Jimbo Fisher and Florida State are coming off an impressive 10-4 season that included winning the ACC Atlantic and the Chick-fil-A Bowl against South Carolina. They are getting down to the nitty gritty in the recruiting season with a little under a week before signing day and there are still some signs of concern even with an outstanding class already.
Both sides of the ball are returning eight starters, but are also losing some key parts to their success. Replacing guys like Rodney Hudson, Ryan McMahon, Kendall Smith and Christian Ponder aren't going to be easy.
However, the first step to easing into the transition is EJ Manuel. He has proven that he can step into the game and make big plays when needed. Can he be better than or equal to Ponder? That will all be answered next season.
There are a few star-studded recruits still uncommitted and Florida State is making quite the push on most of them. All of them would be great additions to the class, but the ones that could add an immediate impact are Tony Steward, Tim Jernigan and Jadeveon Clowney. Can they land all three? It's highly unlikely, but we all know Florida State is full of surprises on national signing day.
Key Losses: None
Key Returners: Jacobbi McDaniel, Everett Dawkins, Moses McCray
2011 Commits: Nile Lawrence-Stample (4-star), Derrick Mitchell (4-star)
One word is needed to address the defensive tackle position.
They aren't usually known for not having much depth up front on the defensive side of the ball. Typically they are rotating 12 to 16 guys in and out of the line as frequent as possible.
McDaniel and Dawkins had some solid seasons, but will need to continue to improve their game if they want to repeat their performances. McCray being sidelined for the season was a killer to the depth chart and the overall play of that line. Even though they had a tremendous season, he would have provided more talent, strength and depth to this line.
Incoming recruits Lawrence-Stample and Mitchell will more than likely see a pretty decent amount of playing time. Both are big, strong and athletic guys that can contribute right off the bat.
McCray will more than likely take a redshirt for last season, meaning they will have a pretty young line with the addition of the recruits and the return of sophomore Demonte McAllister and Junior Anthony McCloud.
Everyone is holding out for 4-star Tim Jernigan to sign. There is a strong possibility that he does sign with Florida State on national signing day, but it's too close to call right now with LSU, Florida and Alabama still in the hunt.
Key Losses: Markus White
Key Returners: Brandon Jenkins, Bjoern Werner
2011 Commits: Cornellius Carradine (4-star JUCO), Giorgio Newberry (4-star)
Losing White is going to be a tough one to swallow, but having Jenkins return after a break-out season will make this loss a little easier to handle. Jenkins led the team in sacks (13.5) and tackles for loss (21.5) last season. Werner had an impressive freshman campaign and will look to improve on his efforts this coming year.
Toshmon Stevens and Dan Hicks will need to step up their play tremendously to help with the loss of White. Carradine is a freak of nature and will contribute as soon as he steps foot on campus. The only concern is that he may eventually be a one and done considering he is a JUCO transfer.
Newberry is a highly-touted athlete that can play both ways on the line. Some project him as a defensive end while others see him on the offensive line. Both would could help out on the defensive side of the ball immediately and would add to the lack of depth on the line.
Key Losses: Kendall Smith, Mister Alexander
Key Returners: Nigel Bradham, Christian Jones, Vince Williams, Jeff Luc, Telvin Smith
2011 Commits: Arrington Jenkins (3-star), Terrance Smith (3-star)
Youth is going to be a good way to describe the linebackers this upcoming season. Bradham is a returning senior, Williams will be a junior while everyone else will be an underclassmen. So signing one or two more linebackers would be a solid gain just to add some more depth to this group.
Jones, Williams, Smith and Luc all gained some strong playing experience this past season and they hope to build off that this spring and summer.
"We already have a strong group of guys here and with the recruits that are coming in we will be even better," Jones said.
Arrington Jenkins and Terrance Smith will be battling for playing time, but neither of these players are slouches. Expect both to give it their all every snap and see their fair share of snaps.
There is someone else that you may see changing his mind and taking some snaps on the defensive side of the ball and that's 5-start commit James Wilder Jr.. He wants to play as a running back and I don't blame him after the way he played in the US Army All-American Bowl.
In my opinion though, I see him as a better fit at linebacker. Even though he didn't go to Florida State to play that position, he just may end up playing there more than he expected.
The big name all Florida State fans are hoping to see in a uniform next year is 5-star Tony Steward. There is no question that if he signs with them that he could be expected to start on opening day. He is a freakish athlete that could step in and contribute right away like most of the recruits in this class.
