Florida State Football: An Early Look at 2012

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Florida State Football: An Early Look at 2012
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The recruits are rolling in and the returnees are preparing for a tour of revenge—Clemson and Wake Forest are officially on notice—so let's take a look at what the mighty Seminoles of Florida State will look like in 2012.

Special teams

In 2012, FSU will be returning Dustin Hopkins, arguably the finest placekicker in the country.  The man with the Golden Shoes was a Lou Groza Award finalist in 2011 and should be even better this year.

He started off 2011 on a tear, quickly emerging as the nation’s finest kicker, but ultimately missed on a few key field-goal attempts that cost him the Lou Groza, which would have been FSU’s fourth overall.

While he does have an explosive leg that gives him a range of 65-70 yards, he needs to work on his clutch kicking.

Charging behind Hopkins on kickoffs will be a frightening, shut-down unit led by Karlos Williams, a fearless Seminole who has already earned the nickname of  ‘Los.

At punter, FSU loses AP first-team All-American Shaun Powell to graduation. He was one of the finest punters in FSU history and will be hard to replace, but Jimbo Fisher and crew are bringing in a scholarship punter in the name of Cason Beatty. He only carries a two-star rating, but the
word on him is that he has a booming leg and shouldn’t have too much trouble adjusting to the next big stage in his career.

The return men of FSU, who mostly come from the defense,averaged 10.4 yards-a-return on punts and averaged 26.5 yards-a-return on kickoffs . It’s a revolving unit on kickoffs, with Greg Reid, Lamarcus Joyner, and ‘Los sharing the role.

Greg “G-5” Reid is the punt returner. Reid has an electric style on punt returns that always has Doak Campbell ready to explode, and Karlos Williams’s stride on kickoff returns can be mesmerizing.

Look for both of these Seminoles to punch it into the end zone a few times this season.

Preseason grade: A

 

Note: Look for Hopkins to win the Lou Groza Award.

 

Offense

This is where things get dicey. It's no secret that FSU’s offensive line was atrocious last season. FSU offensive line coach Rick Trickett’s ability to develop his unit will determine whether FSU makes a title run in 2012.

The zone-blocking scheme that FSU employs might be the problem. FSU had always been a man-to-man blocking team, but when Trickett arrived in 2007, he brought his zone blocking with him.

He’s had trouble getting top-flight linemen to commit to Florida State, and he’s only had
probably one good year of play from his line, which was in 2010 when he had the great Rodney Hudson and Ryan McMahon anchoring the unit.

There’s really no way to list who the starters will be. It's all up in the air because of ongoing injuries and because of confusion about who grades best at each position.

Behind the offensive line, FSU is bubbling with potential.

Seminole quarterback EJ Manuel, when healthy and when provided with protection, can
light up a secondary in a hurry. He was a five-star recruit out of Virginia Beach, Va., and filled in brilliantly during his redshirt freshman and sophomore campaigns when Christian Ponder was injured

He took over last season and put up great numbers. He missed nearly three games but still threw for more than 2,600 yards and had 18 touchdowns. But he did did show signs of happy feet and missed some wide-open targets when he did in fact get a little bit of
protection.

But it’s probably safe to fault Trickett’s line for this. EJ was sacked nearly 40 times on the season. Very few quarterbacks can endure that much pressure and take that many hits and not let it affect their playing style.

If Manuel gets consistent pass protection and has a running game to balance out the offense, look for him to mesmerize America in his senior campaign.

Lining up behind EJ will be Devonta Freeman, Chris Thompson or James Wilder Jr. It’s a tossup right now. Thompson, who will be a senior, began 2011 as the starting tailback for FSU, but broke his back in a game against Wake Forest.

After he went down,true  freshman Devonta Freeman stepped in and did an admirable job, considering that he was running behind one of the worst offensive lines among BCS schools. Freeman gained nearly 600 yards, averaging 4.8 yards per carry, but that was mostly because he padded his numbers against inferior competition.

Still, many believe he stole the job from Thompson. Many close followers of FSU football wonder if Thompson will ever get back to his pre-injury form.

The third candidate for the starting job is none other than highly-recruited prospect James Wilder Jr., who grabbed national headlines when he committed to the Seminoles.

It’s basically a mystery why Wilder hasn’t seen more playing time. Some inside reports suggest that he hasn’t learned how to block; sometimes it’s said that he hasn’t learned the playbook and has trouble holding on to the ball.

But from what I’ve seen, Wilder Jr. is more than capable—he averaged 4.6 yards-per-carry in limited playing time—and is foaming at the mouth at a chance to bulldoze his way through the ACC.

Spreading out the offense will be a receiving corps comprised of extremely fast and talented young men who, except for future All-American Rashad Greene and Rodney Smith, are still a bit raw.

No one member of the unit put up great numbers last year, but it’s because Fisher likes to dish it out to all of them to keep defenses confused with his personnel presentations.

Kenny Shaw will be in his junior campaign and,according to isher, is the best route-runner on the team. Jared Haggins,son of defensive line coach Odel Haggins, is a smallish, speedy wide-out who has “big play” stitched all over him. 

Christian Greene, who will be in his sophomore year as a redshirt, might show the most promise of them all. He has an explosive first step and can get separation on the best of corners. Willie Haulstead, who may be the best veteran receiver on the team but had to sit out all of last year (redshirt) because of concussion-related symptoms, is expected to return.

