Florida State Seminoles Football Spring Preview 2011: Linebacker

This is the seventh in a multi-part series covering Florida State Spring football practice. Previously, we looked at quarterbackreceiverrunning backoffensive linedefensive end, and defensive tackle.  Today I'll review the linebackers.

FSU's linebackers have come a long way since last Spring.  In essence, they received their first real coaching of their collegiate careers under new coach Greg Hudson.

The linebacker position is unique and probably the toughest on the field to play because of having both run and pass responsibilities on every play and coverage call.  Players have to be smart, disciplined in reading keys, and with enough size to tackle big backs and handle linemen blockers, and still cover smaller RBs and TEs in man/zone coverage. STS.

Nigel Bradham

Weak-Side Linebacker

Senior

6'2" 240 lbs

Bradham lead Florida State in tackles for the second-consecutive season in 2010.  He's very strong in the upper and lower body, and good tackler.  While perhaps not living up to his five-star billing as a recruit, he's been more than solid and really improved in his first season with actual linebacker coaching.

Specifically, Bradham improved his recognition and technique.  The "will" (weak-side) backer in Mark Stoops' scheme is essentially another middle linebacker as he is not aligned on the line of scrimmage like the "Sam" (strong-side) backer is.  Having lifted too much in high school, and being naturally bow-legged, Bradham does struggle some with his flexibility.  FSU's strength staff has made it a goal over the last year to really improve his flexibility, with some success.  If you watch him carefully, he doesn't get the same drive with one of his legs as he does with the other, instead sort of dragging it behind him.  This is especially evident on kickoffs, though I don't know if he'll continue to cover them this season. 

There seems to be a large contingent of folks that want to see him moved to middle linebacker.  This is unlikely to happen because of Bradham's speed on the outside and the fact that his position is essentially a slightly-offset middle linebacker anyway.

This year Bradham needs to continue to improve his pass coverage and his reaction time.  He's very fast in a straight line, once he knows where he is going.  The key to getting there quicker is to more quickly identify the target.  Bradham will play pro football, but continued work on his hip flexibility and intangibles will decide where he is drafted.

Christian Jones

Strong-Side Linebacker

Sophomore

6'4" 236 lbs

You can say it.  Christian Jones is a freak and the standout of the best linebacker class in the country from 2010.  Out of Orlando, Jones is the son of 'Nole great Willie Jones and the brother of 'Nole Willie Jones, jr. He was widely regarded as one of if not the best outside linebacker prospect in the country.

As a true freshman, he played early and often.  While tallying only 14 total tackles (9 solo) as a freshman, Jones flashed his supreme athletic ability while learning on the fly.  A ridiculous combination of size and athleticism, he was raw entering Florida State and did not get the benefit of early enrolling.  Nonetheless, he impressed the coaches and everyone in the program not only with his physical tools, but with his attitude as well.  

As expected from a sophomore, Jones' game needs work in many areas.  Perhaps the most glaring need is better technique, which should come with increased experience and time in the program under coach Hudson.  And he needs better understanding of the scheme, which should also come with more time in the system.  As the "Sam" (strong-side) backer, he'll be tasked with stoning the tight end at the line of scrimmage and setting the edge, controlling the C & D gaps.  Jones' play will be key to the Florida State defense.  Mister Alexander played fairly well last season, but Jones should be expected to provide an upgrade over him this season.  Very few college tight ends are able to block Jones, particularly because he continues to add strength and mass in the weight room, going from 228 to 236.  

With a frame to hold at least 250 pounds without losing athleticism, the sky is the limit for Jones.  He should play this season at a minimum of 240 pounds.  Enjoy him while he's here, 'Nole fans, because a guy with this type of talent is typically three-n-NFL.

Vince Williams

Middle Linebacker

Red-Shirt Junior

6'1" 245

Up until this point, Vince Williams is probably best known for two things.  First, he is the brother of mega-recruit and 'Nole freshman Karlos Williams.  And second, he suffered a serious back injury in his second year in Tallahassee.  

Vince Williams is certainly more than just those two things, but his identify as a football player is very much still developing.  

Williams is very strong, but not very athletic.  He is, a prototypical big middle linebacker.  He won't chase down running backs from sideline to sideline, but he will take on a fullback in the hole, causing the runner to bounce outsider where he is swallowed up by someone who is athletic enough to do so.  

People expecting Vince to be a superstar (if there are any) will be disappointed.  Those thinking he can't play a lick will likely be surprised.  Williams flashed some ability as a freshman in 2008, though it was too little from which to make any definitive judgments.  Then came the injury.  Last year Williams made some tackles but looked awkward and robotic.  If he's Florida State's middle linebacker, coach Stoops will be tasked with hiding his flaws and trying to use his strengths.  What you see with Williams is what you get: a tough, physical run defender in limited space.  

He is undoubtedly FSU's middle linebacker for the Spring, as sophomore Jeff Luc is out with a torn meniscus.  Contrary to popular opinion, Luc is not a lock to beat out Williams for the Spot once he heals up. 

 

The Backups

Telvin Smith

Weak-Side Linebacker

Sophomore

6'3" 209 lbs

Florida State wants big linebackers.  If a backer isn't big and able to take on blocks, he better be both incredibly athletic and instinctive.  Telvin Smith is both of those things.  There is just a special quality about him.  Most guys can't slip blocks like Telvin does, and his understanding of where the ball will go is just incredible for such a young player.  

He hasn't played enough to make much of an evaluation of him aside from the one above.  But he definitely needs to get bigger and stronger.  He can't slip every block.  If he were to start in 2011 he'd be in trouble.  Teams would run right at him and when he went left to get around a blocker, the runner would go right, using the blocker as a shield.  He is a very hard gainer, much like backup QB Clint Trickett.  Smith came in at right about 200 pounds, and has managed to put on only nine.  The strength staff is certainly doing everything it can to bulk him.  

Barring injury, Telvin won't start in 2011.  Instead, he'll back up Nigel Bradham on the weak side while continuing to learn the scheme and get bigger.  He has a real shot to start in 2012 as a junior, but only if he gets stronger.  If he does get that bare minimum size, his instincts will really show through.  

 

 

 

Nigel Terrell

Strong-Side Linebacker

Red-Shirt Freshman

6'1" 218 lbs

Terrell took a redshirt his first year.  He's athletic and will back up Christian Jones this year on the strong side.  Like Smith above, Terrell needs to get a lot bigger and stronger before he has any chance at starting, if he does at all.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Terrance Smith

Outside Linebacker (but playing middle for Spring)

True Freshman

6'3" 212

Terrance Smith was a highly-rated linebacker from the Atlanta area.  He committed to FSU early in the process and stuck with the commitment despite heavy overtures from Georgia and Clemson.  Smith has excellent speed and good athleticism.  The coaches have been impressed with his maturity in the off-season program and are certainly pleased that he enrolled early.  He'll be an outside linebacker at FSU, but for now is the backup middle backer because two of FSU's three middle backers are recovering from surgery.  

 

Out For Spring

  • Jeff Luc | Middle Linebacker | Sophomore | 6'0" 245 | Torn Meniscus
  • Holmes Onwukaife | Middle Linebacker | Red-shirt Freshman | Shoulder

This is a good group of starters, but the backups are unknowns at this point, having not played much.

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