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Spring Game Provides Reasons for Optimism on FSU Defense

Apr 18, 2014 -- 2:14pm

Alex Turko (@aturko_23)

            The annual Garnet and Gold game lacked the excitement from the scrimmages of the past, but it didn’t fail to captivate my full attention.  Championship hangovers are not uncommon for teams seeking to defend their crystal ball, but Jimbo Fisher’s team showed its competitive spirit through their hustle and energetic jive.  The first team defense set the tone for the game and pushed the offense to either turn up the heat, or get embarrassed on national television. 

            After the lackluster start to the game, Jameis Winston realized his defensive counterparts were not going to be showing him any mercy.  Winston and the first team receivers found out from the first series of the game that the best secondary in college football wasn’t giving up any easy yards.  Yes, even with the departure of safety Terrance Brooks and Jim Thorpe finalist Lamarcus Joyner, I think this secondary will top the production from the number 1 ranked pass defense in the country last season. 

            With cornerback Ronald Darby and safety Nate Andrews out for the spring game with injury, the Seminoles were able to show their superior depth and talent despite their absences.  Opposite of Darby at the other starting corner spot is P.J. Williams, who is a very talented defensive back in his own right.  He lined up across from Florida State’s best wide out, Rashad Greene, throughout the entire first half, and more than held his own.  Williams blanketed Greene and it wasn’t until later in the game when the defense started rotating heavily that Greene would start racking up the catches.  Replacing Andrews was the tandem of Lamarcus Brutus and true freshman early enrollee, Trey Marshall.  Brutus surprised me with his consistency in coverage and run support, and after minimal playing time last season (besides special teams) it is important that he provides critical depth in case of injury at safety.  Marshall showed his high ceiling, flying around like he has been around this defense for years.  Expect Marshall to impress when he is called upon this upcoming season.  When Darby and Andrews return to the line-up, you can expect abnormally impressive numbers from this secondary and opposing offenses to become one-dimensional.  New defensive coordinator, Charles Kelly, must be salivating over the thought of talent he has in the secondary with the return of safety Tyler Hunter and Freshman All-American Jalen Ramsey, who recorded an interception on Winston early in the first quarter.

            Replacing Christian Jones as a pass-rusher was something I mentioned last week as a goal that needed to be achieved in the spring game.  Although one single player might not complete this task, a few guys showed the ability to pin their ears back and get after the quarterback.  First I have to mention Roderrick Hoskins for his outstanding performance with two sacks and one interception that he took to the house.  He put on some weight in order to play with his hand in the dirt more, but still has the athletic ability to drop back into coverage at times.  Chris Casher showed a quick twitch and exceptional burst off of the line of scrimmage and opposite of potential first rounder, Mario Edwards Jr., I expect Hoskins and Casher to rack up their fair share of sacks. 

            This defense has a chance to put up gaudy numbers, and people don’t want to believe this because they will be a much younger unit than last year’s squad, but they are bigger and deeper.  As evidenced by the Steelers Steel Curtain of the 1970’s, or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of 2002 (to name a few), defense wins championships.  With Winston losing his top two receivers, the defense could be the difference in Florida State’s chances of repeating.     

Garnet and Gold Game Preview

Apr 11, 2014 -- 11:37am

By: Alex Turko (@aturko_23)

            Quarterback competition, depth on the offensive line, new coaches, new scheme, and replacing 11 NFL draft picks were all questions that loomed over the Florida State fan base and practice fields this time last season.  The petrified fan base flocked to last year’s spring game to see first-hand if these questions could be answered.  I was one of these fearful fans that viewed the amount of question marks as a blockade to reaching Pasadena in January.  These uncertainties created an exceptional amount of buzz and excitement surrounding the team and that excitement continued to ignite the fan base throughout the entire season from Heinz Field to the Rose Bowl.  

            This spring has been nothing of the sort.  The buzz has dissipated with the lack of questions and fears.  The satisfaction of reaching the standard that coaches and fans alike have set for the team has led to a feeling of complacency this spring.  So with a spring game that lacks pizzazz, and a team with no glaring holes to fill, what should we be looking for this Saturday?

            First, I want to see the young core of wide receivers make big time plays from start to finish.  Coach Fisher is still trying to hammer out who will be lining up out wide next to senior-to-be Rashad Greene.  With an unbelievable recruiting haul at the wide receiver position, the current players won’t have a better stage to show that they can contribute next season than the Garnet and Gold game against the best secondary in college football. One guy I’ve been patiently waiting to emerge is Christian Green.  Green has showed promise in the past and should know the playbook as well as anyone since he is entering his fourth year, but struggled to get reps last year behind the three NFL talents nicknamed “The Trio.”  Isaiah Jones and Jesus “Bobo” Wilson should be the other two receivers to make the biggest contribution this weekend.  Both Wilson and Jones have taken the majority of the reps with the first team offense and their talent should translate into success with a leap in playing time.  I think that group of guys, rounded out with speedy Kermit Whitfield and Jarred Haggins, can make this cluster of unfamiliar nobody’s, very productive come fall. 

