With Florida State on the eve of starting practice for the 2014 season, we wrap up our Fall Camp Preview by discussing camp battles and other camp storylines in the inauagural edition of the ChopChat Editor’s Roundtable.
This will become a weekly feature on the site moving forward this season, but we’ll devote our first one to previewing some of the biggest story-lines heading into camp. We’ll take a look at the camp battles about to take place at wide receiver and in the middle of the defensive line in addition to discussing who some of the leaders might be on this year’s defense and what newcomers could end up surprising fans in much the same way that Jalen Ramsey and Nate Andrews did last year.
Let’s kick things off…
1.) There are two highly-touted freshmen WR’s and two fairly well-versed redshirt seniors vying to replace Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin in the receiver rotation. Who do you think has the edge and why?
David Visser: The current depth chart has those redshirt seniors, Christian Green and Scooter Haggins, as the other starters, which makes sense given their tenure. Green has had a fairly underwhelming career at Florida State after coming in as a top WR prospect, and until I see something different, there’s no reason to think this will change.
I like Haggins more, as he’s shown nice flashes prior to his unfortunate injury— While he’s a couple inches shorter than Green, he’s put on some good weight and looks the part. I also get the feeling that Bobo Wilson is a player whom Fisher really likes; we’ll see how his off-the-field issues have affected that.
As far as the newcomers go, I like Travis Rudolph’s chances over Lane’s and Harrison’s. He’s got nice size, but superior footwork, which results in well-executed routes that will endear him to his teammates and coaches throughout fall camp.
Patrik Nohe: As far as the freshmen go, I think the faster they start understanding the concepts, the faster they’ll play. Both Lane and Rudolph have all kinds of potential but Jimbo Fisher’s offensive system is far more complicated than anything they’ve been exposed to and until they can internalize it and start to play fast in his offense, I don’t know how many reps they’re going to see on Saturdays– at least with with ones.
The nice part for them is that — all season — they won’t face a better secondary on Saturday than they will Monday-Thursday in practice. FSU goes good on good quite a bit during the week so whoever ends up starting is going to be pretty well-tested by the time the team gets to Dallas on August 30th.
Personally, I think Scooter Haggins is set to have a nice year. He’s experienced, he’s sturdy and he should turn into a pretty solid target in the slot this season. Beyond Haggins, don’t sleep on Isaiah Jones. He’s already had a year in the offense, he’s healthy and he had a good Spring game (4 catches, 81 yards). With Bobo Wilson potentially still facing a suspension and with the freshmen learning the offense, Jones could be in really good position heading into the camp.
2.) Do you think Cason Beatty will be the punter at the start of next season? Or do you think he gets beat out?
PN: There’s a walk-on punter named Brian Crews who I would like to see kick before I say one way or another, but based on my gut I’d say Beatty starts the season with a short leash. You kind of have to preface this discussion by saying that if this is one of the biggest questions facing FSU right now — things are going pretty well. That being said, Beatty’s average was the worst in the ACC last year. Nationally he was 112th, 121st in net. The plus side is he wasn’t asked to punt all that often last year, but when he was — it could have gone better.
Now, that’s not to say that Cason didn’t devote his offseason to punting and won’t come in as one of the most improved players on the team — he very well could. But going off what we saw in 2013, the job seems pretty open. And given Jimbo Fisher’s propensity for playing the best players — regardless of scholarship status or age — it’s also very possible Beatty gets beat out this Fall.
DV: I must admit—I was a little surprised punter wasn’t listed as a two-deep position on the depth chart. Walk-on sophomore Jonathan Hernandez impressed at the FSU spring game, putting up a 45.2 yard average that easily topped Beatty’s 37.0 yards per punt.
I agree about wanting to see Crews and think this is a very close race. But at present, Beatty is the proven commodity—even if what he’s proven is less than impressive, at least to date.
3.) David, you wrote our piece about newcomers that could stand out when camp starts, which of FSU’s first year players do you see having the biggest impact?
DV: While I like Rudolph and Demarcus Christmas to contribute significantly, I’ll go with running back Dalvin Cook, whom I’m excited to see more of in Fall camp after he missed most of Spring practice. Cook is a freakish mix of power, speed, and elusiveness, and I think many are over-estimating how heavily Fisher is going to lean on starter Karlos Williams.
Ryan Green and Mario Pender – assuming he’s eligible – will contribute, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cook win the majority of the reps as the season progresses. This will undoubtedly be one of the most watched battles of fall camp.
PN: I’m extremely interested to see how Christmas looks. Fisher absolutely raved about the kid during National Signing Day, essentially saying that the only thing that stopped him from being the top recruit in the country was his unwillingness to go to Rivals camps and the fact he totally shut down his recruitment his junior year. The reviews from the high school coaches who had to play against Manatee — as well as many of the recruiting reporters who actually saw him play in person — are that he’s potentially a generational talent. Now, that could all be hyperbole (at this time of the year it can be tough to tell), but in much the same way that Tim Jernigan was just a jaw-dropping physical specimen from the moment he stepped on campus, Christmas looks the part too. 18 year-olds just aren’t supposed to be that big.
