ACC: Marquez White

There were practices last year when Florida State’s secondary would surrender so many big plays that then-defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt would slump into Jimbo Fisher’s office and wonder whether he had a group ready to compete at a championship level.

The concerns lasted only as long as it took to put the film together, however. Once coaches got a second look at the busted plays and blown coverages, it became clear: It wasn’t about the secondary’s struggles. It was about how good Jameis Winston, Kelvin Benjamin, Rashad Greene and the offense were.

“You go look at film and there’s nobody going to make that throw but Jameis,” Fisher said. “Nobody’s going to make that catch but KB, Rashad.”

[+] EnlargeLevonte Whitfield
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsSophomore Kermit Whitfield is a candidate to get the starting nod as Florida State's slot receiver.
As it turned out, Florida State had the nation’s best secondary last season. It also had arguably the country’s top passing attack, with a Heisman winner and two 1,000-yard receivers. The spring struggles on either side of the ball were a matter of that double-edged sword that comes from practicing against each other.

This spring, the situation was the same, but the struggles tended to appear more often on offense. Benjamin and Kenny Shaw are gone, taking 108 catches and 21 touchdowns with them, and it’s a relatively inexperienced group now taking the first-team reps. There’s a learning curve, but on the other side of the ball, FSU’s defensive backs haven’t pulled their punches.

Fisher raved about Jalen Ramsey and P.J. Williams, who have both developed into dominant DBs and core leaders of FSU’s 2014 defense. Tyler Hunter’s return from a neck injury has added a spark to summer drills, which began this week. Add in Nate Andrews, Ronald Darby, Marquez White -- Fisher said the depth of talent in the secondary is immense -- and it makes it that much tougher for the receivers to strut their stuff.

“Those guys came out and threw and caught the ball in the spring going against as good people as there is out there, consistently, daily,” Fisher said. “That’s the thing I’ve got to remember when I don’t think we’re doing as well.”

Still, it won’t be easy for Florida State to replace its departed offensive stars.

Jesus Wilson and Kermit Whitfield each developed nicely this spring, Fisher said. They’ll likely jockey for reps in the slot, where Shaw was so consistently good a year ago.

On the outside, the Seminoles are in search of a physical presence that can pick up the slack left by the 6-foot-5 Benjamin. The top options are likely the two newest faces. Ermon Lane (6-2) and Travis Rudolph (6-0) took their first reps in seven-on-seven drills this week, showcasing an already advanced skill set. It was in the weight room, however, that Fisher said they’ve really shined. Both arrived on campus bigger and stronger than Fisher had expected, and he’s optimistic both can play a role on offense for FSU immediately.

And before the Seminoles’ passing game is knocked for having too much youth complementing Greene, Fisher is quick to point out that seniors Jarred Haggins and Christian Green return, along with tight end Nick O'Leary, who is back to 100 percent after an offseason motorcycle accident.

It’s true, the passing game is more of a work in progress than it was a year ago, according to Fisher. But even as his receivers were crushing the spirits of an equally talented defense last spring, there was still more growth to come. Greg Dent was last spring’s MVP, and he never took a snap in the fall thanks to off-field issues. Benjamin was inconsistent and hadn’t approached his potential. By season’s end, he was a star and Winston’s favorite weapon.

Things change, Fisher said. Players learn and develop and get better, and he’s got a group he believes will do all those things. And just as importantly, he has a Heisman quarterback to push them along.

“Skill guys can get much better over a summer if they really apply themselves because they can throw and catch and do things,” Fisher said. “And [Winston] knows what he’s doing, and he sets the tone in what goes on without a doubt.”

ACC's lunchtime links

May, 14, 2014
May 14
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If you’re going to get food poisoning, it might as well come from Shake Shack. (Though, if you're at Citi Field, Mama's of Corona is an excellent alternative that hasn't made anyone sick.)
  • Speaking of food, the Orlando Sentinel has a good piece on changes to the NCAA’s meal policy and how it affects Florida State, where sophomore Marquez White recently criticized the current program.
  • Jimbo Fisher’s success rate on the recruiting trail is awfully impressive, and Tomahawk Nation has the numbers to prove it.
  • Local readers offer their takes on Jameis Winston’s saga to the Tallahassee Democrat.
  • Louisville tops the list to land another transfer from Georgia -- and maybe another from Texas A&M, writes The Courier-Journal.
  • BC Interruption looks at the weighted draft results for each ACC school and notices they look awfully close to the conference’s typical recruiting rankings.
  • The Roanoke Times has some more details on Virginia Tech’s new indoor practice facility.
  • Former Syracuse center Macky MacPherson earned a mini-camp invite from the Philadelphia Eagles, writes The Post-Standard.
  • Former Pitt defender Aaron Donald is eager to get his pro career under way, writes the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  • Georgia Tech added an offensive line transfer from TCU, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  • After some behind-the-scenes drama, Clemson landed a commitment on the defensive line, writes The State.
  • Sports Illustrated looks at the reasons the ACC and SEC want to stick with an eight-game conference schedule.
  • Some ACC teams may bolster their schedule with extra games against conference foes. Yahoo!’s Dr. Saturday isn’t a fan.