            I also want to see how Telvin Smith and Christian Jones are replaced at linebacker.  These were two very talented players that should hear their names called within the first three rounds of May’s NFL draft.  Luckily for new defensive coordinator, Charles Kelly, the cupboard is loaded with high profile recruits that are waiting in the wings.  Ukeme Eligwe and E.J. Levenberry will take over for Telvin Smith in the middle and with little to separate the two, this weekend will be huge to get an idea of who will be manning the middle of this prestigious defense.  Former 5-star linebacker, Matthew Thomas, is expected to take over the hybrid/pass rushing spot that was vacated by Jones.  Before a season ending shoulder injury, Thomas exerted his dominance every chance he got, including a sack against Bethune Cookman.  Another guy to keep your eye on should be Ro’Derrick Hoskins, who has drawn praise over spring for his ability to rush the passer.  Even without the senior leadership of Jones and Smith, I am extremely confident in the line-backing core that will be following in their footsteps.

            When the defending National Champs step foot onto Bobby Bowden field for the first time since last November, the question will be, “can they do it again,” not “can they do it.”  This means that there will be a lot more pressure this season and in order to deal with that hype they must pick up where they left off.  I’m going to look for Jameis to develop a connection with one the wide receivers not named Rashad Greene.  I think with this veteran offensive line, that returns 4 of their 5 starters, Winston will have plenty of time to allow the routes to develop.  With the Noles banged up at running back, the ball should be zipping through the air all afternoon.  This glorified practice may not go down on a stat sheet, but there is no better way to get a taste for the upcoming season than the annual Garnet and Gold game.  

It Hurts to Say Goodbye to "Gator" Bowl

Apr 04, 2014 -- 9:06am

By: David Levin (@davidlevin71)

I did not understand my father’s passion for football until yesterday afternoon when he found out the Gator Bowl was changing its name. As a man who is from Jacksonville and went to his first college bowl game in 1948 with my grandmother and grandfather when he was only five, I saw the hurt and pain in his face. For dad and others of his generation, The Gator Bowl was part of Jacksonville history.

Now, through the eyes of an older man, history changed because of money and a new era in sports. As times change, sports and memories change as well. It’s the reality of today and the fear, as my father has said for years, that everything will pass him by before he can really enjoy it. The Gator Bowl, the memories and the tradition of living in Jacksonville seems to be doing that all the sudden. I can only image how he feels since he was able to see great games in a city that for decades seemed to be small and lifeless at times. Now that the economic standing is getting better, the improvements to the city and its sports structure is gaining ground and our love of baseball and football gets better each new year, Lucy pulls the ball out from in front of Charlie Brown – or so it seems that way.

Gator Bowl officials signed a new six –year deal with TaxSlayer.com, which includes renaming the historic bowl game TaxSlayer Bowl starting in 2015. The agreement continues a partnership that began in 2012 and extends it through 2020.

“It’s rare to find special companies that share the same values and goals and we are fortunate to have found such a partner in TaxSlayer.com. It is a great partnership that will enable the bowl game to maintain its stature on the national level as one of the top tier bowl games in the country,” said Rick Catlett, bowl president and CEO.

While I applaud Catlett and the Gator Bowl Association for its new deal, its ability to make more money and its chance to start something new, I cannot help but think that maybe the football and sports I enjoy are moving too fast, that too much change is not a good thing. A better time slot for more revenue and a better following is great for this “new” bowl game. But will the fans, especially the ones my father’s age, support its newness. Dad swears he will never go to the bowl game again because “Gator Bowl” is not associated with it anymore. I am sure others may feel that way.

In time, those wounds may heel as the bowl game is looking for new money and younger fans. But I cannot help but see the pain in my father’s face and know he is not the only one who feels this way. I assume it is just the way things are. But in this case, I wish this was an event that had not changed because tradition is just as important as the almighty dollar.

The Road to Repeat

Apr 03, 2014 -- 3:31pm

Alex Turko (@aturko_23)

            There are so many things that Bobby Bowden accomplished during his time at Florida State, most of which will never be done again in Tallahassee.  Most onlookers immediately point to the untouchable statistics from the “Glory Days,” like finishing in the top-five for fourteen consecutive seasons, or the 382 “W’s” crammed into the win column next to his name.  As impressive as those streaks are, I would argue that the two shining national championship rings that jewel his masterful hands are by far the most impressive feat from his days as the Seminoles head coach. 

