Florida State football kicks off on Labor Day at Pitt. Tomahawk Nation previews the season up until that date by analyzing every key player and issue facing the 2013 Seminoles.
No. 1 Tyler Hunter | 5-11, 197 | S | Junior
School Bio (Courtesy Seminoles.com)
Versatile defensive back, who can play either safety or corner. Serves as a punt returner and a key contributor on special teams. Looks to expand on his role as the starting nickelback where his physical play and speed contributed to one of the top defenses nationally. Had offseason surgery and missed spring practice, but should also compete for a starting job at strong safety in the fall.
Career to Date
Tyler Hunter came to Florida State in 2011 out of Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Ga., following in the footsteps of former Lowndes standouts Greg Reid, Gerald Demps and Telvin Smith by becoming a Seminole. Hunter starred on the football field and the baseball diamond for Lowndes, earning a three-star ranking on the gridiron from 247. Had it not been for a spinal issue, he would have ranked much higher on the recruiting services.
Hunter appeared in 11 games as a freshman in 2011, contributing mostly on special teams. In 2012, he played in all 14 games at nickelback. Lining up in the slot, he recorded 25 tackles to go along with three interceptions, two of which came in a Thursday night win over Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Hunter also chipped in as a punt returner, flashing explosive potential in the form of a 75-yard return to the house against Duke. He didn't last too long as FSU's go-to return man, though, eventually being replaced by Kenny Shaw due to the same punt fielding issues that plagued the 'Noles for much of the season.
The Seminoles enter 2013 with a new defensive coordinator in Jeremy Pruitt, and Hunter enters the season at a new position. After missing spring ball due to a knee injury, the junior has made the shift from corner to safety, where he is entrenched in a competition with Karlos Williams for the second starting spot opposite Terrence Brooks. That second safety spot opened up after Lamarcus Joyner, who occupied the middle of the field for two years, moved down to corner for his senior season.
Jimbo Fisher and his coaching staff have loaded the cupboard with elite defensive backs, and Hunter is one of several DBs who is talented enough to start at many other major programs but finds himself battling for playing time in Tallahassee.
After nearly three weeks of practice, what Bud wrote entering camp still holds true in regards to the battle between Hunter and ’Los.
Both are expected to play a lot, because Florida State will run a lot of defenses featuring five defensive backs.
So the question really boils down to how often will Williams or Hunter be on the field when Florida State is using only five defensive backs (even if this doesn't happen often). Hunter has better coverage skills, being a former cornerback, but Williams is an athletic freak and is perhaps better against the run.
Both are talented, dynamic players. As Bud stated, Williams is truly a freak athlete at 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, but Hunter possesses excellent athleticism in his own right.
With so many toys at his disposal, Pruitt has had plenty of opportunities to cross-train his defensive backs, as TN's Dustin Tackett, Spencer Wills and Stephen Fenech have reported from practices. One day, Hunter will practice with the first team in 4-3 and nickel packages, and Williams will come in for the dime defense. The next day, Hunter will work consistently with the second-team, only joining Williams and company on the first-team for nickel and/or dime situations.
Hunter recently said that he had been taking some practice reps at the "star" position – a nickelback with the versatility to double as an outside linebacker – in Pruitt's defense this fall, but he made it clear that he's been playing primarily at safety. Note that the star is the replacement player for the Sam linebacker when the Seminoles go to a look with two linebackers and five defensive backs.
The bottom line is that Hunter is a play-maker. FSU has a unique situation in the defensive backfield in that a plethora of potential NFL players are vying for snaps. As far as "problems" go, this is a great one to have, and Hunter is a guy that is too talented to keep off the field (along with several others).
Even if ’Los emerges as the starter at safety, Tyler will see see plenty of action between his reps at safety and in the slot (400-plus snaps is possible). The "starter" designation is almost meaningless when applied here. Coach Pruitt will utilize the star and "money" positions this season, which, in theory, make six-defensive back sets a real possibility for the Seminoles ("money" being a defensive back that, similarly to star, doubles as a ’backer. Usually the money player has a bit more size, making ’Los an ideal candidate). In such a defense, Hunter and Williams would almost certainly be on the field at the same time.
Regardless of the new terminology (star and money could simply be cogs in standard nickel or dime packages), Pruitt will identify his best players and tailor the defense around their strengths. Based on his performance in a significant role last season and his ceiling as an all-around football player, it's likely that Hunter makes the cut as one of FSU's best defenders and becomes an important element in Pruitt's defensive blueprint.