Spring Questions: The defensive scheme

April, 18, 2013
4/18/13
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Spring practice arrived with some significant questions, and it ended with at least a slightly clearer indication of some answers. This week, we'll take a look at five of the biggest question marks of the spring and decipher what we learned and how much further the Seminoles have to go before the season kicks off.

Next up: The defensive scheme

The question: How much would Jeremy Pruitt's arrival as Florida State's new defensive coordinator impact a unit that has been among the best in the country the past two seasons under Mark Stoops?

[+] EnlargeJeremy Pruitt
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreNew coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has brought elements of Alabama's blitzing defense to Florida State's base 4-3 defense.
The possibilities: Certainly Pruitt -- along with two other new faces on the defensive coaching staff -- could have made only minor tweaks as they worked with personnel recruited by the previous regime. Or he could have taken everything he learned at Alabama and made a sweeping overhaul, installing a 3-4 base defense and churning out a relatively unrecognizable product. The upside to Florida State's array of versatile defenders was that Pruitt had a malleable product to work with.

What we learned this spring: The spring opened with Jimbo Fisher promising little in the way of a dramatic overhaul to the defense, but of course, he was playing coy. It didn't take long for the players to begin reporting some sweeping changes.

For what it's worth, most players argue, as Fisher has, that the basics of the defense haven't change, only the terminology. But that's really just arguing semantics. The fact is, Pruitt has brought with him a real philosophical change, even if the base defense still has four down linemen.

Where Stoops' group tended to play it safe, relying on pressure from the front four and exceptional coverage from its secondary, Pruitt clearly enjoys living more dangerously. There's motion before the snap. There's multiple looks from the same personnel. There's blitzing -- a lot of blitzing.

"It gives us a chance to make plays," safety Terrence Brooks said. "It's a very complex defense, but it's really good for us. It mixes a lot of things up and it confuses the quarterback a lot."

What's left to decide: Now that we know things will be different, the bigger question is how well the defenders will pick things up.

The spring game offered only a limited peak at the new scheme. Fisher said little was done Saturday that hadn't been done in years past. But the previous four weeks were a whirlwind, and there's still a lot of refining to do.

"It's a lot of stuff, a lot of checks, we change the fronts a lot, but we've done a good job of handling all that," Christian Jones said. "It's spring, and they've got to throw all of that in so we'll know it all in the fall."

Add in a vast number of players returning from injury and freshmen arriving this summer, and Pruitt will have to provide a major refresher course when fall camp opens in August.

But whether the new changes provide immediate dividends or open up the defense to a host of early miscues isn't really the point. The enthusiasm about what Pruitt's scheme allows the defense to do is palpable, and eventually Florida State's athleticism should be enough to make the unit a force again in 2013.

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