Florida State’s run to the 2013 national championship was nothing short of dominant. While Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and the offense stole the headlines by scoring the most points in FBS history, the defense was equally up to the task.
Florida State yielded the fewest points-per-contest throughout the entire country and only two of the Seminoles’ 14 opponents scored more than 17 points. Half of them were held below 10.
With the start of the 2014 season nearing, big things are once again expected on that side of the football. The secondary led by preseason All-Americans Jalen Ramsey and P.J. Williams is expected to be one of the best in the country. The front seven for Florida State may be one of the more talented groups that FSU has had in a long time as it is loaded with many of the nation’s top athletes out of high school over the past few years.
While extremely talented, the young defensive line and linebackers for Florida State have not yet been forced to live up to the recruiting hype. That however, will all change this season.
Head coach Jimbo Fisher’s 2012 recruiting class was headlined by what Florida State was able to bring in along the defensive line. Ends Mario Edwards Jr. and Chris Casher were each top five players at the position according to virtually ever major recruiting publication. Edwards was even regarded by some as the top overall player in the nation.
Edwards started every game for Florida State in 2013 and was a major force, particularly during the latter parts of the season. Though solid, fans are expecting an All-American caliber career out of Edwards and that is expected to begin this season.
Casher on the other hand, has yet to become a full-time starter, but that is expected to change in 2014. After a season-ending injury early in 2012, Casher recorded a pair of sacks as a redshirt freshman in 2013.
Many believe that the Edwards-Casher combination has the potential to be one of the best defensive end tandems at Florida State. The two have even been mentioned in the same breath with the duo of Reinard Wilson and Peter Boulware or more recently, the three-headed monster of Brandon Jenkins, Tank Carradine and Bjoern Werner. While the time and talent is still there for Edwards and Casher to become one of the great end tandems in FSU history, the two will enter 2014 with just 5.5 combined career sacks.
The biggest void left on the defensive line for Florida State however, is at the tackle position. The Seminoles not only lose All-American Timmy Jernigan early to the NFL Draft, but FSU also replaces key veterans and depth guys like Jacobbi McDaniel and Demonte McAllister.
Charged with filling that void will be junior Eddie Goldman. Like Edwards, Goldman was a 5-star, top 10 national recruit out of high school and a member of Florida State’s 2012 class. With more playing time, Goldman showed immense improvement in 2013, but has yet to be the enforcer routinely found in opposing backfields that so many expected.
While Goldman will not only have to fill the big shoes left behind from Jernigan, he will need to star at a position where the Seminoles may have the biggest depth issues. Behind Goldman and projected starter Nile Lawrence-Stample, the Seminoles have virtually no experience.
Perhaps the biggest mystery for the Florida State defense heading into 2014 will be which players emerge at the linebacker position. Terrance Smith returns for that unit, but FSU is replacing two very experienced seniors in Telvin Smith and Christian Jones.
Though the linebacking corps for Florida State severely lacks experience, depth does not look to be an issue. Sophomores E.J. Levenberry and Ukeme Eligwe were each 4-star recruits out of high school as was junior Reggie Northrup, who excelled on special teams a season ago.
With Levenberry, Eligwe and Northrup are all expected to see a dramatic increase in reps, the player perhaps with the most potential is redshirt freshman and former 5-star linebacker, Matthew Thomas. After initially wanting out of his letter of intent to play at Florida State, Thomas played very well in four games last season before suffering a season-ending neck injury.
Though not as highly-recruited, another redshirt freshman, Ro’Derrick Hoskins could also become a contributor. An Orlando product, Hoskins shined in Florida State’s spring game with a pair of sacks and an interception return for a touchdown.
Joining the young talent returning for Florida State at the linebacker position will be incoming freshmen Kain Daub, Jacob Pugh and Delvin Purifoy. Each of the three were top 10 players nationally at their positions out of high school.
With the Florida State secondary expected to be one of the better units in the country, how the front seven performs will ultimately decide how strong the Seminoles are on defense in 2014. Though the front seven is loaded with highly-touted players and recruits, the on-the-field accomplishments have yet to fully materialize.
It’s not that Florida State has a roster laden with busts, it’s simply that so few have yet to be forced to take on major roles. Come August 30th however, that will no longer be the case. With a defense unlikely to start a single senior, there may be something of a learning curve early on. By mid-season however, Florida State has the skill, speed and talent to again become a top 5 or 10 defense nationally if the young front seven can merely scrape the surface of its potential.
Recruiting rankings according to Rivals.com.