Tomahawk Nation moves spring preview moves on to the defensive. First up, the linebacking corps. Be sure to read up on the Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Offensive Line, and Receivers/Tight Ends. At this point, it's important to note that Jeff Luc will not be a part of this preview, as we can neither confirm nor deny that he was injured in a scooter accident . However bad the injury, he would certainly be an asset to the team if he could make it back healthy and the sooner the better.*
Coach Stoops has transformed the FSU defense. This is not hyperbole. With the help of Coach Hudson, the linebacking corps is no exception. Gone are the days of freelance play making. There's a system and each player has a job depending on actual plays the defense runs. Playing defense is a game of read, react, and make the play accordingly. Blow the read and the react and the make the play part goes out the window. A standard 3 yard run turns into a 15 yard run. To say the least, the linebackers have made major strides in learning the concepts that are so important in today's defensive schemes.
Florida State only loses one linebacker from the 2011 team in Nigel Bradham. Though, as the leader for the team in tackles for the 3rd year in a row, he takes roughly 34% of production with him. That's a total of 86 tackles for one player. That production will have to be picked up by the remaining players.
Vince Williams is the only true senior that returns to the linebacking corps (well, technically two but we'll get to that in a bit). Williams impressed last year as he earned starting job at middle linebacker. He finished 5th in total tackles. While he may not make the splashy highlight reel hits often, he continually did his job and played his position, not trying to do other people's assignments. As a middle linebacker, this is of utmost importance. What resulted was a solid performance that had many 'Nole fans pleased and in many cases surprised with his level of play. Look for Williams to continue to mature as a smart, heady player. For Vince to have a shot at the second level, he will need to be even better this year and that all starts with a solid spring performance.
Splitting time with Williams was junior Telvin Smith. With Smith's elite quickness and football instincts, the two players made an excellent one-two punch. While Williams finished with 30 solo tackles, Smith would rack up 28 of his own (granted he was also a special teams tackling specialist). Smith is not at all what you would think of as a modern day elite college player at the position. However, that didn't make him any less effective last year. In the mold of Stoops' multiple set defense, Smith is a perfect player. Fast enough to easily cover a TE or RB in the middle of the field for a pass, quick enough to explode through the line for a tackle for loss, Smith was a difficult player to scheme around. It is his skill set that makes him such a dynamic player. Though at times, he could get caught up in the wash and his size would get him beat if a blocker was able to engage. He could possibly stand to gain 15-20 pounds, as long as it doesn't limit his multiple skill set. This spring, look for him to earn even more snaps and a larger role going into next season.
|Florida State Linebackers**|
|#||Player||Year||Tackles Last Season/Notes|
|7||Christian Jones||JR||33 Solo 56 Total|
|11||Vince Williams||RS SR||30 Solo 54 Total|
|22||Telvin Smith||JR||28 Solo 42 Total|
|48||Jeff Luc||JR||7 Solo 15 Total/Injured OUT|
|28||Nigel Terrell||RS SO||1 Solo 1 Total|
|24||Terrance Smith||RS FR||1 Total|
|10||Nick Moody||RS SR||15 Solo 23 Total/As a DB|
Next up is rising star junior Christian Jones. Jones had the opportunity to show why he was one of the most coveted players of his class. With elite size, speed and football instincts, Jones will be counted on just as much in 2012. Fisher mentioned that Jones will be playing the Will position. However, that may be out of necessity with the aforementioned Luc situation. Jones has the size to engage blockers, but also the ability to cover TEs and RBs in space. With players cross training on the defense, look for Jones to takes plenty of snaps at each position during spring ball (look for all the LBs to cross train. Telvin at MLB, OLB, Williams at MLB, OLB etc.). He put together an excellent season last year, especially considering he was a true sophomore taking a whole bunch of snaps. Many speculate that this will be the last year for Jones in an FSU uniform. Jones would need to build on his 2011 performance to make that a reality. If he can do so, Jones could put together a year's worth of production that would create the kind of hype necessary (read huge payday) to make the leap early.
The last known commodity rounding out the most likely starters for the linebackers is senior Nick Moody. While indeed Nick is a senior, this will be his his first time getting full time snaps at the linebacker position. Moody may have been able to make the move earlier but numbers at the safety position dictated that he stay put. That is no longer the case. He has gained considerable weight and made the switch going into spring ball. Moody is known for his hard hits at safety...when he's in position. At times, he reads plays incorrectly, eliminating himself from making a play. However, his best plays came as a safety down in the box in run support. It's likely that being closer to the line of scrimmage and having a chance to knock paint off on run plays will be an easy adjustment for Moody. 'Nole fans are hoping that the RS senior's true physical nature and size will help him make a smooth transition as he'll be relied upon for meaningful snaps this season. For that to become a reality, he needs to work hard this spring to play catch up and learn the nuances of his new role in the defense.
Those are the 4 known players that FSU has going into spring. Holmes Onwukaife was medically DQ'd and Arrington Jenkins was let go after having a case of "wow that motorcycle looks lonely." That leaves RS sophomore Nigel Terrell and RS freshman Terrance Smith rounding out the scholarship players that will be participating in spring. Both have not been on the field enough to be evaluated. However, it would be helpful if one or both could earn their way into some back up minutes for the 2012 season.
No, there is not a ton of depth at the linebacker position for FSU but what is there is a mixture of smart, talented, experienced players. There wasn't great depth in 2011 either but they performed quite well. This group needs to lean on the upperclassman, continue to develop the young guys, and most importantly, stay healthy.
*Coley Harvey notes that Luc was participating in warm ups with a taped and braced ankle.
**Thank you cfbstats.com