- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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Spring practice is just a few weeks away for Florida State, and while the defending national champs return plenty of talent to make another run at a title, there are still some big question marks looming as the Seminoles begin work on the 2014 season. With that in mind, we’re looking at the five most intriguing players to watch this spring and projecting how they might fit into Jimbo Fisher’s plans in the fall.
Last up: S Tyler Hunter
Credentials: In 2012, Hunter won the job as Florida State’s top nickel back, and he delivered solid results for a secondary that finished the year ranked as the country’s top pass defense. He was poised for even bigger things in 2013, winning the starting safety job in fall camp and getting off to a strong start on the field. In Week 3, however, Hunter suffered a potentially career-threatening neck injury making a tackle and he didn’t play again the rest of the season. Surgery repaired the damage, however, and Hunter insists he’s ready to get back on the field in 2014.
How he fits: Florida State lost perhaps its best defender in Lamarcus Joyner, but Hunter provides a perfect candidate to replace the All-American. Joyner moved from safety to corner in 2013, excelling in coverage at nickel and as a pass rusher, where he led Florida State with 5.5 sacks. Hunter lacks the top-end speed that Joyner had, but he’s still fast and would be comfortable at safety, corner or nickel (not to mention punt returner). Whether he fills a role similar to Joyner’s remains to be seen, but his combination of skills and experience gives FSU plenty of options.
Competition: Florida State’s secondary is jam-packed with talent, from young studs like Jalen Ramsey and Nate Andrews to established stars like Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams. What it’s potentially lacking -- and what the defense as a whole is missing without Joyner, Telvin Smith and Timmy Jernigan -- is an established veteran leader. Hunter set that tone last spring as the unquestioned leader of the defense, spending countless hours studying film of Jeremy Pruitt’s new scheme, then organizing seven-on-seven drills throughout the summer to ensure his teammates had the system down pat.
Outlook: For the past five years, Florida State’s defense has had the luxury of on-field leadership, courtesy of Lowndes County High. First it was Greg Reid. Then it was Telvin Smith. In 2014, Hunter is the heir apparent. He was integral in transitioning the Seminoles into Pruitt’s new defensive scheme last year, and he’ll play a similar key role as Charles Kelly takes over this spring. But more than just leadership, Hunter needs to provide impact on the field. With his neck injury behind him, he could easily slip into a hybrid role filled so nicely by Joyner last year, and he could establish himself as one of the ACC’s biggest impact players in what promises to be an exceptional secondary.