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Monday, June 24, 2013
Fact or Fiction: FSU's D improves in '13

By David M. Hale

This week, NoleNation is digging into the most hotly debated topics of the summer in an effort to separate fact from fiction as the Seminoles get set for the 2013 season.

First up: The defense.

Fact or Fiction: Under new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, Florida State's defense can expect even more production in 2013 than it had a year ago.

The case for: Pruitt is among three new assistant coaches on the defensive side of the ball, and all bring with them significant experience and energy. That quickly translated to an uptempo atmosphere on the field. Practices were loud, lively and intense, and players promise Pruitt's scheme will allow that to continue into the season.

While Mark Stoops found immense success at FSU during the past three seasons, Pruitt injected some energy into the group. Stoops' offense was more buttoned-down and conservative, and Pruitt is shaking things up. The Seminoles lost a ton of talent to the NFL, but Pruitt plans to let the athletes on his defense play at full speed all the time.

Jeremy Pruitt
Will Jeremy Pruitt's defense be an immediate, significant upgrade to a solid unit that Mark Stoops put together at Florida State?
It's hard to argue with Stoops' success, of course, but Pruitt might be one of the few coaches in the country capable of ratcheting up expectations. Florida State's defense has allowed just 295 yards per game over the past two seasons, the third-best total in the nation. Pruitt's former employer, Alabama, dwarfs that number -- allowing just 240 yards per game, more than 50 yards better than any other defense in the country. Not surprisingly, FSU spent plenty of time this spring studying Alabama's game film.

There's been a focus on creating more turnovers (a regular criticism under Stoops), a lot more pre-snap movement, an outside-the-box approach to personnel and, most significantly, a far more aggressive approach that should translate into a hefty increase in blitzes in 2013.

Add it all up and it sounds incredibly impressive, and even the usually understated Jimbo Fisher foreshadowed fireworks when he hinted that fans hadn’t seen anything yet after an impressive performance by the pass rushers in the spring game.

The case against: The sales pitch for Pruitt's new approach is music to the ears of Seminoles fans everywhere, but it also ignores a few legitimate concerns.

FSU retains a rich base of talent, but there's no ignoring how much was lost from last year. Bjoern Werner and Xavier Rhodes were both first-round selections in the 2013 NFL draft. Cornellius Carradine, Brandon Jenkins, Everett Dawkins, Nick Moody and Vince Williams were all drafted, too. Their replacements have talent, but far less experience.

Pruitt is emphasizing a more aggressive pass rush, but that might be as much about necessity as it is about innovation. Stoops' defense was so effective because Florida State routinely got pressure from its front four without needing to blitz, and in turn, the pass defense was the best in the nation in 2012. Florida State's 36 sacks were 14th-best in the country and tops in the ACC, but the players who made 28.5 of those sacks are now gone to the NFL.

Even with the new blitz packages and focus on creating havoc for opposing offenses, there are few guarantees that more big plays will occur for the defense. In fact, Stoops’ crew at FSU averaged the same number of takeaways per game during the past three seasons as Pruitt’s group at Alabama.

And finally, there's the simple fact that while change often brings excitement, it also brings questions. Pruitt's scheme might have some immense long-term benefits, but there are also bound to be a few bumps in the road as his players master the his playbook. Stoops' defense might have been a bit more vanilla when it came to blitz packages, but it was a system the Seminoles had down pat.

Verdict: Fiction

By year's end, there's a good chance Pruitt's defense will be as impressive as anything Stoops assembled during his three seasons in Tallahassee, but it's going to take time to get all the pieces in place for the unit to function at full speed.

There are major questions on the defensive line, where Mario Edwards, Eddie Goldman, Demonte McAllister, Giorgio Newberry and a host of other former backups will need to shoulder a much bigger load. Beyond the two senior starters at linebacker, there's virtually no experience whatsoever. Even the secondary, which figures to be a strength, is undergoing some transition as Lamarcus Joyner shifts from safety to corner.

It's impossible to argue the talent on FSU's roster or the credentials Pruitt brings from Alabama, but odds are the excitement over the defense's potential will outweigh the unit's actual production for the first few months of the season.