Spring practice opened up on Wednesday with a completely revamped staff, a quarterback competition, and half of the defensive secondary missing, but things ran smoothly. With Jimbo bringing in a staff full of assistants with a track record of coordinator experience, he's more willing to accept a little "give and take" with his staff. Jimbo obviously still runs the show, but his history with some of these guys, and more importantly, his confidence in these guys, is what's going to allow this transition to happen with ease. This was made clear when he didn't make us wait until Media Day in the fall to talk to the new defensive coordinator and the new defensive ends coach.
First, a quick note that freshman defensive end Demarcus Walker isn't practicing because he has an issue with the clearing house.
Jeremy Pruitt is Florida State's new defensive coordinator, and that was an "eyebrow raiser" to some because of his lack of college or pro experience, but he's been working and waiting for this opportunity his whole life.
"When I got to the University of Alabama, Jeremy was working as what you would probably call an intern," Sal Sunseri said. "I sat in the press box with that man that whole year, and we won a national championship. He was as good as anyone I've ever been in the press box with, in college football or the NFL. He knows exactly what he wants out there, he knew how to put the guys in place, we knew how to make adjustments. I mean, it was really really exciting up in the press box to come down at halftime to make the corrections and apply them in the second half, and that's how we won the championship."
When looking at a guy like Pruitt, you have to look deeper than just the experience, you have to look at the philosophy. He has been handed a plethora of incredible size, speed, and talent, and he knows good players. He even cracked a joke when asked what his first impressions were when he saw what kind of defense he had by answering, "there are a lot of good players....entering the draft." But he's completely aware of the talent that has been thrown in his lap here at Florida State and he's ready to bring that to life.
Pruitt was born into the Alabama high school football scene due to his father being a former coach, and he continued that trend as the defensive coordinator of the famed Hoover High School. This history makes him a shark on the recruiting trail, especially in his home state, and that's exactly what gave him his first shot at the University of Alabama.
"Nick gave me a shot, but there was a need there," Pruitt said. "He had been in the NFL and never really recruited the state, so he needed someone to come in and do just that. I'm a former player at the University of Alabama, my father was a high school football coach, and I coached at one of the better schools in the state, so that was exactly what he needed at the time."
Pruitt talked about being passed up at Alabama twice before actually getting his promotion. He seems humble and ready for the opportunity to prove himself. So the question remains, what kind of defense will he run here at Florida State? Well, we know a few things. We know where he's come from and the success he's witnessed along the way. So I think it's safe to say that he'll imitate some of those same principals. I asked him who the guys were that he looks up to and tries to emulate defensively, and this is what he had to say:
"Most coaches - they don't don't invent anything," Pruitt said. "They steal and learn from somebody else, and I've been fortunate enough to be around some great coaches. I'd say one of the first people would be my father, a former high school football coach. I had an opportunity to play for Gene Stallings and Bill Oliver, who was Alabama's defensive coordinator at the time. I've also been in contact with Bobby Johns. And then obviously my time at Alabama with Nick Saban."
I think it's safe to say that Florida State will run a defense similar to what Nick Saban runs at Alabama. If you're Jeremy Pruitt and you've seen the success that has come out of this philosophy, why wouldn't you "steal and learn" from that? While a completely new coaching staff can be tough on the players, they seem to be responding to the new staff and what they're trying to accomplish.
"Man, I'm excited about our defense this year," Telvin Smith said. "We're gonna be active and aggressive, and couldn't be happier. We've been watching film on Alabama and how they run their defense, and that's what we're trying to be."
This guy comes off like a character from the Sopranos. He's loud, he's hilarious, and he has a proven track record when it comes to coaching football. Sunseri is a guy that has done it all. He has coached all around the college football landscape (Alabama) as well as the NFL (Carolina Panthers). This kind of experience is what's going to bring the Florida State coaching staff to the next level. He's going to be demanding of his players and he's not going to let up. He's a technique first guy, but he also knows that you need the talent there, too. He made it clear that he evaluated the personnel here at Florida State before he took the job.
"The one thing I've learned in the last year is that you have to evaluate the personnel before you take a coaching job," Sunseri said about his time at Tennessee. "If you don't have the right guys, it's just not going to work. Jimbo does such a great job of recruiting on both sides of the ball and that makes our jobs a lot easier."
Sunseri knows the challenge ahead. He knows what he has and what he needs to fix, and this is all due to his experience. He thinks Mario Edwards Jr. has all the talent in the world, but he needs to be in better shape. He's trying to help Gio Newberry figure out how to use his length - how to get his feet underneath him. These are things that he's aware of and working on, and he's not going to ease up.
"Florida State has already had great defensive linemen," Sunseri said. "It's really amazing - the talent that we have here. The talent is here. We've got to get them to work hard, and we've gotta get them to understand how to fit their hands, how to bring their feet and get to the quarterback. Then we've gotta tell them how to make the tackle verses the run. We've gotta make 'em smarter. They gotta know down and distances, they've gotta know when it's run tendencies, pass tendencies, sets, and everything else. They need to know more than just their assignments, they need to understand concepts. So that's my job. The kids are open and listening, and I'm gonna ride 'em. I'm gonna ride 'em because it's not easy to do what we're asking you to do. We are going to play 60 minutes of football."
You have to love this if you're a Florida State football fan. This is a man with a plan, and he's ready to whip these kids into shape. When you talk about a position where you're losing three great players to the NFL, I don't know if you could ask for a better guy to come in and coach up this young talent.
"I really don't ever look back how anybody else coaches," Sunseri said. "Jimbo hired me to come in here and coach defensive ends and I'm gonna coach 'em the same exact way I coached Upshaw and all of those guys. It works. When you're coaching good football players, you're a great coach. When I was coaching Julius Peppers, I was a great coach."
As much as Sunseri was joking with that last line, there's plenty of truth to that. He knows the talent that he has and the possibilities that come with that. And he knows what he has to do to make these kids better football players. It'll be exciting to see the progression of the young, raw defensive ends throughout spring and summer under Sunseri.
I'll give today's early practice report in the comment section around 4/4:30 if there is anything of note.