Florida State football: FSU defensive back preview

Kevin C. Cox

Tomahawk Nation is previewing the Florida State Seminoles 2014 season with a series of roundtable responses. Our authors chimed in on questions that piqued their interest.

Florida State had a tremendous secondary in 2013. All five of its starters have been, or project to be drafted within the first 71 picks of the NFL draft. This year, Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks are gone, but Florida State does return the top cornerback tandem in the country in P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby, plus sophomore sensation Jalen Ramsey, who'll be filling Joyner's position, Nate Andrews (good sixth man in 2013) and Tyler Hunter, who is back after missing most of 2013 with a neck injury.

Behind them, the Seminoles have some reserves with lesser talent, but quite a few years in the system.

On paper, is there any historical comparison to which the caliber of FSU's back 5 can be compared?

Bud: What about 2013? Call me crazy, but I am not sure FSU is going to be better in the secondary this year. Joyner was a unique talent and Brooks was severely underrated-- he was one of the best safeties FSU has had in a while, yet some hardly mention him as a loss. Is Darby, Williams, Ramsey and Andrews having another year in the system, and getting back Tyler Hunter really enough to overcome that?

jmnpb996: Brooks will be a bigger loss than many anticipate. Not many players out there as rangy as he was. His INT where he was playing C1 and made a diving catch near the sideline is just a good example of both his athleticism and football IQ.

I don't think Joyner is that difficult to replace as a DB, necessarily. He was a unique playmaking talent who seemed to have a nose for the ball, absurd athleticism/motor, and the length of a man 6 inches taller than him. He was not, however, a stud in coverage. Joyner's best use in 2013 would have been as a hybrid safety/Star, in my opinion - allowing his range to be displayed as a safety, while having his playmaking ability near the LOS for blitzing/passing situations. He wasn't great in coverage (compared to all-world Darby/PJ) as a true CB on an island, and probably would have regularly been in better positions if he was playing further back.

While you're going to have a hard time replacing the blitzing ability and playmaking of Joyner, I don't think you'll struggle to find a Star player who's as good or better in coverage. I believe we'll see more blitzing from the LB group this fall than we did in 2013, with less DBs being sent. Theoretically, this means you're asking your Star to be in coverage rather than/more often than an LB - which should be a net positive. We saw quite often in 2013 where LBs in hook/curl zones were out of position, or where LBs were asked to match up with TEs/receivers up the seams. Auburn exploited those issues.

I don't think FSU will necessarily be better, as I highly doubt Andrews/Hunter can step in and play to the level of a senior Brooks, but I think it should be mitigated by the different type of DBs and their being used in coverage rather than as ears-pinned-back blitzers. So, historically, very similar in caliber of overall play to 2013.

Kyle Griffis: Is FSU going to miss Joyner and Brooks? Of course. But top to bottom I think this secondary is deeper than last year's secondary. And despite some people picking Va Tech, this is undoubtedly the best secondary in the country. FSU has two shutdown starting corners and depth behind them. By the time Ramsey leaves FSU, he may go down as the greatest defensive back in FSU's history since Deion. Throw in Hunter, Andrews and Marshall and this secondary is good enough to repeat, if not surpass, the statistical dominance of the 2013's unit. Good luck to anyone foolish enough to attempt to pass on it.

Florida State season preview

Alan Mundy: I would take the Brooks/Ramsay combo at safety over Hunter/Andrews every time. I wouldn't call it a weakness, but if I'm an opposing OC, I'm trying to isolate Andrews in coverage whenever possible.

ricobert1: You know, I watched a few (all) of our games on Youtube this offseason. And FSU botched a lot of deeper coverages when Andrews was on the field that got covered up by bad opponent play / some front 7 freak messing up the opponent. I'm not dogging Andrews; I'm just saying FSU's coverage multiplicity wasn't very mature last year when underclassmen were on the field. Losing Brooks is huge, but I think Andrews grows up along with the other young guys. FSU might still need to be a man-to-man based coverage and limit the zone/pattern matching stuff. Good thing FSU has athletic guys like Darby, Williams, Hunter, Waisome, Brutush, Marshall, etc.

What role do you see for Tyler Hunter?

DKfromVA: My dream is to have Marshall playing star and Ramsey and Andrews back deep with Hunter in the dime and providing depth at both safety and star. But this is admittedly a dream. I think the season will more likely start with Ramsey at star and Hunter being asked to play safety. We'll see if he's up to it. I certainly hope that he is.

ricobert1: Hunter is still my first choice for the Havoc position I assigned last year to Joyner. Cover, blitz, free-lance, drop deep, pick off a Clemson pass as the 10th man on the field. I understand Ramsey is slotted for Joyner's old position - which I'm not crying over. But Hunter seems like the guy you wind him up and let him do his thing.

Alan Mundy: I'd prefer Hunter play safety and be the guy playing deep middle when a safety rotates down into the box. Hunter has the range and instincts for it and frankly he didn't look great in run support before getting injured, so keeping him away from the line of scrimmage is a plus.

ricobert1: Alan; you contrarian, you!

FSU has the horses to play [very aggressive coverage] all game long vs. most of its conference opponents. Whose passing attack could force FSU into playing 2-high?

DKfromVA: Umm. I think OK State will try. Miami has some talent on the outside if they can find someone to throw the ball. Hard to say what Clemson has in Stoudt and Watson just yet. In conclusion, I think my first answer of "Umm" is the correct one.

Kyle Griffis: Unless or until Miami has a viable option at QB, I'm going to go with "no one."

Alan Mundy: Interesting question. I'm not sure FSU necessarily wants to play Cover-0 that much, but I don't know that there are any teams on the schedule that would scare you away from it. Miami has some guys who can hurt you on the outside, but they're going to have to prove something at QB first. Oklahoma State loves to throw fades against man coverage outside, but the QB hasn't displayed the "drop it in the bucket" accuracy that would scare you on that throw. This also depends on what the pass rush looks like. How often and how many guys do they need to bring to generate pressure? The more heat you can generate from 4 and 5 man pressures, the more often you have the luxury of playing 2 deep shells.

FSU: Even though they've lost a lot, I'm actually inclined to say Clemson. Simply because Chad Morris is still there.

Bud: Louisville! Bobby Petrino absolutely loves taking deep shots and isolating players down the field. And Louisville has not run the ball well with its current offensive line group.

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