Key Losses: None
Key Returners: Shawn Powell, Dustin Hopkins
2011 Commits: None
Can't live with them and can't live without them. That is my motto when it comes to Florida State kickers. One minute you love them and the next you wish they wouldn't even be wearing that uniform.
The truth of the matter is, both Powell and Hopkins have developed into exceptional kickers in their own regards. Hopkins had his extra point struggles freshman year, but did away with those and became a dependable kicker this season.
Powell came in as a high regarded punter, but struggled so mightily that former kicker Graham Gano took over his punting duties his freshman year. Each year he has improved just enough to stay off of blogs and message boards. Then this season he awoke from the graves and started punting the ball like he meant it.
However, this upcoming season will be his last and Florida State will have to turn to an inexperienced kicker with either Derek Williams or Chris Finn. Both red-shirted this year, so I sure hope they've been practicing.
Key Losses: None
Key Returners: Bert Reed, Rodney Smith, Willie Haulstead, Taiwan Easterling
2011 Commits: Kelvin Benjamin (4-star), Rashad Green (4-star)
Everybody is returning from the receiving core, but the only problem I have with them is their consistency. They dropped way too many passes and coughed the ball up more times than they should.
The depth is through the roof when it comes to this position. Only Reed and Easterling will be departing after this upcoming season. Leaving plenty of room for recruits like Benjamin and Greene to step in and make a name for themselves.
Benjamin will have an immediate impact on this offense due to his height and catching ability. He will create a lot of mismatches on the outside and will be a threat in the redzone like Greg Carr was at one point.
I am not quite sure how much playing time Greene will or won't see. If he does see any, expect him to sit in the slot and set up a mismatch against a safety or linebacker with his 4.4 speed.
Overall the biggest concern with these receivers is whether or not they can stay consistent and produce like most expect them to.
Key Losses: None
Key Returners: Beau Reliford
2011 Commits: Nick O'Leary (4-star)
Ahhh, the infamous tight end position. A position that hasn't seen much action at Florida State since Brandon Warren and that was only for one season.
Reliford has the potential to be a solid contributor on the offense, but doesn't get that many opportunities. He was used primarily as a blocking tight end and did an unbelievable job for the running game. His 6'6" frame should allow for some mismatches, so I expect with the addition of O'Leary and the loss of a few key offensive linemen that Manuel may be using his tight ends as safety valves more often than not.
O'Leary is one of the best commits in this class. He has great size, strength, catching ability, quick off the line and knows how to play the position. He will probably see the bulk of the throws at this position, but I also expect Reliford to make a few key catches along with his consistent stellar blocking next season.
Key Losses: Rodney Hudson, Ryan McMahon
Key Returners: Andrew Datko, Zebrie Sanders, David Spurlock
2011 Commits: Ruben Carter (3-star), Sterling Lovelady (3-star), Trey Pettis (3-star), Jacob Fegrenkrug (4-star JUCO), Bobby Hart (4-star) and Jordan Prestwood (3-Star)
There is no way to replace Hudson or McMahon. It just can't happen. At least not in one season anyway.
Datko, Sanders and Spurlock will need to anchor this young and inexperienced line. Pretty much leading by example will be their best tool.
Florida State has signed a plethora of offensive linemen to add to an already deep but young line. Hart, Prestwood and Fegrenkrug have the best shot at seeing some playing time or even a starting position. They will need to work extremely hard to see the field as often as they would like too though.
Guys like Henry Orelus, Antwane Greenlee and Garrett Fairclouth have all seen quite a few snaps. So they will provide a decent amount of experience, but not enough to replace Hudson and McMahon.
My guess is this line won't be officially set in stone until opening day and then it may not even be ready the way Rick Trickett wants them.
Key Losses: None
Key Returners: Nick Moody, Terrance Parks
2011 Commits: Karlos Williams (5-star)
Moody and Parks were up and down all season. Consistency is key here as it is with the wide receivers. One thing that Florida State fans are sure of and that's just how hard Moody can hit.
When a running back is coming or a receiver is going over the middle of the field you know they are scared for their life if he is around.
Gerald Demps and Justin Bright are young but they add a little depth to the safety position. With the addition of incoming Karlos Williams, this secondary has just gotten even better. Williams plays a very similar style to Moody and may actually be paired up beside Moody when the season starts. He has great awareness and ball hawking skills. The speed and tackling is there as well. So there is a very good chance that Williams will be starting at one of the safety positions, but that is still up in the air for now.
Overall he is a tremendous player and in my mind the best recruit in the 2011 class so far anyway.