            One thing Bowden was never able to achieve in his two lone opportunities was to become a back-to-back national champion.  To his defense, not many coaches have had that chance; shoot, not many coaches get one title under their belt for that matter.  Enter Jimbo Fisher.  Fisher leads the Seminoles into the 2014 season as the defending national champions with arguably the most talent-laden roster in the country.  Bowden’s successor has brought this program back to greatness in four short years, and is in a great position to keep the Noles at the pinnacle of college football.       

            One week of spring practice is now in the books, the rust should be shaking off as this team looks to bring back the hardware once more.  In the first year of the college football playoffs, the Seminoles have anted-up their schedule in order to become more appealing to the selection committee come early December.  With the Seminoles hosting Florida, Clemson and Notre Dame, the entire nation will have plenty of chances to watch the defending champions battle some of college football’s most prestigious programs. 

            Jimbo Fisher and his team will be faced with the pressure and expectations of perfection, and they should be.  Although the Noles will be replacing ten starters across the field, they remain the number one ranked team in every preseason poll and return the Heisman trophy winning quarterback, Jameis Winston.  Pressure should not be a factor for the Winston-lead Seminoles as he has shown that at big moments he can make big time plays.  Whether it is a game winning touchdown pass in the Rose Bowl, or a fastball on the diamond, Winston is never intimidated. 

            Fisher has a difficult journey ahead of him before he can be mentioned in the same conversation as Bowden in terms of success, but becoming a back-to-back champion might just put him at the top.  The fans, players, and coaches feel the pressure and there is no more time to celebrate because the road to a repeat has begun.  

Instant Impact Defensive Recruits for FSU

Feb 21, 2014 -- 2:17pm

Alex Turko (@aturko_23)

            Losing key players from a top-5 defense that is fresh off of a National Title is inevitable.  What might not be expected is a freshman coming in and having an instant impact on such a prestigious unit.  Last season it was the combination of Jalen Ramsey and Nate Andrews who immediately contributed to the defensive secondary.  Who could be those guys this season?

            Trey Marshall-  Marshall is a player that jumps out at me not just because of his ability, but because he comes in at a position of need.  With Terrance Brooks vacating his safety spot, new Defensive Coordinator is going to be looking for someone to come in and roam the deep parts of the field.  While Tyler Hunter and Nate Andrews are the heavy favorites to win the starting spot, Marshall has a chance to show he is ready to get some playing time in relief of the starters.  He’ll have a leg up on most freshman as he is already enrolled and learning the playbook.  He showcased his unbelievable speed at the Nike Sparq camp earlier in his senior season by running a 4.34 40-yard dash.  He plays very similar to the way Terrance Brooks played because he can come up and play in the box.  Marshall shows more physicality on film than what Brooks did when he came in his freshman year.  What will get Marshall on the field early is the fact that he hits like a linebacker but flies around like a defensive back.  Look for him to be on the starting special teams units from day 1.

 NFL Comparison:  Eric Weddle- Chargers

            Demarcus Christmas-  Christmas is one bad dude!  He has the solid frame you look for in a defensive lineman, measuring in at 6’3 285lbs, and runs his 40 in the 4.6 range.  With the physical tools to play right away, he has also shown some loyalty to Florida State throughout his recruitment.  After he committed to FSU he did not play the game that most recruits play by flipping back and forth on their decision.  In fact, he did not take one visit to any school besides Florida State.  Jimbo Fisher loves his ability, and even commented that he would be a 5-star, top recruit if he were to go to any of the camps and showcase his skills.  He turned down an opportunity to play in a high school all-star game because he felt like he had nothing to prove.  Christmas has the ability to play defensive-end in this 3-4 based scheme because of his incredible burst, and blend of power.  I think his emergence will allow Eddie Goldman to play a lot more on the interior than he was able to last season.  Look for Christmas to get significant playing time this season on the line, especially with the constant rotation of linemen.

 NFL Comparison:  Corey Liuget- Chargers

            Derrick Nnadi-  This was a signing day signee that surely got some Seminole fans jumping for joy.  Nnadi is a very good defensive tackle with a quick first step and impressive hand use for a young lineman.  He had a good week of practice at the Army All-American game and looks to carry over that momentum to FSU’s camp.  With Timmy Jernigan, Demonte Mcallister and Jaccobi McDaniel departing, the Seminole coaching staff will look for depth behind the projected starters.  Nose Tackle is still up for grabs, but beating out Nile Lawrence-Stample would be a tall task to ask of Nnadi.  However, with the heavy rotation of lineman, we could see a good amount of this freshman in the upcoming season.

NFL Comparison: Marcell Dareus- Bills

Florida State will once again field a defense that will rank in the top-5 nationally; so getting playing time is a real premium with this group.  I expect all three linebackers that are being brought in (Kain Daub, Delvin Purifoy, and Jacob Pugh) to contribute in some way, namely special teams.  There are a couple of defenders that could be very good after a redshirt year to develop and adjust to the higher level of competition.  It should be fun to watch these young guns emerge and develop in to future stars as the season and their careers progress.          

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