Seminole defense expecting greatness in 2012

By Eric Fisher

FSView & Florida Flambeau, Florida State U. via UWIRE

In 2011, Florida State’s defense took an undeniable step forward into the class of the nation’s best units. While the season ultimately fell short of expectations, it’s hard to place the blame on the defense, which yielded just 15.1 points per contest last fall, a figure that was good enough for No. 4 nationally.

The scary news for Seminole opponents in 2012 is that nine of the 11 starters on the 2011 group will return. Only seniors Terrance Parks and Nigel Bradham were replaced, and defensive coordinator Mark Stoops will have two solid substitutions in Terrence Brooks, who will step in for Parks at safety, and Nick Moody, who will fill Bradham’s vacated linebacker spot.

Making the transition easier is Moody’s experience, having played a significant role at safety the last two seasons. However, the 6’2” senior always excelled more in the physical, run-stuffing aspect of the safety position, and figures to transition seamlessly down into the front seven of Stoops’ group.

Brooks is somewhat more of an unknown commodity, but fits in well as a former corner alongside fellow safety Lamarcus Joyner, another former cornerback. The range and instincts of Brooks and Joyner will make Florida State even tougher to stretch vertically than in 2011. Brooks will have to prove he can master the position’s finer points, but has a higher ceiling than Parks and could be a significant improvement once he fully adjusts.

Brooks and Moody will be joined by nine other quality returning starters, as well as a handful of depth players who are also significant contributors to Florida State’s defensive success. This year’s preseason award watch lists were littered with Seminoles, most of them on the defensive side. Joyner, Moody, Xavier Rhodes, Brandon Jenkins, Christian Jones, Bjoern Werner, Everett Dawkins and Timmy Jernigan all made appearances on at least one watch list.

There’s no questioning these guys are going to be good—it’s a question of just how good. Stoops has all of the necessary ingredients for success in his cupboard, including a defensive line filled with quality depth at end and tackle, a rangy group of linebackers and a secondary with a corner tandem (Rhodes and Greg Reid) each entering their third year as starters and two safeties in Joyner and Brooks who should be one of the country’s most dynamic.

Considering how dominant this group was last year, it may be impossible to set the bar too high for 2012. Florida State was also fourth in total defense last season, allowing more yards per game than only South Carolina, LSU and Alabama. The Seminoles were especially good at stopping the run—only Alabama allowed less yards on the ground in 2011.

Florida State should feature the nation’s best run defense in 2012, as the entirety of a deep defensive line is back. The Seminoles appear to have at least five or six players (Jernigan, Dawkins, Jacobbi McDaniel, Demonte McAllister, Anthony McCloud and maybe even freshman Eddie Goldman) who should be solid interior presences in the middle of the line. Returning linebackers Jones and Vince Williams should benefit greatly from the disruptive front four, roaming free and taking care of any ball carriers who reach the second level.

Overall, if the Seminoles are to take another step forward on defense, a greater number of takeaways in 2012 would go a long way.

Despite being stifling in 2011, Florida State was just No. 49 nationally in forced turnovers. A few more big takeaways this season, combined with the top-to-bottom talent on the roster, would make the Seminoles a defense that might be the country’s very best.

How good, exactly, will this group be? One never knows until the games are played, but Florida State fans have little reason to check their optimism. Another top-five finish in scoring and total defense seems highly possible, if not a top two or three finish at season’s end. Fans of the shootout, be warned.

Don’t watch Florida State in 2012.

Read more here: http://www.fsunews.com/article/20120726/FSVIEW02/120725021
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