And when you add Ricardo Louise into the mix, the incoming freshman who recently dumped Auburn and committed to the ‘Noles ,you have a seven-headed crew that is far-ranging in size and skill sets.


They can beat you with their speed and physicality.

 

Preseason grade: B—The offensive line is the major concern.

Note: Look for Rashad Greene to make a run at All-American.
status

 

Defense

The defensive line is just an embarrassment of riches. NFL-bound man-beasts will be lining up as FSU’s front four and, truthfully, there’s probably nothing offensive lines will be able to do to contain them.

There are five-stars on the field and five-stars on the bench. It’s depth at its finest. This is where Fisher and his staff are painting a masterpiece, possibly of historical note. This 2012 unit might go down as one of the greatest defensive lines of our generation.

The weak-side defensive end position will be headed by Brandon Jenkins, who decided to come back to college even though he graded out as a first-round NFL draft prospect.

Jenkins is an unfriendly attacker whose swim move devastates tackles (or whoever is man enough to line up against him). His sack production was down in 2011, but that’s because his role change. He occasionally dropped back and played hybrid linebacker .

The guys behind him are just as scary. Dan Hicks will probably be the No. 2, but that’s up for debate.

Two of the finest weak-side defensive end prospects in the country are bound for Tallahassee. Dante Fowler Jr. and Chris Casher, who were both selected to play in this year’s Under Armour All-American game, will also be backups for Jenkins.

Who starts at the tackle positions doesn’t really matter because defensive line coach Odell Haggins rotates them in and out so frequently.

He does this because they—Timmy Jernigan, Anthony McCloud, Everett Dawkins, Jaccobi McDaniel, Moses McCray, and Demonte McCallister—are all good enough to start.

The FSU interior guys were the main forces behind the nation’s leading rush defense in 2011—the Seminoles allowed only 2.3 yards per carry.

After the inexplicable and inexcusable debacle at Wake Forest last season, these guys came together and completely dominated for the rest of the season. At the end of the regular season,  they had surrendered fewer than 1,000 rushing yards, which was only matched by Alabama’s line.

According to many FSU insiders, Eddie Goldman, the No. 1 defensive tackle prospect in this year’s recruiting class, is a hard lean to FSU. If he does join the Tribe, this should help make FSU a team that is nearly impossible to run on.

FSU also happens to be extremely deep at strong-side defensive end. Bjoern Werner, The German Bulldozer, will be leading the charge here, probably in his last season, as he is certainly NFL-bound.

Behind him as No. 2 will be Tank Carradine, a senior who matriculated to FSU last season
as the No. 1 defensive end prospect from the junior college ranks.

Then there's Mario Edwards as the No. 3. Edwards is a legacy Seminole—his father played in FSU’s secondary in the late '90s and was part of the last national championship team—and he happens to be the No. 1 overall player in the country. Yes, the No. 1 recruit in the country will be Mark Stoops’s third-string defensive end.

The linebacker crew is a bit young and will first have to deal with the departure of Seminole great Nigel Bradham, the team’s leading tackler for the last three seasons.

While Bradham won’t be the easiest guy to replace, Jeff Luc, a five-star recruit and the No. 1 inside linebacker prospect out of high school, should be ready for the challenge. Luc has had limited playing time, but only because Bradham’s senior leadership was required last year.

Luc, who stands 6’ 0” , weighs 250 pound, and reportedly bench-presses more than  450
pounds, has been groomed by Bradham, so much will be expected of him.

At strong-side linebacker, the quiet and focused Christian Jones will be starting. He was
the No.1-rated outside linebacker prospect out of high school in 2009 and has lived up
to the hype. He made 56 tackles last season and showed great discipline.

At middle linebacker, Vince Williams Jr., the brother of Karlos, will be the primary starter. While he certainly delivered some crushing blows in his first year as a starter in 2011, he needs to work on his hips. He’s a bit stiff, and this might be why he shares time with Telvin Smith, an undersized yet athletic linebacker who happens to play with a motor much like the Vikings’ Jared Allen.

The defense is rounded out by a stout secondary, led by its increasingly violent starting strong safety, Lamarcus Joyner. He’s a harder-hitting version of LSU’s Honey Badger.

He comes flying into the screen out of nowhere and will pick off anything that touches his hands. His hands,which are extended by a huge wingspan, make him a legitimate Division I ball hawk. He had four interceptions in his first year starting.

His counterpart at safety is still a mystery. Karlos Williams, who may ultimately switch to offense, and Terrance Brooks seem to be the leading candidates.

The one weakness on FSU’s defense—and many Seminole fans will disagree with this—is Greg Reid. He will be one of the starting cornerbacks again in 2012, and while he is impressively
fast and can stick to receivers well, he has neither the size nor the tackling ability to be a starter for the Seminoles.

Too many times he gets out-jumped by taller receivers and he oftentimes “tackles” by throwing his shoulder at the offensive player. That’s unacceptable in a Mark Stoops defense.

I hope he can improve his tackling and compensate for his height disadvantage.

But luckily for Florida State, Reid’s counterpart is Xavier Rhodes. He has  the impressive size and talent of Alabama’s NFL-bound Dre Kirkpatrick and can wrap up a receiver like a linebacker. If Rhodes can stay healthy—he was plagued by an injury in 2011—he is bound to pique the interest of NFL scouts.

 

Preseason Grade: A+

Note: Should be the No. 1 defense in the country next season. Look for Joyner, Jenkins, Rhodes and Jernigan to compete for All-American honors

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