4.) Tim Jernigan was an absolute mauler in the middle of the defensive line last year for the Seminoles. Who do you see stepping up to replace him?
PN: Replacing Tim Jernigan is much easier said than done. Jimbo Fisher swears up and down that Jernigan might be the most gifted defensive tackle he’s ever coached, and while Jimbo has never been shy doling out praise he doesn’t typically issue superlatives like that without actually meaning it. As I said earlier, I think DeMarcus Christmas could really surprise some people this year. If he lives up to the billing I think he could really make an early impact. Eddie Goldman started all 13 games last year and had a strong Spring — he could be poised to break out this season. And Nile Lawrence-Stample, if healthy, will have plenty of chances to vie for playing time in the middle.
But replacing Jernigan? It’s tough to completely replace a player who is that impactful.
DV: I concur that Goldman seems on the precipice of truly justifying the 5-star rating he brought to FSU. His progress after moving inside will be interesting to monitor in camp. And Lawrence-Stample pairs well with him, as he eats up blocks well.
Building off Patrik’s point about Fisher issuing praise, I was really surprised to hear him describe Christmas as a player who could have been ranked the best in the country coming out of Manatee High School in Bradenton. I mean, hyping one’s recruiting class is one thing, but this that was on a whole different level.
5.) Leadership is one of the biggest things Florida State lost after last season — especially on defense. While Jameis Winston and a senior offensive line will lead the offense, the losses of Jernigan, Terrence Brooks, Lamarcus Joyner and particularly Telvin Smith, leave the defense with a considerable leadership void. Who do you see stepping up?
DV: With regard to the defense, Tyler Hunter is certainly a defensive leader for the ‘Noles, although he’s not the vocal presence Smith was. P.J. Williams and Jalen Ramsey are more reserved as well. Ronald Darby, however, doesn’t have any issues speaking up—neither does Chris Casher, who recently – and now rather infamously – took up for roommate Jameis Winston in the media.
Offensively, I think the Seminoles are fine. Winston returns, and everyone knows how effective he was as a leader last year, as just a redshirt freshman. Senior Cameron Erving also brings a fantastic maturity to the team, and fellow senior Karlos Williams — who is now the senior-most running back — has been imparting his experience as well.
PN: As you said, Hunter is the leader of the secondary, but to me the player who really has a big opportunity to step up as one of the defensive leaders is linebacker Terrance Smith. Smith is a fourth-year junior, he played a big role last year and he has a chance to be the leader of the linebacking corps this year. He shifted from the middle to weak-side linebacker and seemed to embrace being a defensive leader this past Spring. That’s going to be vital this season.
But it’s also important to remember that Telvin Smith was one of a kind. The departed LB did more than just chirp a lot during practice. He kept his teammates motivated through those lulls in the season, kept them up when things started to take a downward turn in practice. His vocality served to keep his teammates in line, but it also kept them loose when it needed to. The verbal battles Winston and Smith used to have at the line of scrimmage and between plays last year were seldom repeatable, but kept teammates focused, engaged and motivated. You don’t just replace that. Telvin Smith — over the course of his four years — grew into one of the best leaders FSU’s defense has had in years. And his leadership style was as much a function of his personality as his love for the game. So while players will step up and lead — nobody will replace Telvin Smith.
6.) Last topic, give me one player you expect to really come on this season for Florida State.
PN: It would be too easy to say Karlos Williams — though I do expect him to really impress this year. I’m going to say Tyler Hunter. Hunter was starting to really come into his own last year before a neck injury derailed his season. This year, I think Hunter will have a lot to prove to the fans who have already passed his name up in their discussion of Florida State’s best defenders. Hunter has all the athletic gifts to make an impact but what really sets him apart from a lot of the other defenders is his football IQ.
Jeremy Pruitt’s system, which is now being run by Charles Kelly, features a very complicated pattern-matching system that is based on defensive rules, the alignment of receivers and pre-snap checks. Last year, when the defense was being installed, Hunter was an integral part, working with his defensive teammates in the classroom to make sure the concepts stuck — especially in the secondary. Not getting to play most of last season after investing so much in preparing for it should leave Hunter with plenty of motivation heading into camp. I expect Hunter to be the leader of the secondary and one of the best players on the defense this season.
DV: I like Patrik’s pick of Hunter, and I’m going to stay on the defensive side of the ball. Starter Chris Casher’s a tempting choice here, but I’m going into the depth chart a bit and say linebacker Matthew Thomas. Thomas is currently listed as the back-up to Terrance Smith at the WLB position, but Florida State rotates so many bodies and employs so many sets that myriad other players contribute significantly.
The pattern-matching system Patrik mentions above emphasizes speed—rapid mental progressions as well as quick physical responses. It’s an aggressive defensive philosophy that seeks to dictate the offense’s actions, and Thomas’ elite athleticism fits the scheme nicely, especially since it may trend even more aggressive under new defensive coordinator Charles Kelly.