When the Seminoles took to the practice fields in south Florida for their first Orange Bowl practice, they did so with a new face in a tow. Defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri coached his first official practice with Florida State after being hired on December 20.
"Another great recruiter," coach Jimbo Fisher said about Sunseri upon his hiring. "Another great guy that's coached in the NFL, coached tons of first-round picks at linebacker and defensive end. A lot of knowledge. He and I have been together for a long time. He and I have known each other for a long time."
Sunseri watched practice occasionally when the Seminoles were practicing for the Orange Bowl in Tallahassee, but was involved in coaching the defense on Thursday in Miami.
Most recently the defensive coordinator at Tennessee, Sunseri also coached with Nick Saban at Alabama and served at the defensive line coach for the Carolina Panthers. Fisher is already happy with how he is contributing to the team.
"Another set of eyes to confirm things and to bring an idea here and there," Fisher said. "He's been a coordinator before and has been on a lot of great staffs. That's what you look for. You don't look for yes guys. You look for guys that have ideas and have things to throw out there to you so you can constantly grow even when you're making the decision. I love that on my side, when guys are constantly bringing things up. Different ways to defend."
Sunseri is already taking that enthusiasm and zeal onto the practice field with him and is working on getting to know the players that he will coach.
"He's coming out here and getting familiar with some of the players," linebacker Christian Jones said. "He's going to be here next year so he wants to talk with some of the players and get to know them and build a good relationship before he gets here. He's a nice guy and we all like him. It's good that he's out here with us."
While Sunseri worked on becoming familiar with the defense, he was already throwing out hints and advice to various players.
"He voices his opinion," Jones said. "If he sees one of us mess up, he gives us a little pointer."
NIU's Jordan Lynch speaks his mind
Northern Illinois' quarterback Jordan Lynch added some fuel to the fire, as he made some critical comments of Florida State's defense, reported by Sporting News' Steve Greenberg,
Lynch told Greenberg that Florida State's defense is "fast (and) physical. But they haven't seen anything like our offense."
Lynch also said that he and the Northern Illinois offense " plan on wearing them down in the fourth quarter. We plan to have them on their knees."
Coach Jimbo Fisher and players refused to take the bait when asked what their response was to Lynch's comments.
"I think they're a great offense," Fisher said when asked about Lynch's comments. "I think he's a great player and they have a great team. We're going to have our hands full when we play them."
"We'll try to game plan and do the things we need to do and they'll game plan and do the things they need to do we'll find out who's right and who's wrong," Fisher added.
Christian Jones said that NIU are competitors, like the Seminoles are.
Northern Illinois coach Rob Carey defended Lynch's remarks, according to Steve Gorten of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
"What's he supposed to say?" Carey said. "'Hey, we're just hoping to get a first down or a yard or two?'"
D.J. Elliot taking over defense for Orange Bowl
The Seminoles' defensive ends coach D.J. Elliot is set to follow Mark Stoops to Kentucky and serve as defensive coordinator for the Wildcats starting next season, but is first finishing out Florida State's season at the helm of its defense and helping add some consistency to the defensive staff.
Elliot is serving as the interim defensive coordinator for Florida State's Orange Bowl appearance, until newly hired DC Jeremy Pruitt heads to Tallahassee after the season.
Jimbo Fisher is comfortable handing the defensive reigns to Elliot because he largely credits Elliot with the defense's success against the Georgia Tech triple-option in the ACC Championship Game earlier in the month.
"He'll call the game," Fisher said. "He pretty much called the Georgia Tech game himself anyway. He had a lot of input in that and called a lot of it himself and the preparation also."
The players said there is no fall-off from Mark Stoops' coaching to Elliot's coaching and that having Elliot call the shots on the field feels no different than having Stoops out there.
"He's going at it just as much as coach Stoops would," safety Terrence Brooks said. "He's taking charge, he's doing very well."
"It's good having him out there," linebacker Christian Jones said. "He's real detailed, so everything we go over we're going to get it down. He wants things to be perfect, so we've been doing good so far scheming for these guys."
Jones added that the key to the defense's success against Georgia Tech came from Elliot's persistence and technical preparation. He expects the same for this game.
"He goes through every assignment in every single spot," Jones said. He makes sure you have it down, so he's just detailed in everything. He wants everyone to be perfect so every guy that's out there on the field is going to know their assignment.
Jimbo Fisher said that he could announce the new running backs coach to replace outgoing coach Eddie Gran during the week of the Orange Bowl, but will likely wait until after the bowl: "It could be or it could not be (after this week), it may be after. We've planned it out, but it will most likely be after."
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