Florida State Seminoles Season Preview 2010: Defensive Backs

This is the eighth and final in a multi-part preview series covering the position groups as Florida State starts the 2010 season.  Of the 66 major conference teams, FSU was only better than Louisville, Kansas, Indiana, Duke, Stanford, Kansas State, Iowa State, Illinois, and of course, Washington State.  The last ACC defenses to be this bad in league 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.  Today I'll look at the defensive backs.

Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide Receivers | Tight Ends | Offensive Line |Defensive Line | Linebackers | Defensive Backs

Both corners and safeties are coached by the same man and I'll address them together.  Everyone knows about Mickey Andrews' tragic family issues and that his focus was obviously not on the team.  Coach Andrews is an awesome figure in Florida State history and a great 'Nole.  Enter Mark Stoops, the decorated defensive coordinator from Arizona.  He will coach defensive backs and coordinate the defense.  Stoops comes highly recommended from multiple Jimbo Fisher contacts, most notably Bo Pelini of Nebraska and Will Muschamp of Texas.

Defensive Coordinator and Secondary Coach Mark Stoops

Stoops recently met with the media.  He's quite a bit different than Mickey Andrews.  Andrews was very southern.  Stoops is extremely midwestern.  But like Andrews in his prime, Stoops consistently has his defense performing at a very high level.  We recently profiled the defense Stoops will run (much more zone).  That is a needed change as FSU's schemes were stale and were quite vulnerable even if FSU had the most elite of talent, which it arguably did not.  The talent is quite good, though young, and Stoops is excited to again work with elite athletes like he had at Miami in the early part of the last decade.  

The most important changes will be stressing assignment football, technique, and attention to detail.  Teams exploited FSU's lack of attention to detail and lack of discipline.  It is not about making plays.  It is about executing your assignment with championship discipline and technique.  It's good to force turnovers by putting the offense into a negative leverage down, pressuring the quarterback, and forcing him into a bad throw.  It's not good to attempt to force turnovers by gambling and playing recklessly.  While FSU forced a lot of turnovers last year, the turnovers were often a result of poor process.  And that poor process was exposed on a mind-boggling number of big plays given up.  Stoops will not tell his guys to go make plays.  He will tell them to go play their assignment and let the turnovers come to them.  That change, along with the new zone schemes, will present a major adjustment for FSU's defensive backs.  FSU's defensive backs are going to have to leverage the hash, pattern read, squeeze routes, pass off receivers, etc.  Importantly, Stoops will fit this system to the players better than we saw over the past few years.  It will not be easy and the whole process will probably not show until 2011.  Before proficiency comes competency and competency is the goal for the 2010 defense.

FSU loses its best defender in cornerback Patrick Robinson (1st round draft choice of New Orleans).  Robinson played very well last season but was exposed a few times as the scheme put him in an untenable position.  Can FSU's secondary get better despite losing one of the top corners in the country?  Definitely, and part of that is because of other losses.  Florida State thankfully is rid of #22 Korey Mangum, a safety who was arguably the worst scholarship player in Noles history. The 'Noles also lose Jamie Robinson, the free safety who played somewhere between average and below average.  Losing Mangum is a huge gain for the 'Noles.  FSU was effectively playing 10-on-11 with him on the field.  

Cornerback

FSU looks to be in good shape at the corner position.  

Field Corner (wide side of the field)

It all starts with Greg Reid.  I liked the 5'8" 182 lb sophomore a lot-- as a kick and punt returner.  Reid is the best return man in the country.  His vision in the open field is incredible.  But as a corner Greg did not play well last year.  He did make some highlight interceptions, but those interceptions and interception attempts highlighted what I talked about above.  Greg didn't make his interceptions as a result of playing his assignment.  He got them by freelancing.  And as a result of that freelancing, he was burnt a ton.  He either didn't know or refused to play his assignment and hurt the defense.  Additionally, Greg didn't tackle well.  But Reid really transformed this Spring.  He became a leader in the secondary.  The coaches raved about his practice habits.  He put in work in the weight room.  He took to the new scheme.  He won defensive player of the Spring, had a good summer, and has continued to have a good Fall.  He has the starting spot locked down and everyone is really excited to see a player who could perhaps contend for all-conference honors in 2011 or 2012 (or perhaps this year).  And he'll continue to be one of if not the best punt returners in the country.  

