2010 saw an enormous improvement from Florida State's defensive tackles. No, the 'Noles did not have a dominant group up front, but the goal was competency. Mission accomplished.
Quickly, a review of the defensive tackle situation entering last Spring:
|Defensive Tackle Coach Odell Haggins
The DTs 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 4 of its last 5 defensive tackle commitments. And those guys are not scrubs. Among them are a 5*, a 4*, and 2 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 excellent 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. Haggins has a renewed spirit under the new staff that he hasn't had in years. Judging by the current recruits and the young talent at the position, he'll have a nice group in 2011 when the 'Noles defensive interior could be one of the best in the nation.
Now to 2011...
Anthony McCloud "Amp"
Rs-Jr 6'2" 305
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" 305 lbs. 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.
McCloud worked on getting in better shape as he becomes re-acclimated to working out in a college weight program. It should be noted that McCloud is a red-shirt 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 impressive. McCloud had worked on everything from adjusting to major college life, to film study, to workouts, to technique, and probably to strapping up his pads. He is still a bit raw, but guys with his frame and athleticism do not grow on trees. 'Nole fans should be very pleased if McCloud can play 225-275 snaps this year. 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. FSU fans hope that doesn't flare up.
McCloud was arguably Florida State's best interior lineman last season in his first year out of junior college. While inconsistent, he did show flashes of greatness and definitely exceeded my 2010 March prediction of 225-275 snaps. That's partially a credit to the injury issues of McDaniel, but also a credit to McCloud's talent. McCloud was not in great shape when he arrived at Florida State, as we predicted. He is a good bet to start on the inside in 2011 if McDaniel continues to struggle with injuries.
This Spring McCloud must work on improving his consistency. He would dominate at times and then disappear at times. Yes, that is typical of almost all defensive tackles, but McCloud should endeavor to improve in that area. With more snaps comes a need for better conditioning, and that must also improve. I don't have any reason to doubt it will improve, mind you, given that McCloud made great progress after showing up in terrible shape last January. Finally, McCloud needs to do a better job of using his hands to shed the blocker. He does a pretty good job of controlling, but doesn't offer much in terms of shedding.
Rs-Jr 6'2" 285
Last Spring on Dawkins:
Dawkins played very well considering he was a red-shirt freshman last season. He has a nice first step, plays with good leverage most of the time, and you can tell he is well coached. Dawkins is the starter at the 3-technique spot and is a guy who could end up as a 3-year starter when all is said and done. Dawkins will be counted on for 475-525 snaps this year.
Dawkins was indeed the starter for most of the year and played pretty well early in the year. He used his quickness quite well and played with good technique and leverage. But his play began to taper off as he wore down. Then a dislocated thumb required surgery and pins. For a guy who has to use his hands to be effective, that was a big injury.
This Spring Dawkins needs to keep improving his strength. The technique is already pretty good and if he can continue to get stronger, that technique and quickness will continue to shine through. One question I do have is how much weight his frame can carry. He's definitely a defensive tackle, though he can also play head up on the tackle when FSU runs an odd front.
Rs-So 6'3" 285
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 were concerned that Demonte hasn't put on much weight, if any, since he arrived on campus. He did get injured (leg) and then got down on himself. His medical issues are now cleared up and his 22-lb gain this off-season is tremendous. Demonte is a phenomenal athlete and has the frame to be an excellent 3-technique tackle in time. Demonte will be counted on for 225-275 snaps this year.
After struggling with medical and maturity issues in his red-shirt year, Demonte saw the field for the first time in 2010. He played an important role, providing some much needed snaps as other players were injured or just worn down over the stretch run.
But his play wasn't excellent by any stretch of the imagination. If Florida State is to take the next step forward on defense it must have guys like Demonte McAllister step up. He needs to stay dedicated in the weight room and add a lot of strength and mass in his lower half. He has the frame to be 300 pounds and it will be a disappointment if he isn't within 5 pounds of that mark. Demonte needs improvement in every area except quickness. He's more athletic than Dawkins, but Dawkins is a better player at this point because of consistency and technique. Granted, Dawkins does have the extra year on him. If you're looking for a Spring breakout candidate, you could do worse than Demonte.
Sophomore, 6'1" 288
Darious Cummings was a highly-rated player out of Titusville. He blew up in the off-season program and is a promising prospect. He didn't play too much last season, though he did see some snaps against Maryland late in the year when the defensive line was very beat up. I didn't get to see enough of Cummings to make an evaluation of what he needs to improve. I definitely see him getting more playing time this season.
Rs-Freshman 6'5" 300
Erving was quite an unknown when FSU signed him. He definitely has some athleticism and a big body, but is still very much a project as he hasn't played much football. With such limited playing time last season, I'd be lying if I said I knew what he needs to improve, except for his body composition.
Rs-Junior 6'2" 315
McCray is a powerful, often-injured junior from Tampa. While strong, he lacks instincts and technique and has never done much in Tallahassee. Coming off an ACL injury from last off-season, FSU will look to ease McCray back into the lineup. I really have no idea what to expect here.
Out For Spring
Jacobbi McDaniel (groin surgery)
Maturation: In 2010, here was the breakdown of the defensive line by age.
3 red-shirt sophomores
2 red-shirt freshmen
3 true freshmen
In 2011, here is what FSU will be working with:
4 red-shirt juniors
2 red-shirt sophomores
1 red-shirt freshmen
4 true freshmen
The first thing you notice is the numbers. Florida State now has 16 defensive linemen. Last year the 'Noles had only 11. But the other thing I notice is the increase in 2nd-year or older players (8 in 2010, 12 this year).