Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
FSU returns a very veteran secondary, but it must learn a new scheme and replace a 1st round draft choice at cornerback.
FSU spring practice kicks off March 20 and our Florida State football spring 2013 preview kicks off with a look at the secondary, which returns five of six key pieces from an excellent 2012 season. But with an almost entirely new defensive coaching staff, FSU's secondary enters spring with many questions. They are not questions of talent, but rather of position and role.
The goal is, as always, to maximize a player's talent and to get the best possible group on the field. And just because a player may be in a new position does not mean that he was misused by the former staff or is being misused by the new staff.
Florida State must replace Xavier Rhodes, a three-year starter who just happens to be the No. 2 cornerback in the upcoming NFL draft. Yes, FSU does have 4 former 5-star and 5 former 4-star recruits on the roster, but you don't just replace a player of that level and not have some sort of dropoff.
Out for spring
Unfortunately, Ronald Darby, Tyler Hunter and Nick Waisome are recovering from injuries and will be out for spring. All three players are proven to an extent, and should be fine in the long term, but with a new scheme being installed, it would be much better to have them in spring camp.
A veteran group
FSU is returning a combined 22 years of letterman experience (not counting red shirt seasons). I'm not sure how to express just how veteran that is, but suffice to say that is a ton of veteran experience and gives hope that FSU's secondary will once again be very good.
Lock to start?
We've already seen Lamarcus Joyner be moved to cornerback, so I won't reinvent that wheel. He's a lock to start.
Safe at safety?
FSU does return starting safety Terrence Brooks, who I assume will be safe at safety. And the move of Lamarcus Joyner to corner would seem to open up the other safety spot for Karlos Williams. But with a new coaching staff, assume nothing. It's not out of the realm of possibility that Brooks could move to cornerback, though it is unlikely. And what if one or both struggle to pick up the new scheme? We've certainly seen that before with Williams. Remember, with a new staff, everything is really up in the air.
But Florida State has a lot of defensive backs who have the ability to play both cornerback and safety. That list includes Tyler Hunter, who was FSU's nickel cornerback last season, P.J. Williams, who has great length, Terrence Brooks, last year's starting safety (see above), Keelin Smith, Lamarcus Brutus, Gerald Demps and Colin Blake. While some might laugh at the inclusion of some of the players on the tail end of the list, the bottom line here is that nobody knows exactly what positions they will play, and even if they are reserves, we still don't know what position they will play. That includes the coaches, who have not yet had the opportunity to work with the players.
On the other hand, we've seen that it is pretty rare for Saban and Muschamp to start small corners. And Waisome, though listed at 5'10, sure doesn't look it. That cornerback spot is a position to watch.
It's also important to note that Pruitt, who will presumably run a defense like Saban and Muschamp, will likely have guys changing positions based on down and distance. For instance, in Bama and Florida's nickel package, one of the corners or safeties (like Florida's Matt Elam), will often slide inside to nickel. FSU's nickel specialist will likely be Lamarcus Joyner, because of his physicality and explosive ability to blitz from the slot.
With Hunter, Darby and Waisome out, I don't expect to have definite starters coming out of spring football.
FSU's defense overall is going to be more aggressive (I hate when writers say this, because it's the mantra accompanying every new hire, but in this case it is true). It'll also work on playing more coverages, pattern matching on early downs when in zone, and will do more man blitzing as opposed to zone blitzing on third down, with the focus being to get the ball of the QB's hand quickly as opposed to making him hold it and confusing him. If you watch Alabama and Florida, they press like crazy and blitz on third down. FSU will focus on this quite a bit in spring ball. It'll also focus on making sure its safeties have the coverage checks and automatics down.
Arriving in June
Remember that new recruits Jalen Ramsey (5-star CB), Marquez White (4-star CB) and Nate Andrews (3-star DB) won't arrive until summer.