JUCO transfer Mike Harris got in late, but he has immediately shown why FSU brought him in.  Harris has been impressive in Fall camp and coach Fisher called him the "silent assassin."  His familiarity with the scheme from his JUCO days was immediately apparent.  Harris could likely start for many ACC teams, he just happens to be behind Greg Reid.  The 6'0" 180-lb Junior helps to provide great depth.

Inside, see analysis of the other 10 DBs

Boundary Corner (short side of the field)

The secret is out.  Back in Spring only those who really followed the program knew about red-shirt freshman Xavier Rhodes.  The 6'1" 210 lb Miami native had insiders buzzing.  He has a great skill set to play in this new zone-heavy scheme.  But with an impressive Spring and a great summer, some will tell you that he is the best player on the entire defense.  I don't buy that yet, but that he'd even be considered for such hyperbole is impressive.  While we haven't seen much of his ball skills, Rhodes is very physical and has competitiveness.  Someone told me that if he could have one DB in a street fight, it would be Rhodes.  Rhodes is tough.  Rhodes has great physical ability, but there was some question of whether he could master the mental part of the game enough to beat out Jenije.  It was no contest, as Rhodes clearly earned the spot in the first week of Fall camp.  Fisher raves about this kid every chance he gets, even if unprompted.  Rhodes is the DB with the most NFL potential and there's a chance that he will soon be talked about even above the more heralded Greg Reid.  Look for Rhodes to light some people up this season with his great size and instincts on the Boundary.

I don't want to make it seem like all of the corners have had a great camp, but we built this site on realism.  Reid, Harris, and Rhodes have had a great camp, but there's another kid who has as well.  LaMarcus Joyner was perhaps the most heralded member of FSU's first class under coach Fisher.  He was the Gatorade defensive player of the year and the consensus top cornerback in the country.  The 5'8" 185 lb freshman has surprised everyone with his maturity and his work ethic.  He doesn't play like a freshman.  Joyner is just different.  He's incredibly quick and fast.  Strong for his size.  He's impressed everyone and seems to be everything he was hyped up to be.  He's just stuck behind a guy in Rhodes who many believe will be an early-round draft choice.  He will play this season and will also return kicks (perhaps punts too). 

The Others

Avis Commack was moved to defensive back after breaking his femur and not cutting it at receiver.  I don't know what to expect from the 6'4" Junior from Jacksonville.  

Freshman Terrance Brooks has really come in and hit the weight room hard, but I don't expect much from him this season except in mop-up duty.  He should be a good player down the road.

 

Safety

The safeties are a concern to me, but Stoops has been a miracle worker with safeties at previous stops and if he can get two guys to play at an average level this season it will be a huge coup.  Nobody knows what to expect from this group.  Whatever safety best demonstrates his grasp of the new scheme will play, regardless of play-making ability.  Under no circumstances can FSU have it's centerfielder playing a guessing game.  Stoops will ask these guys not to get burnt deep and to know their assignment on each play.  Safeties will almost always be asked to play pass first, run second.    

The most known commodity here is Nick Moody.  The 6'2" 226 lb red-shirt sophomore from Pennsylvania has de-bulked in the 4th-quarter program as FSU wants him to gain more flexibility, losing about 4 lbs of muscle.  Moody should have played over Korey Mangum last season at the "free" (Stoops labels these backwards, but just know Moody is the guy who will be in the box) safety position, and Andrews refusal to play him illustrated the problem of having lame-duck coaches.  The proper move would be to play the young kid, provided he was about as good as the older player, particularly when both have a similar amount of experience.  But the interests of a lame duck coach are adverse to the interests of the program.  There is no incentive for that outgoing coach to act in the best interest of the program and develop the younger player!  Moody is a big hitter and a solid tackler.  He could be a nice fit in the cover-3 sky:

Cover3_medium

via smartfootball.com

But Moody had some serious work to do in the football classroom this summer.  I'm told he performed poorly on the coverage tests last season.  That won't fly under Stoops.  The defense needs to be solid, and it can be solid by having lesser athletes execute their assignments.  Nick had a long way to go, but he is a nice fit at safety.  Bothered by a groin injury this Fall, he is questionable for the early part of the season.

Teamwork is very important while playing zone defense.  Zone defense where everyone simply goes to their zone is not good zone defense.  Zone defense where everyone is using their step advantage (positioning off tendencies, motion, etc), leveraging percentages to the hilt, passing off receivers, etc.  That is good zone defense.  And that can't happen until everyone first knows and perfects their individual assignment. 

