Tide of enthusiasm

Thanks to Bama, FSU could feature more blitzing than previous years

Updated: March 27, 2013, 7:22 AM ET
By David M. Hale | NoleNation

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The projection Christian Jones got from NFL evaluators pegged him as a third- or fourth-round selection, just strong enough to make the idea of entering the draft after his junior season intriguing. Add the new coaching staff and defensive scheme at Florida State, and he might have been leaning toward leaving.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Pruitt
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreJeremy Pruitt will bring more of Alabama's blitzing defense to Florida State's scheme.
Before Jones could open the door to the NFL, however, Jimbo Fisher and new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt offered their own sales pitch. They sat Jones down and flipped on the film of Pruitt's defense at Alabama, where Rolando McClain and Dont'a Hightower blossomed into first-round draft picks. It was red meat for a linebacker hungry to become a playmaker.

"I'm pretty much playing that same spot," Jones said. "I want to be able to do that, too."

Jones wasn't the only member of Florida State's defense to get that sales pitch from Pruitt, and the film of Alabama's championship defense has been popular viewing material during the past few months.

It's not that Pruitt plans to implement the exact same scheme as the Crimson Tide, for whom he served as defensive backs coach for the past three seasons, but Alabama's aggressive philosophy will be a hallmark of the approach he plans to take at FSU.

"The actual defense, we're basically doing the same stuff, just getting more active," linebacker Telvin Smith said. "It's fun."

It might sound a bit strange for members of a defense that finished second in the nation last season to be excited about change, but the Seminoles aren't viewing it as a step back from last year's success. After all, the one team ahead of FSU in the 2012 standings was Alabama.

While Florida State's success under former coordinator Mark Stoops was based heavily on getting pressure from the front four, while the linebackers and defensive backs stressed assignment football, Pruitt plans to open things up and let his athletes explore their potential.

A year ago, Florida State finished with 36 sacks -- one more than Alabama -- but 33 of them came from the defensive line. Jones led FSU defenders with 95 tackles, but just seven were for a loss and none resulted in a sack.

"The guys we have, we have so many great athletes on the team," Jones said. "To be in a system like this, it's going to showcase our skills more. I'm excited for it, and once we get it all down, we have a really dominant defense."

Jones said the linebackers will blitz more often, and on some third-down packages he'll be playing on the line with his hand on the ground. Karlos Williams said every member of the secondary is cross-training at other positions, so when Jones moves to the line of scrimmage, for example, Williams could end up at linebacker. Lamarcus Joyner's switch from safety to corner was made, in part, because Pruitt is intrigued by the potential of allowing Joyner to blitz more often, too. In just a handful of practices this spring, the players are already drowning in new blitz packages.

"We're putting in so many blitzes already -- and it's our third practice," Jones said. "It's going to be fun. We all really wanted to start blitzing."

Personnel certainly is a factor, too. Pruitt said he was amazed at the level of talent on FSU's roster in 2012, but was quick to note how much of that talent is headed to the NFL this season. Replacing pass-rushers like Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine won't be easy, but the more aggressive scheme offers ample possibilities.

Of course, the spring is just beginning, the terminology is entirely new, and watching clips of Alabama's scheme hardly makes the Seminoles experts. But for a unit that just a few months earlier was lamenting the loss of so many longtime coaches, there is a genuine feeling of enthusiasm about what could be in store for 2013.

"I'm not knocking those guys," Smith said of the Tide, "but I love the team and the guys we've got running that defense, and I feel like we can really put something together."