Florida State Seminoles: FSU Spring Spotlight

FSU spring spotlight: Tyler Hunter

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
11:00
AM ET
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.

[+] EnlargeTyler Hunter
AP Photo/Steve CannonReturning from a season-ending neck injury has Tyler Hunter primed to return to his leadership role in FSU's secondary.
We’ve already discussed Nile Lawrence-Stample, Mario Pender, Christian Green and Reggie Northrup.

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.

FSU spring spotlight: Reggie Northrup

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27
11:00
AM ET
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.

We’ve already discussed Nile Lawrence-Stample, Mario Pender and Christian Green.

Next up: LB Reggie Northrup

Credentials: Florida State’s other No. 5 didn’t make quite the same instant impact as Jameis Winston, but Northrup has still had a solid start to his career in Tallahassee. As a true freshman in 2012, he appeared in 13 games, impressed in occasional mop-up duty at middle linebacker and starred on special teams. Then in 2013, Northrup took another step forward, racking up 46 tackles (most among FSU’s nonstarters) and 2.5 TFLs in a brand new defensive scheme. Northrup still needs to refine some of his fundamentals, but he’s got a nose for the football and quick instincts on the field that have routinely impressed teammates.

How he fits: Northrup has never started a game for Florida State, but with two full seasons of experience under his belt and 56 tackles to his credit (second among FSU’s returning linebackers) he’s nevertheless a veteran in a position group that has little in the way of on-field credentials. With Telvin Smith leaving after three years at middle linebacker, the Seminoles are looking for someone to step in and attack the run, as Smith did so effectively in 2013, but also hold up in coverage when needed. Northrup isn’t their only option, but he might be their best.

Competition: With Terrance Smith appearing to be the only linebacker with a secure starting job, a lot is in flux at the position. Northrup brings some experience, but E.J. Levenberry wowed coaches last year and put up solid numbers, while freshman Kain Daub enrolled early and will push for playing time this spring, too.

Outlook: How new defensive coordinator Charles Kelly plans to approach both the scheme and the depth chart are open questions as FSU preps for spring, and as yet, Fisher hasn’t announced a new linebackers coach. That makes projecting the depth chart nearly impossible, but Northrup can go a long way toward clearing up the confusion with a strong spring. His raw skill set is obvious. Refining those skills is the question. If he takes a big leap forward, he could become a fixture in the middle of the defense. Even if he makes more mild progress, he could still split time with Levenberry, as Telvin Smith and Vince Williams did for two years under Mark Stoops.

FSU spring spotlight: Christian Green

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
11:00
AM ET
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.

[+] EnlargeDoak Campbell, Christian Green
Phil Ellsworth/ESPN ImagesChristian Green needs to fix his problem with drops and gain some trust with Jameis Winston to become an impact player.
We’ve already discussed Nile Lawrence-Stample and Mario Pender.

Next up: WR Christian Green

Credentials: Green looked like a budding star in 2011 when, as a redshirt freshman, he caught 26 passes for 450 yards and served as FSU’s No. 3 receiver. In the two years since, however, he’s all but disappeared from the offense. In 2012, he caught just three balls, and last season, despite a dearth of veteran receivers on the roster, he finished with just 13 catches for 157 yards. A handful of drops and a fumble did little to inspire much confidence even when the ball did come his way.

How he fits: Florida State waved goodbye to two-thirds of its primary receivers this offseason with Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin each headed to the NFL. That leaves just two wide receivers on the roster that caught more than 10 balls last year: Rashad Greene and Christian Green. That formula would seem to set up nicely for Green, but the Seminoles will also open fall camp with six first- or second-year receivers aiming for significant playing time.

Competition: In terms of experienced competition, the only other option for Florida State is senior Jarred Haggins, who is set to return from a knee injury that cost him all of 2013. But even Haggins has just 20 career catches. Meanwhile, last year’s freshman class included three receivers -- Levonte Whitfield, Isaiah Jones and Jesus Wilson -- and Fisher routinely praised the group, in spite of its limited on-field impact. Add to that three more freshmen entering this fall -- all ESPN 300 players -- and a position with little experience is nevertheless brimming with talent.

Outlook: It goes without saying that it’s now or never for Green, but the significance of his spring performance is important for the team as well as for the individual. Greene is a star, but if defenses know they can double cover him without regard to the rest of the receivers on the field, life can get much tougher for Jameis Winston and the FSU passing game. But what separated last year’s group wasn’t simply its star power. It was consistent production from each player, all of whom earned Winston’s trust. That’s still a big hurdle for Green, and if he can’t do it this spring before the new recruits arrive, it’s possible he’ll never carve out a niche in the FSU offense.

