Florida State cornerback Lamarcus Joyner summed it up best: "It's a defense that's an offense."
According to ESPN's David M. Hale, the Seminoles have been hitting the books—and each other—during the long summer days in Tallahassee. Defensive players, such as Joyner, are still learning to adapt to new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's blitz-centric attack. It especially hurts the linebacker corps, where last year's dynamic duo of Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine are no longer in Tallahassee but with their respective NFL teams.
Simply put, it's a time of transition at Florida State—the second chapter of the Jimbo Fisher era. Why should it be any different with the defense?
Players admit that Pruitt's scheme has more or less dismantled what former defensive coordinator and current Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops installed during his tenure in Tallahassee. Even though Pruitt—the former defensive backs coach for the two-time defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide—has a loaded résumé, it will be difficult to replicate Coach Stoops’ results.
Yes, Alabama has been the only team to consistently outrank Florida State in overall defense the past couple of years. But that was Kirby Smart’s defense. Giving Pruitt an entire defense to tinker with will take some time to perfect, especially with a roster primarily composed of underclassmen.
FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher seems to be alright with the transition period and went more in-depth this week about the Seminoles’ new defensive outlook. "Each game plan will be determined, but we have more multiplicity of things to be able to do within our scheme. How much more we do we'll base on what we have to do to win the game."
Translation: Fans will see the wrinkles at Clemson and at Florida. While some might think that those road games are sure losses, using blitzes on mobile quarterbacks like Tajh Boyd and Jeff Driskel might be enough to win at least one (or daresay, both?) of those games to make a dark-horse national championship run.
But let’s look long term—how much time can FSU afford for this defensive transition, and why should Fisher seem so okay about it?
Florida State needs this team to do well in the fall. Besides the two aforementioned road games, Florida State’s schedule is mostly a walk in the park. Opening at Pitt will be difficult, but one should remember the Panthers went 6-7 last year. Miami should present a challenge, but this round of the rivalry is being played at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Florida State can handle this schedule.
Once the kinks are worked out, the 2014 Seminoles might be superb. In spite of this, the team will face a daunting non-conference schedule. Fisher’s team will face a talented Oklahoma State team in Dallas, making it essentially a road game. Notre Dame visits Tallahassee as well. And one can never forget the Gators—even if they are playing on Bobby Bowden Field.
The 2014 team could be excellent and still lose two games, which would all but exclude Florida State from the opening college football playoff.
In future years, the Seminoles will have to secure tough out-of-conference games to stay in the playoff hunt. And as of right now, the toughest non-conference opponent not officially on the books beyond 2014 (and not called Florida or, every three years, Notre Dame) is Boise State. By the way, that series doesn’t start until 2019.
To make the playoffs, future FSU teams will likely have to go undefeated. Unfortunately, the Seminoles have made an annual tradition of dropping at least one game a year to an overmatched ACC opponent.
Sure, looking so far ahead may seem like chasing the wind. After all, guys like Lamarcus Joyner have a defense to learn through seven-on-seven practices. But from the outlook of a Florida State fan, Jimbo Fisher’s honeymoon era is over. The 2012 team, while fantastic, still underperformed. Why should fans have any more patience with a man who threw away the NC State game?
Fans should hope that defense is an offense, because Jimbo Fisher will need all the ammunition he can get over the next two years. Time has run out for slip ups. Next up, the playoff is upon us.