August 1, 2013

Five things to watch at FSU Camp: defense/special teams

FSU blitz 2013

Jeremy Pruitt's new, aggressive defense didn't really get its wheels going in the spring game. There's been a lot of talk about the new system and players are excited about it - but there's still a learning curve. These guys aren't going to pick up a new system overnight, but how effectively the players do pick up the system could mean the difference between the Orange Bowl or better and the Champs Sports Bowl.

With that in mind, it'll be interesting to see what the coaches and players say about the defense through camp. If the words "process" and "learning" are thrown around a lot, it could be a few weeks before everything falls into place. If you're hearing more words like "fun," and "making plays," the players are more comfortable with the system.

How does the defensive back rotation shake out?

FSU has a wealth of riches in the defensive backfield. The Seminoles are so loaded they can move All-ACC safety Lamarcus Joyner to cornerback and not expect a significant downgrade at the safety spot.

But the Seminoles are going to have to figure out who plays when and where. Joyner isn't moving to cornerback to sit the bench. He'll want to play, and he probably will. What happens then to Nick Waisome, or ACC rookie of the year Ronald Darby, or Keelin Wiliams? All are going to see plenty of playing time, but it's a question of when and where.

Which freshman steps up?

It's a defense loaded with talented young players. Mario Edwards is the leading candidate to start at defensive end as a true freshman. Matthew Thomas, Freddie Stevenson , and Ukewe Eligwe are all in the mix for a starting linebacker spot.

Given FSU's propensity for finding players to contribute early (see: Timmy Jernigan, Darby) odds are one or more of those players will have a big year for FSU. Thomas and Edwards are the most likely candidates, but there are plenty of other options.

Are the linebackers really interchangeable?

FSU's official media guide has Christian Jones listed as a middle linebacker. Fisher dismissed that by saying that the middle and weakside linebackers are interchangeable.

That's assuming FSU runs a great deal more nickel packages this season with Pruitt's new defense. But if that's the case, how will the roles of Jones, Telvin Smith and Terrance Smith change? Will Jones play more in the middle of the field? It'll be something to keep an eye on.

About that kick return

Fisher said that he wanted special teams and particularly the return game to improve in 2013. It's not clear where he wants to go: FSU was in the top 3 of the ACC in both punt and kickoff returns in 2012. Fisher mentioned that penalties were a problem. FSU has a wealth of speedy playmakers that can all return kicks. Kenny Shaw is currently listed as the top punt returner and Karlos Williams is the primary kick returner, but that could change if those players move into more expanded roles offensively or defensively. It'll be mainly worth watching to see if a younger player makes an impression here.

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