By: Alex Turko (@aturko_23)
The kickoff to college football season is just over 50 days away. With fall practices around the corner there are still plenty of positions that are up for grabs on the Seminole roster. These upcoming practices will determine who will be starting on the gridiron for the season opener against Pittsburgh. Here are some of the key battles to watch during spring practice.
Weak-side Defensive End
With talented sophomore Mario Edwards Jr., holding down the strong side defensive end spot, the weak side is a free-for-all. Florida State lost three defensive ends from last year’s team to the NFL, but there is no lack of talent waiting to flourish this upcoming season. The favorite to win the weak side spot has to be redshirt sophomore Giorgio Newberry strictly because of his game experience. Newberry will have to hold off Dan Hicks who is moving back to end after a one-year stint at tight end. Hicks was extremely impressive in the spring game showing off his high motor and ability to fight off blocks. Hicks was a key reserve in the 2011 season before switching to tight end, so look for him to give Newberry a good fight for that starting spot as he gets back into his defensive mind-set from years past. Another contender for this spot is Chris Casher, who is an extremely talented pass-rusher that needs to build some strength to get off blockers in defending the run.
Prediction: Newberry has seemed “soft” in the past and tends to lack aggressiveness, two things that can be improved and expected as a raw athlete in their first year playing. But given Hicks performance in the spring game, I think he will come out of the fall practices as the starting defensive end, although all three of these guys will be rotated throughout each game.
NFL scouts and fans alike have taken notice of the Timmy Jernigan’s freakish athletic ability. Both defensive tackle spots have been vacated due to graduation and Jernigan is a shoe-in to take over the nose-tackle spot, but who is going to take over the other D-tackle spot on this much-anticipated defense? The easy answer would be Demonte McAllister, who has been in the two-deep rotation for two seasons. Not many people realize that McAllister was the Noles most productive DT last season, and with his lightening quick first-step, he was constantly in the backfield causing havoc. His challenger for this position will be Eddie Goldman, who is the ultra talented sophomore from Washington, D.C. Goldman took advantage of his increased reps in place of McAllister in spring ball, as he was recovering from shoulder surgery. Goldman is huge, and possesses abnormally quick feet for his massive build. With McAllister out for spring, Goldman was the starter at defensive tackle, building the intrigue for the fall practices where these two will fight for that spot.
Prediction: I think with McAllister’s resume he will end up earning the starting nod, but Goldman will see the field plenty. Regardless of who is deemed the starter, competition for playing time behind these starters will be extremely competitive as this is the deepest unit on the entire team. Look for a constant rotation on the line to keep these big guys fresh.
This position was a huge liability last season with both Rashad Greene and Tyler Hunter having issues fielding punts. Muffed punts became routine and fans would hold their breath every time the ball left the opposing punter’s foot. Near the end of the season Coach Fisher put Kenny Shaw back there just to focus on catching the ball and not worrying about the return. Shaw built confidence, and called less fair catches as his playing time increased, leading to a couple of solid returns. Expect a slew of athletes to get their chance to return punts during fall practice, as the focus will be on securing the football. Mario Pender, Tyler Hunter, Rashad Greene, Kenny Shaw, Christian Green, and true freshman Levonte Whitfield are my best guesses to be back there fielding punts and compete for punt return duties.
Prediction: I think this comes down to whether or not Whitfield can consistently field the punt without muffing it. If he shows any signs of weakness, I think Fisher and new special teams coordinator, Sal Sunseri, will go with Shaw because of his consistency and improvement in the return game near last season’s end. With that being said, I think the true freshman Whitfield does earn this job because he was a star returner in high school and is used to fielding the ball. He has blistering speed (also runs track) and has already been named one of the fastest players in college football by “Bleacher Report.”
This is a position filled with guys that can start. All-ACC player Lamarcus Joyner has been moved from safety to corner this season to showcase his skills for the NFL, further increasing the talent and competition of this unit. I think that freshman All-American and ACC defensive rookie of the year, Ronald Darby, will once again spilt time, 50/50, with Nick Waisome at the field corner position. Now at boundary corner, Joyner brings a great deal of physicality and speed to the position, and what he lacks in size he makes up for with his instincts. Competing with Joyner at this spot will be Tyler Hunter, P.J. Williams, and five-star true freshman, Jalen Ramsey. Hunter, Williams, and Ramsey all fit Pruitt’s mold of what he wants a cornerback to look like. They each are long, rangy and very physical, which is same mold of what Pruitt was used to coaching at Alabama where he had so much success. Joyner played cornerback originally as a freshman before moving to safety, but in his days at corner I noticed occasional tight hips, which is the kiss of death for cornerbacks. If Pruitt utilizes Joyner’s strengths, which is press coverage, I think that Joyner will excel at corner because there will be less chances for the wide-out to use a double move, which is when tight hips can be exposed.
Prediction: Hunter is the guy I see pushing Joyner the most for the boundary corner spot. I think his athletic abilities are off the charts, and he hits like a safety. He is a versatile player, much like Joyner, in the sense that he can play cornerback or safety. Ramesy is very talented and on film you can see why he is rated so high. He is very good at press coverage for a high school player and should be a good one in the future. Williams is very physical and displayed that last season on special teams. After a very solid spring, where his reps were increased due to injuries to Hunter, Darby and Waisome, he was very impressive and I think he will see the field plenty. When it is all said and done I see Joyner holding on to this starting spot coming out of fall camp.
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