ACC's lunchtime links

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
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Can't wait 'til offseason coaching carousel comes to a stop ...


WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- There’s family history here, Mario Edwards Jr. said. In fact, his father had reminded him just hours before Florida State kicked off against Wake Forest on Saturday.

It was 1998 when Mario Edwards Sr., currently a member of FSU’s support staff, picked off four passes against Wake Forest, tying an ACC record.

“He said we were walking into his house,” the younger Edwards said of his father's pregame speech.

On Saturday, 15 years after his father’s record-setting performance, Edwards added to the legacy.

[+] EnlargeJalen Ramsey, Nate Andrews
AP Photo/Nell RedmondJalen Ramsey, left, and Nate Andrews, both freshmen, returned Wake Forest turnovers for scores Saturday.
Edwards was one of five Florida State players with an interception Saturday, a game in which the Seminoles tallied seven takeaways and two defensive touchdowns in a 59-3 rout of Wake Forest.

Demon Deacons starting quarterback Tanner Price threw just four passes before being pulled. Three were intercepted. His backup, Tyler Cameron, didn’t fare much better. In all, Florida State’s defense and special teams accounted for 224 yards and 21 points, dwarfing Wake’s offensive output for the game.

The dominant defensive performance was a tribute to Florida State’s depth. With senior safety Terrence Brooks out with a concussion and junior Tyler Hunter done for the year with a neck injury, the Seminoles started two true freshmen as the defensive backstops Saturday. Jalen Ramsey has been starting the entire season and was joined Saturday by Nate Andrews. The pair accounted for two interceptions, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and two touchdowns. By the time the starters were all on the bench in the fourth quarter, Wake had just 16 yards through the air.

“Two true freshman safeties and both scored touchdowns,” Jimbo Fisher said. “I mean, they can play the ball, they can tackle, they can run, they can play multiple potions. They’re very good football players.”

Edwards, Terrance Smith and Christian Jones had picks too, while another true freshman, Marquez White, added the game’s final takeaway. Thirty-eight of Florida State’s 59 points followed Wake Forest turnovers.

But if the defense dominated, the offense never quite found its rhythm. Chalk that up to another blowout. Jameis Winston threw for just 159 yards, and for a 15-minute span midway through the first half, he threw just one pass. For the third time this season, Winston’s final pass of the game was an interception, and for the second time in three weeks, he saw just one drive’s worth of action in the third quarter.

None of that mattered much, Winston said. The defense set the tone, and Florida State rolled to another easy win. It’s become habit, and that’s the idea -- particularly with the Seminoles now comfortably in command of their destiny in the BCS title picture.

“The way we’re playing right now, we’re playing like a championship team,” Winston said.

Indeed, it was a championship moment for Florida State on Saturday, though few realized it.

When the game was over, the Seminoles filtered into their locker room and found a trophy waiting. With Saturday’s win, FSU clinched the ACC’s Atlantic Division title and a trip to the conference championship game.

“We saw the trophy, and we were like, ‘OK, this is nice,’” Jones said.

The accomplishment, however, had been a complete afterthought. Florida State’s goals are set so much higher.

After Saturday’s big win, coupled with Oregon’s loss Thursday, those goals are well within reach. Now, Edwards said, it’s simply a matter of following Fisher’s one-day-at-a-time mantra and continuing the dominance.

“Everything is falling into place now,” Edwards said, “just like Jimbo said it would.”

NoleNation links: Freshmen confident

August, 20, 2012
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David Hale: On one hand, you cannot blame a freshman like cornerback Ronald Darby for thinking he's got things down; on the other, a teammate remembers feeling the same way and then falling short.

Hale: Florida State has plenty of depth at quarterback should starter EJ Manuel fall injured as he did last year.

Corey Dowlar: Insider FSU commit Marquez White, whose family holds Alabama close to its collective heart, takes his parents to Tallahassee -- where they had more to say than did the coaches.

Dowlar: Insider Junior college offensive tackle Adam Duckett is on FSU's radar.

Hale: Insider Linebacker Telvin Smith, is replacing cousin Greg Reid as the Seminoles defense's vocal leader.

NoleNation links: DC Mark Stoops' future

August, 17, 2012
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David Hale writes: Mark Stoops has built a dominant defense at Florida State, which could lead to him getting a job as a head coach after the season.

Corey Dowlar writes: Insider FSU commit Marquez White, whose family is full of Alabama ties, will visit campus with his parents in tow.

Hale: Insider Wide receiver Rodney Smith, a 6-foot-6 target with speed and more experience than most of the deep receiving corps, is Friday's profile in NoleNation's Carrying the Spear series of players who can make an impact.

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