Due to the tremendous depth at corner, Senior Ochuko Jenije moved to safety.  The 5'11" 205 lb red-shirt senior from Tallahassee (4* recruit) played well at times last year and received some unwarranted criticism that should have rightfully been strewn upon Mangum.  Jenijie can be a decent safety.  His skill-set was not all that well suited for Andrews' man-heavy coverage schemes.  Jenijie is smart, strong, and a decent tackler.  He started most of the games last year and had a few interceptions. Jenijie's experience has helped him quickly take to the safety position as he fills in for the injured Nick Moody.

Next up is Terrance Parks.  The 6'2" 216 lb Junior safety is very talented.  But he was lazy in practice last year.  That's not acceptable and the coaches are loathe to play someone who is willing to work hard in a game and not in practice.  There was some thought that Parks may have faked injuries in the past in order to get out of difficult drills, then acted healthy when it came time to scrimmage.  Everyone got a clean slate under the new staff and Parks seized his opportunity to start off on the right foot. 

Parks has good range and good size.  He will likely patrol the deep third of the field.  Stoops needs to be able to trust Parks if Parks is to be the deep safety.  As of now it appears that he has at least a decent understanding of his assignments, though mastery should come in 2011.  He'll have to fully earn that trust.  But if he does, look out, because he has a ton of ability.  He is the clear cut starter opposite of Moody.

I am impressed with Redshirt Freshman Gerald Demps.  The 5'11" 206 lb Demps was Greg Reid's secondary mate for Lowndes Co. HS (Valdosta, GA).  He is unquestionably the lesser known of the two.  Demps has a fair amount of ability and has really embraced the new strength and conditioning program, bulking up to 206 lbs.  Demps plays smart on his high school film.  I think he needs a dose of confidence, as he really got down on himself last year, but his work in the off-season program is encouraging.  It would not surprise me if he starts.

Jajuan Harley is a bit of an enigma.  He's easily the most athletic safety and checks in at 6'2" 213 lbs.  The former 4* recruit played mostly on special teams last season, and I'm eager to see what he can do as a sophomore.  But there are concerns here.  Harley had a concussion last season and sometimes those injuries are funny.  He never really came back right from the concussion, and on top of that he lost some weight with what I seem to remember being a viral infection.  He also had a head injury in high school.  Every FSU fan hopes that Harley can get right in the head.  Because if he can get right, his athleticism is head and shoulders above all the other DBs.  I still think he's a bit overrated, though, more of the "great athlete not great football player" mold, at least from his high school film.  But he did have an improved Fall camp and does figure into the safety rotation.

Justin Bright was recruited to lure the 2010 Byrnes high school kids to Florida State (which did not happen).  He's not very athletic   He's bulked up to 6'0" 185 from 180 lbs, which is smaller than all of FSU's 2-deep at corner.  If FSU is bringing in some serious stud recruits at safety this year and Bright could (should) be part of the attrition crunch after this season or next unless he makes huge strides.

I don't think much of Redshirt Sophomore Ed Imeokparia .  It's unlikely he would have been recruited by the new staff had they had the chance.  Imeokparia is 6'0" 196 lbs and wasn't profiled in the Spring guide, nor listed in the Secondary section.  He tore his ACL prior to the 2008 season and redshirted while recovering.  He was arrested for some sort of cell-phone theft charge.  I'd bet money that he's not on the 2011 roster. 

True freshman Chad Abram, like Brooks, has come in and been impressive in the weight room.  He'll contribute on Special teams before getting truly in the mix at safety come next Spring.

Outlook

The ACC is absolutely loaded at defensive back.  FSU's corners stack up well against the league.  I would only take the corners from Miami, North Carolina (provided they aren't kicked off the team), Virginia, and perhaps Clemson over this group.  FSU could have the top corner group in the league next season, however, as these young talents have a second year in the scheme and continue to progress.  

Safety is a different story.  I am really hoping that FSU's safeties can be average this season.  It is my guess that FSU will trade some play-making chances for safety, keeping the deep guy deeper in order to avoid the big play.  I am not particularly confident in this group and would trade them for every other ACC safety tandem with the exception of NC State, Wake, Duke, Virginia, and Georgia Tech.  This group is very much wait and see.

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