Thursday, August 29, 2013

Florida State Football: ‘Noles going with size on defense

With the changes made to Florida State’s depth chart on Tuesday, many are left scratching their heads. The offense was virtually unchanged with the exception of James Wilder Jr. replacing Devonta Freeman as the team’s top tailback, but Wilder and Freeman were set to split time anyway.

On the defensive side of the ball however, none would have predicted what took shape on Tuesday.

Eddie Goldman, a highly recruited defensive tackle now at 315 pounds, is listed as a starting end with a projected starting tackle, Demonte McAllister, right behind him. Goldman replaces senior Dan Hicks at the end position, but Hicks does not leave the starting lineup. Hicks, a 260-pound projected starting end, finds himself in the lineup at linebacker. Should he remain at that position, it would be the third position that Hicks has played in as many years. Hicks may be the biggest linebacker to play at Florida State since 275-pound Jerel Hudson started for the Seminoles in the early part of the millennium. With Goldman and McAllister moving to end, sophomore Nile Lawrence-Stample takes over as the starter at defensive tackle.

The one change in the secondary is also a surprising one as Tyler Hunter gets the nod at safety over Karlos Williams. Hunter was tied for the team lead with three interceptions a season ago, but spent the majority of his time playing cornerback. Williams was once the top safety recruit out of high school and it looked like this would be his season to shine. Williams came down with the late interception in Florida State’s 21-15 ACC Championship victory over Georgia Tech to seal the school’s first conference title in seven years last season.

What does this all say about first-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s defense? It says that there is a value placed on versatility, something that rarely goes hand-in-hand with size, but this is a rare case. According to Tuesday’s depth chart, the two-deep for FSU now has nine players that have changed positions at some point during their Florida State careers.

While many are puzzled with the moves of Goldman and McAllister to end and Hicks to linebacker, having several players that can play multiple positions may really pay off for the Seminoles in the long run and that goes well beyond the starting 11. Having the versatility there will open up a number of different blitzing and coverage schemes for Pruitt’s defense and it will be difficult for opposing quarterbacks and coaches to audible based on personnel.

Pruitt has also certainly put a premium on size. If Tuesday’s changes stick for Florida State’s Labor Day opener against Pittsburgh, the Seminoles may have the biggest front seven in the entire country. Goldman and McAllister are very big at the defensive end position as is Hicks at linebacker. Prior to moving Hicks, Florida State was undersized at linebacker with Telvin and Terrance Smith each averaging just about 220 pounds. At the other defensive end position is Mario Edwards Jr., who is also big for his position at 285 pounds.

The recent changes however do bring many questions. How well a guy like Goldman can rush the passer from the end position is largely unknown and with bigger guys on the outside up front, that may leave more field for a bigger, yet inexperienced linebacker like Hicks to cover. Hicks also has no experience whatsoever in pass coverage despite being a redshirt senior.

While the Seminoles’ new depth chart has Florida State bulked up along the front, the ‘Noles lose 30 pounds at safety moving Hunter in place of Williams. That however, may be an effort to replace the size of the front seven with some additional speed in the secondary although it seems odd considering Williams’ speed is great enough to have him still listed as Florida State’s kickoff returner. Another possibility is that Florida State may be looking to blitz more often and Hunter has much more experience in one-on-one pass coverage.

How long this bulked up defensive front lasts for Florida State remains to be seen, but it won’t be long before we know. The Seminoles remain very deep defensively with the lone exception being at linebacker. Pruitt like previous Florida State defensive coordinators Mark Stoops and Mickey Andrews will likely play a lot of bodies, so the reaction to the changes may be getting more clamor than necessary to begin with. On the bright side, if Pruitt’s defensive schemes are as unpredictable as Tuesday’s depth chart, 2013 should be another very tough season for Florida State’s opposing offenses.
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