FSU spring practice kicks off March 20 and our Florida State football spring 2013 preview continues with a look at the linebacker position, which did very little to contribute to the excellent 2012 season had by the defense. A new group of players and a new coaching staff, including position coach Charles Kelly, means a fresh start for this position. Almost every player at this position has good upside and accompanying questions. There is talent here, and many believe Kelly is an enormous upgrade over Greg Hudson, who left for a job at Purdue (and would not have been retained in any case).
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 loses Vince Williams, who was quite good in his senior year and should get drafted, and Nick Moody, who, well, didn't make the transition to Sam linebacker all that well.
Florida State has a lot of recruited talent at the position, and Charles Kelly will be tasked with getting them to play much better than his predecessor did.
Florida State has a five-star, and four four-stars on its spring roster, with a combined ten years of varsity letterman experience (not including red-shirt years, of course). To that, FSU will add a five-star, a four-star and three three-star freshmen.
Who will earn starting snaps?
I'll attempt to answer that question in a minute, but first, we need to note that nobody really has any idea what positions these linebackers will be playing.
Last year Christian Jones played the weak-side linebacker spot, but that very well could change. Jones could stick, could play middle, or could go back to playing Sam.
And what do these terms even mean in the new system? We really have no idea as of yet, because Jeremy Pruitt has never been interviewed by the media, and he has never run his own defense. Almost all of the people speculating here and elsewhere are using the old definitions of positions, but those definitions are not guaranteed to be the same in the new defense.
Christian Jones is almost certainly a lock to start, though he had a disappointing year at Weak-side linebacker after moving over from the Strong-side. Jones is still very long and athletic, and while he appeared to lack instincts, I do not know how much of that to attribute to him, and how much to attribute to the previous coach. Jones does have an excellent skillset, and if Kelly finds that he lacks instincts, he'll need to put him in a position to succeed by rushing the passer, setting the edge against the tight end, and covering the tight end. The spring is all about finding out what Jones can really do when given good coaching. The fall is about putting him in the best spot to maximize those talents.
I think Telvin Smith is going to start, or at least play a lot. He has good instincts, and is extremely athletic, though he does take a lot of chances. However, I am very mindful that Nick Saban and Will Muschamp do not like to play small linebackers (and yes I am aware that Alabama runs a 3-4, so if you want to, you can go back and look up his LSU teams from the early 2000s with which he ran a 4-3). Smith has bulked up each season he's been in Tallahassee, and he needs to continue to do so. We'll be interested to see if Pruitt/Kelly are willing to play an athletic playmaker who is a liability taking on blocks. My guess is that he will be willing to do so, if only for a year, as Telvin does have a lot of ability and they should be able to find a way to maximize his strengths and minimize his weaknesses.
I don't know what to expect of Nigel Terrell. He's not done much to date, but again, he does have some ability and with a new coach, perhaps the light will come on.
FSU has three promising young linebackers in Terrance Smith, Reggie Northrup and Ukeme Eligwe. All three were rated among the 10 best at their position nationally as recruits, and they are very athletic. Eligwe is probably the biggest athletic freak, and was fairly raw coming out. Northrup is a hard worker and with his wrestling background, has really good balance. FSU is pretty certain to find one (or two) starters out of these three, and it'll be tough for them not to be good with this level of talent.
And though I don't expect any of the freshmen to seriously content for starting jobs, I can't completely dismiss the possibility, either. Matthew Thomas, the five-star, and Freddie Stevenson, an early-enrollee, are the most likely to contribute.
Arriving in June
Remember that new recruits Matthew Thomas (6'4, 200, 5-star), E.J. Levenberry (6'3, 230, 4-star), Tyrell Lyons (6'2, 220, 3-star) and Ro'Derrick Hoskins (6'3, 215, 3-star) arrive this summer. I put this in here as a test, because every year people ask "where is [freshman not yet on campus]?"