Today's look at the secondary marks the conclusion of the Florida State spring football series. The 'Noles had the sixth best defense nationally in 2011, and the best in the conference. An incredible 22 of the top 25 defenders return, which justifies the sky-high expectations. Previous installments Quarterback | Running Back | Wide Receiver & Tight End | Defensive Line | Linebacker
Goodbye: The major loss at this position is Mike Harris, who played about as many snaps as any other cornerback last season, including Reid and Rhodes.
Out With Injury: Florida State's top cornerback, Xavier Rhodes, is out for spring with a knee injury. This actually might be a good thing, as there is a school of thought that Rhodes would have turned pro had he been healthy for the combine and pro day. Rhodes is a top-70 draft choice next year if he again produces like he did as a redshirt freshman or sophomore.
With Rhodes out, the top returning corner is Greg Reid. Reid plays the field position, as opposed to the boundary which is manned by Rhodes. Reid seemed to grow up a bit last year, took fewer chances, and seemed to do a better job of dealing with his lack of height. Can Greg Reid get much better? I'm not so sure. But you could do a lot worse for the field corner position.
Replacing Rhodes this spring is Keelin Smith, a red-shirt freshman from Port St. Lucie. At 6'3" and 185 pounds, he has the length that defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Mark Stoops is looking for in his boundary corners. This experience will be quite valuable for Smith, who is in line to take over for Rhodes if the red-shirt junior jumps for the NFL after 2012, as expected. That Smith is still at corner, and not at safety, is a good sign for FSU as the 'Noles were one of the few teams who believed Smith could play the position as opposed to having to move to safety because of his height. FSU has a defense that is a solid fit for boundary corners of this size.
The new jack of all trades is Tyler Hunter. A sophomore from Valdosta, Hunter has a ton of talent. He'll take Mike Harris' role of nickelback, but also take over Terrence Brooks' role from 2011 of backup safety (backing up Lamarcus Joyner). I fully expect the 6'0" 200 pound Hunter to play 400+ snaps this season. His ability in the nickel position is a big boost to FSU because of his work against the run from the slot. Unless, of course, Brooks drops down to the slot in nickel and Williams plays safety.
Working at reserve field corner is sophomore Nick Waisome. Waisome is a bit on the small side at 5'9" and 176 pounds, but he does have good instincts and was highly rated coming out of high school. Waisome went through spring last year as an early enrollee, and should be familiar with the process.
Arriving in the fall: Ronald Darby, Colin Blake and P.J. Williams. The latter two may end up at safety, though they could also play field corner.
Gone: Terrance Parks & Nick Moody. Parks graduated after a decent, but unspectacular career. Moody moved to strong-side linebacker and would have likely been beaten out by Terrance Brooks.
The star of this group is Lamarcus Joyner. The 5'8, 193 pound beast is one of the best safeties in the country. Joyner has incredible range, great instincts, perhaps the best closing speed in the country, is a sure tackler, etc. If not for his size, he'd be a surefire first round pick as an early entry. I wrote last year, before the season started, that Joyner is the most valuable player to Florida State's defense. And I was definitely right. I'm not so sure that is the case any more. It has nothing to do with Joyner's play, but rather depth at other positions and the increased depth at the safety position. Joyner's ability and versatility take this defense to another level.
At the other safety position is Terrence Brooks. Brooks is a talented junior from Dunellon who originally played some cornerback. Like Joyner, the 5'11" 195 pound Brooks has excellent range and has showed very good instincts in limited duty, including an interception and several other plays in the bowl game. Brooks is also a good tackler.
At this point, you may be wondering about the ability for FSU to stop the run with two sub-200 pound safeties. First, I do believe Brooks is over 200 pounds. Second, don't worry. FSU's front seven is excellent against the run because it is huge and strong.
Backing up Brooks and attempting to take his job is Karlos Williams, a five-star recruit. I should note, as I have in the past, that Williams would have also been a five-star athlete recruit or a five-star receiver recruit. He was asked to move positions in the off-season, to offense, but declined because he said he felt comfortable in Mark Stoops' scheme. Williams is an incredible athlete, perhaps the best FSU has had in some time. But there is also more to playing defense than athleticism. Instincts and mentality matter, and that is one of the reasons Brooks is ahead of Williams. I would not be surprised if Williams is able to overtake Brooks, because both players have excellent talent. But I also think the 6'2" 225 pound Williams would be better used on offense. Also, I want to note again that Williams should have found a way to get in for spring 2011.
Other players: Justin Bright (rs-jr), Gerald Demps (rs-jr) and Lamarcus Brutus (rs-fr). I don't see Bright or Demps making an impact, and am undecided on Brutus. There's a chance 2012 is the final season for Bright and Demps, as both will graduate in the next two semesters.