of his academics-only year in 2009.  We've seen some of his film from high school and it was undoubtedly impresive.  McCloud really needs to work on everything from adjusting to major college life, to film study, to workouts, to technique, and probably to strapping up his pads.  He is rusty and raw at this point, but guys with his frame and athleticism do not grow on trees.  'Nole fans should be very pleased if McCloud can play 20 quality snaps per game this year at a solid 300-305 lbs.  My guess is that he makes his transformative leap next off-season.  As a final note, Amp had an unspecified blood pressure issue in 2008 that was monitored but did not cause him to miss any games.

Mr. Inside & Mr. Outside ?

As a Nick Saban disciple, Fisher places a huge emphasis on versatility.  That means having guys who can play inside at the quick 3-technique tackle position and also outside at the Strong-side defensive end spot.  That's where the next two guys come in.  Redshirt Sophomore Everette Dawkins checks in at 6'2" 271 lbs and Redshirt Freshman Demonte McAllister stands in at 6'2" 260.  Yes, I am aware that the FSU Spring Guide lists the players at slightly lighter weights, but I heard those figures are slightly stale (by a few weeks).  Both were highly regarded 4* recruits and there has been a large amount of speculation about one or both players moving to defensive end. 

A move could happen.  But it is not guaranteed.  And if a move does happen, it would be one player and not both.  And if it does happen it won't occur until after Spring because FSU is thin at the position until McCray heals up and the two freshmen get on campus in June.  Additionally, some have discussed moving one outside and allowing either of the freshmen defensive ends (Cummings or Werner) to play inside.  But it is important to remember that playing defensive tackle is much harder for a young player than playing defensive end, due to the need to fend off blockers coming from all directions.  Werner/Cummings could much more easily produce at a Dawkins-like level at End than they could trying to replicate his work at Tackle.   

What I think will happen is that FSU will continue to develop both players as defensive tackles, possibly cross-training one of them at end, most likely Dawkins.  Then after this year, when FSU projects to have seven- 300 lb'ers at DT in 2011, one of Dawkins or McAllister might be moved outside.  The conspiracy theorist in me wonders "Could it be that Fisher wanted to keep McAllister away from Allen and let him learn under Haggins, regardless of future plans?"

Here's a photo of Dawkins and McAllister, taken 2 weeks ago.  [Click to see]

Dawkins played very well considering he was a RsFr last season.  He has a nice first step, plays with good leverage most of the time, and you can tell he is well coached.  With continued physical development, he won't be too outmatched as a 6'2" 280 lb 3-technique this season.

McAllister is a very polarizing player and his case is especially interesting considering that he has yet to play a snap for Florida State.  A lot of people are concerned that Demonte hasn't put on much weight, if any, since he arrived on campus.  He did get injured (leg) and I have to believe that hurt his progress some.  There are also rumors that he is trying to purposefully force a move to end by staying small because he doesn't want to become a big guy as he is very image conscious.  I really hope that is just bored off-season message board talk.  If that is true he will find out very soon that he doesn't get to decide what position he plays.  Demonte is a phenonemal athlete and has the frame to be an excellent 3-technique tackle in time.  He needs to continue to put in work in the off-season program and soak up as much coaching as possible.  I don't expect him to make a major impact this season but I do expect him to make a contribution.    

Finally, I want to address the issue of substituions.  There seems to be this idea that Haggins substitutes too often and that starters should play the overwhelming majority of the snaps.  I disagree with that as substitutions along the defensive line are an integral part of the game.  Alabama substitutes all the time along its defensive line and Florida routinely rotates its interior defensive linemen.  We can debate whether the substitutions need to be in predetermined intervals or moreso by feel and observation, but there seems to be this idea out there that the starting defensive linemen need to be playing 60 of the 70 available plays.  Even with a supremely conditioned group, that just does not, and will not happen.  I do think FSU fans will see less subbing this season on along the defensive line, but that is because FSU had a bunch of guys last year who were average at best and it didn't really matter who was in-- fresh legs were the best weapon FSU had.  This season it seems likely that there will be more clearly defined roles for the defensive linemen, and the top talent will likely separate itself from the new young guys and career backups.  As that point, you have to ask if your "10" at 70% is better than your "7.5" at 100%?  

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