This is the ninth in a multi-part series covering Florida State Spring football practice. Previously, we looked at quarterback, receiver, running back, offensive line, defensive end, defensive tackle, linebackers , and cornerbacks. Today, a look at the safeties.
Florida State has eight players returning who started on last year's defense, but not all of them are likely to be starters this year. FSU's safeties last season let the team down, repeatedly. They were easily the worst position group not only on the defense, but the entire team. Both Nick Moody and Terrance Parks are back for the 'Noles, but will they retain their starting spots? It's not a lock. Neither player impressed last season, and Moody was particularly disappointing. All flash and little substance, many fans were blown away by the occasional huge hit, but he blew numerous coverages and hurt the defense much more than he helped it. In addition, Moody often took poor angles on run plays, allowing big runs to his side because of his undisciplined, overaggressive play. In a defense that was trying to play "bend but don't break", Moody often caused the break. He's out for Spring with a groin injury, but when he comes back, it could be an uphill battle to regain his spot. Parks was better than Moody overall, but still wasn't anything special. Though he made fewer big hits, he also blew fewer coverages and played his responsibility with greater frequency. Let's profile the safeties who are trying to lock down spots this Spring.
Note: Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops refers to the traditional "free safety" as the "strong safety", and the traditional "strong safety as the free safety." It is confusing, but when you transform a defense in just one season, you earn the right to call them whatever you want. At least Stoops doesn't use terms like "star, monster, or hero."
The 5'8" 193 pound sophomore is making the switch from cornerback to safety. Joyner was the top rated corner from the 2010 class, and he had a quality first season as Florida State's fourth cornerback. A tremendous athlete, he played a lot of safety in high school. With an excellent work ethic and a good understanding of football, Joyner is primed to take Nick Moody's spot, the "free safety."
There are some concerns about Joyner's size for the safety position, as he is a lot smaller than Nick Moody. However, Joyner is 11 pounds bigger than he was last season, and was flagged twice last year for essentially hitting too hard. He is a good tackler and doesn't shy away from contact. The same concerns people had about his ability to play corner, with respect to height, are echoed here. And the same response is appropriate: he can jump out of the gym and has really, really long arms. Have you ever seen someone intercept a pass with his helmet? There's a reason NFL teams measure wingspan and vertical jump at the combine. If Bob Sanders can play safety at 5'9" in the NFL, Joyner can do it at 5'8" with longer arms in college.
If Joyner can simply play his assignment and not allow a lot of big plays, he'll be a significant improvement over Nick Moody. It would not be surprising, however, to see Joyner play more of the "strong safety" (centerfield) role, with Parks moving to play more of the "free safety" (in the box run stopper) role played by Moody last season. Joyner should be an excellent cover safety who also has the ability to tackle. Coach Fisher recently remarked (unprovoked) that moving Joyner to safety was a "great decision."
Parks finally got his chance to start last season, and while he wasn't as undependable as Nick Moody, he still wasn't all that great. Like Moody, Parks struggled with being stiff and sometimes was slow to react. The 6'2" 217 pound senior has dropped seven pounds in an effort to become more fluid.
Parks isn't a superstar or a major playmaker, but he really isn't being tasked with that. A good to very good defense doesn't require that everyone be a playmaker. It does, however, ask that everyone play their assignments and not let the team down by abandoning their responsibility. If Parks is indeed more fluid with the lower weight, and is more comfortable in his second year, perhaps he can diagnose and react more quickly.
He's not great against the run, but this year may be asked to play closer to the line of scrimmage (this is not yet determined), and that would change his angles. He's not a lock to start, but it's more likely than not.
Terrence Brooks is an athletic, sophomore who made the switch from corner to safety. This is experimental for the 5'11" 191 pound Brooks. The coaches like Brooks, and the question isn't his talent as much as it is how quickly he takes to the position. He'll likely challenge for Parks spot. If Brooks doesn't take to the safety position, he could easily transition back to cornerback.
Chad Abram is a big-bodied sophomore and a good special teams player. He dropped some weight and is down to 218 pounds at 6'0", intending to stay at safety as the rumors swirled that he would move to linebacker. The coaching staff has dispelled those rumors, and he will be staying at safety-- for now at least. Abram didn't get to play much defense last season, so there isn't much game film of him to analyze. We should have a better idea of his status after the Spring.
Gerald Demps redshirted in 2009 and saw time on special teams last year. While he hasn't accomplished much at FSU, he at least has been able to put on some muscle, which is more than can be said for Justin Bright, below. Now a red-shirt sophomore, Demps doesn't really seem in line for any playing time, and could be a transfer candidate before th 2012 season so he can go somewhere and get some playing time, but that's not a guarantee. Playing time in future years cannot be completely ruled out.
Justin Bright is a red-shirt sophomore from South Carolina. His most meaningful contribution to the 'Noles to date was stopping UF punter Chas Henry on a fake punt. Bright isn't considered a serious threat at the position and was part of a package deal for some other Byrnes HS players that fell through, with FSU left holding the bag. If he starts at FSU, it's a bad sign for the 'Noles. He's not very athletic and is tiny at 184 pounds in his third year. 'Nole fans should hope he really loves football and thus decides to transfer somewhere else where he could actually play, thus freeing up a scholarship. Bright isn't a bad kid by any means, but he's not an FSU-quality starter.
Avis Commack was profiled in the cornerback preview, but could also play safety if needed.
Of course, this could all look a lot different come Fall when four more freshmen defensive backs arrive, including one of the top safety prospects in the country, Karlos Williams.