FSU spring spotlight: Mario Pender

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
11:00
AM ET
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.

We’ve already discussed DT Nile Lawrence-Stample.

Next up: RB Mario Pender

Credentials: An ESPN 150 recruit out of Island Coast High (Cape Coral, Fla.) in 2012, Pender has blazing speed and projected as a big-play threat in the FSU offense. The problem, however, is that two years into his career, he’s yet to see the field. This spring marks Pender’s third in Tallahassee, marking him as something of a veteran in Fisher’s offense, but a groin injury cost him all of the 2012 season and academic issues sidelined him throughout 2013.

How he fits: A year ago, Pender appeared the heir apparent to Chris Thompson as Florida State’s speedy, big-play threat in the backfield, and he showed impressive burst throughout the spring. But his grades became a problem and he was bounced from the team during fall camp, which in turn pushed Fisher to swap Karlos Williams from safety to tailback. That move proved a stroke of genius, but now Williams is atop FSU’s depth chart without a clear second option. Sophomore Ryan Green is the only other tailback with game experience on the roster, meaning Pender -- along with early enrollee Dalvin Cook -- will be in prime position to win a significant share of the carries.

Competition: Williams projects as the clear starter entering spring practice, but Fisher has never relied heavily on just one running back. Throughout his first four seasons as FSU’s coach, his leading rusher has accounted for less than 28 percent of the Seminoles’ total carries. So even if Williams proves to be a bell cow, there could be as many as 350 carries left over for the other running backs on the roster. Cook’s early arrival this spring means Florida State will have three former ESPN 300 players vying for that work behind Williams, which should make for an intriguing competition.

Outlook: While Green and Cook have bright futures regardless of their work this spring, Pender’s situation is a bit more nebulous. He has ample talent, but even while he looked sharp last spring, he struggled with blitz pick-up, blocking and decision making. A season spent on the sidelines certainly didn’t help his development, and if he can’t lock down a significant role in 2014, it’s fair to wonder if Pender will ever make a serious impact for the Seminoles. Still, there’s reason for optimism. Cook is a burgeoning star, but he’s just two months removed from high school. Green showed promise in a small role in 2013, but he exhibits many of the same flaws as Pender did in the spring. That means it’s a legitimately open competition for carries, and of the four tailbacks on the roster -- including Williams -- none have been playing the position for FSU longer than Pender. At worst, he could develop into a nice change-of-pace/third-down back in 2014, and given the turnover at the position, Fisher will be happy to have some options.
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.

First up: DT Nile Lawrence-Stample

[+] EnlargeNile Lawrence-Stample
Don Juan Moore/Getty ImagesNile Lawrence-Stample will have every opportunity to secure a starting spot at defensive tackle during the spring.
Credentials: Two years before arriving at Florida State, Lawrence-Stample was a middle linebacker for his high school team. He has come a long way, but he remains something of a work in progress. Through three seasons with the Seminoles, he has just 25 tackles to his credit, but a strong spring in 2013 earned him six starts at defensive tackle last season. He has shown the potential to be a disruptive force at the line of scrimmage.

How he fits: With Timmy Jernigan off to the pros where he’s widely expected to be a first round selection, Florida State has a major vacancy in the middle of the line. While there are a handful of solid candidates for the gig, none has more experience than Lawrence-Stample, and while his combination of size and athleticism might not rival Jernigan, Lawrence-Stample has plenty of talent to work with.

Competition: Redshirt sophomore Justin Shanks, redshirt freshman Keith Bryant and oft-injured junior Derrick Mitchell will be Lawrence-Stample’s main competition this spring, but none has any significant on-field experience, which could allow the veteran to pull well ahead on the depth chart. In the fall, however, a new push will come from a group of five incoming defensive tackles, led by Demarcus Christmas and Derrick Nnadi.

Outlook: There’s a lot to like about Lawrence-Stample, from his strong recruiting pedigree (he was an ESPN 150 player in 2011) to his work ethic in practice. Coaches raved about his progress last spring when he wrapped things up with four sacks and nine tackles in the Garnet & Gold game. But all that practice field success didn’t translate into a big 2013 season. Expect Lawrence-Stample again to be a hot name this spring as he works to secure a full-time starting job, but questions will linger on whether he can translate those performances to game days in the fall. Replacing Jernigan is one of the biggest concerns for Florida State in 2014, and Lawrence-Stample’s play this spring could help make it an easier transition.

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