With 11 players gone for the NFL draft from last year's team, it was obvious even before the season began that Florida State would have to rely on younger, less experienced players in key roles. But just how young the Seminoles have gone is surprising.
True freshmen have earned playing time in bulk even early this season on both sides of the ball, providing not just much-needed depth, but starting minutes as well. Jimbo Fisher says his approach is always that the best players will play, and so far this season, the best players are often proving to be freshmen.
"They are stepping up," senior linebacker Telvin Smith said. "The best man is going to play and right now they are proving themselves to be the best man. They've beaten out older guys and that's just showing them that they've got to step their game up."
Smith should know: the impact of those freshmen is most keenly felt on defense, where FSU had the most to replace, but also had arguably the most talent. Jalen Ramsey has already started games at both safety and cornerback in the young season, an impressive accomplishment at possibly FSU's deepest position. He's among FSU's leaders with 19 tackles already. Jimbo Fisher said learning two positions hasn't been a problem for Ramsey so far.
"See, Jalen, his versatility and size at corner or safety and he can play both and we've been training him at both," Fisher said, adding that Ramsey picked up safety "Very easily. He's so smart. He's got a chance to be a very good player."
Ramsey isn't alone. True freshman Nate Andrews' interception sealed Florida State's win at Boston College on Saturday. Demarcus Walker has been the consistent starter at defensive end for Florida State, and Matthew Thomas has earned playing time at both defensive end and linebacker. Even on offense, Levonte Whitfield is now the starting kick returner.
One reason those players have been able to see the field is FSU's new defensive scheme put everyone on their heels. Older teammates say freshmen took advantage of the level playing field and worked their way into playing time.
"They came in with their eyes open and pads ready to write down notes, and they listened to the older guys," Smith said. "Some people come in like 'oh, I know what I'm doing, you don't have to tell me anything,' but they all came in (asking) 'how can I get better? When we said something they just listened
They definitely came in listening with their head on a swivel"
And while they've seen the field and made big plays, Florida State's freshmen have not been perfect. Safety Terence Brooks said the freshmen were "a bit shaky" in new roles at times against Boston College - and the Eagles' 34 points against FSU would back that up. Fisher said the freshmen are still developing the discipline necessary to see the field consistently, but he's pleased with their progress so far.
"Ability is never the issue," Fisher said. "It's just about technique and assignments and just getting the playing time to relax and do what you do and taking it from the practice field to the game field and you see that more and more and you see that and are much more comfortable getting them reps and keep developing. We are going to keep developing those guys."
Success or no, Florida State's freshman provide an example that young players can get on the field early - a powerful tool in recruiting.
"It shows that the coaches aren't looking at seniority or anything like that," Smith said. "You really have to perform every time you come out on the field and that's what we love."
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