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54 posts from September 2012

September 30, 2012

FSU Jumps to 3rd in Latest AP Poll


Quick update here, the AP Poll was released this morning and the Florida State Seminole have jumped a spot to number three. The top five is currently, Alabama, Oregon, FSU, LSU and Georgia.

The Seminoles beat USF yesterday 30-17 in their first road game. Meanwhile, LSU, the team Florida State jumped, struggled against FCS opponent Towson, trailing well into the 2nd quarter before taking the game over in the second half. After a ho-hum win over Auburn last week and with an average showing against Towson, LSU dropped a spot in the poll and FSU was happy to jump them.

The no. 3 Seminoles head to Raleigh next weekend to face off against an NC State team that just surrendered an ACC recorded 550+ passing yards to the Hurricanes' Stephen Morris.

The only other ACC team ranked is Clemson, who moved up to 15th this week. Virginia Tech was dropped after losing to Cincy. The Miami Hurricanes are the third highest-ranked team in the ACC after receiving four votes in this week's poll.

Thoughts from the Morning After: FSU 30 USF 17


Last night Florida State won a hard-fought game against USF 30-17. As I said in the recap, give the Bulls a lot of credit for really giving the Noles their best shot. Against a top five team they came out and hung for three quarters and had chances to make it a one-score game in the 4th.

The Seminoles didn't have their best, they admitted as much, but they came out with a win and got the plays they needed when they needed them. Look at any championship season and there are typically a few get-by type games where a team may never fire on all cylinders but still manages to get out of there with the prerequisite W and keep on moving towards their goal.

“That’s what I’m happy about," said Jimbo Fisher afterwards. "It’s crazy, that’s what I told them. Wins are big, you go into somebody else’s house that have good players and are coached well, and you come out with a ‘W’. That’s still a huge step coming off the big win we had last week.”

The last time FSU played USF it was a very similar set of circumstances, fresh off a top-ten win the Seminoles ran into a Bulls team that had the date circled and gave Florida State its best shot. Last time they buckled though and fell 17-7.

This time around the team had more maturity, they had more resilience, they took USF's best blows and answered them in kind. Was it the satisfying victory that Seminoles fans may have hoped for (especially as they were reminded of 2009 all week)? No. But it was the victory that Florida State needed on Saturday.

Here's a few thoughts from the morning after:

-There were several points where Florida State could have rolled over, and many of the more jaded Seminoles in the fanbase may have gotten that feeling in the pit of their stomach last night that a collapse wasn't far off. For instance, if you've watched the 'Noles over the past decade, it wasn't hard to imagine after Dustin Hopkins missed his field goal in the 2nd quarter that USF would score before the half. Seminoles fans had watched that song play out before, but last night the defense stepped up and Xavier Rhodes picked off a BJ Daniels pass that set the Seminoles up with another field goal opportunity, this time a make. Florida State went into the half up 13-3 instead of 10-3, 10-6 or even 10-10. Huge difference.

-The other point in the game where Seminoles fans may have felt a bit of panic happened right at the start of the third quarter when USF forced the 'Noles into a three-and-out and blocked a punt. The Bulls would cut the Seminoles lead to 3 after punching it in and you could feel the South Florida faithful in attendance start to lean forward a bit. When Florida State failed to produce anything after they got the ball back, USF had a chance to take the lead for the first time since the first drive of the game. The Seminole defense made a stand though, got the ball back and the Seminoles got back on track.

Put it this way, just a couple years ago Florida State may have buckled in either scenario. On Saturday night they absorbed the blows and continued moving forward. As I said last night, you may not be able to learn much about any one specific player from that game, but you learned a lot about this team and their ability to win when things aren't going their direction. Last night was a good example of that.

-I'm looking forward to watching the replay and looking at the trench play a little bit more. Jimbo Fisher mentioned that Bjoern Werner was asked to do a lot of different things in the first half. Werner is currently the guy circled on the Seminole defense as matchup issue, he entered the game leading FBS players in total sacks and has been as disruptive as any player in the country over the past couple seasons. So with that in mind the Seminoles didn't turn Werner loose out the gates last night, and that seemed ok with the Bulls, who were intent on running at Tank Carradine and staying away from the Werner.

In the first quarter USF had some success, amassing about 140 yards and giving the Seminoles defense a little bit of trouble before Florida State buckled down in the second and third and kept USF from doing much of anything. Clearly, running at Carradine was not a good idea. I'm anxious to see how Florida State adjusted up front after the first quarter.

"The defense came out and really started dominating the line of scrimmage," said Fisher. "They were playing too loose in the beginning, but I think they settled down and got their feet on the ground and started playing much better. Then we were able to get a couple of drives.”

-The other part of the replay I'll be watching is the Florida State offensive front. USF managed to pressure EJ Manuel at times last night and there seemed to be a few issues with pass-pro at times. It's tough to tell in real-time exactly where the breakdown is without knowing the playcall, but on the replay it's a little bit easier to tell who was where they were supposed to be, and who wasn't. There were a few breakdowns last night, I'm sure the 'Noles will be addressing those this week.

-Finally, the footing last night was an understated element, but one that caused more than a few issues. I asked Rashad Greene about it afterwards and he didn't seem to be as bothered, but as a receiver who goes into each play knowing where he's cutting, he's already at an advantage. Watching the backs struggle to plant and cut, and watching the DB's struggle to defend out of the breaks though gave you plenty of indication that the on-and-off rain that preceeded the game had an impact on the playing surface. After tearing the field up last night, the Bucs and Redskins should be in for a real treat today.

I'll have a little more this evening. The AP poll comes out in a few minutes if the 'Noles jump I'll have an update for you on that too.

September 29, 2012

Play of the Game: Revisiting Tank Carradine's Sack, Christian Jones' TD


The play of the game on Saturday night came on an untimed down on the last play of the third quarter.

To fully set the stage you have to go back a play, to the Bulls original 3rd down play. BJ Daniels took off on 3rd-and-2 and went 20 yards for a first down that was called back on a hold. On that play though, BJ Daniels took a shot to the head and went out of the game.

Now, whether or not Daniels was concussed and should have returned is debatable, but on the following play his backup Matt Floyd got absolutely decimated, fumbled the football and gave up a touchdown on the return. Whether or not he was supposed to go back in before that play, he was definitely going back in afterwards.

Here's the rub, Florida State didn't even realize Daniels was missing.

"I noticed right on the play, I looked back there and I think it was 11," said LB Christian Jones when asked when he saw Daniels left the game. "I was like 'oh [snap].'"

Carradine, for his part, didn't even know he caused a fumble much less that his teammate scored on it, he just knew that he cracked the quarterback his hardest.

"The tackle wanted to block me, but instead he went right on down and I saw the quarterback right away," said Carradine. "I just hit him hard, when the ball went out his hands as I raised my head, I didn't know what was going on."

"I didn't even know that our team had scored."

All evening USF attacked Carradine, he joked after the game the Bulls must have thought he was the weak link. On the play in question, he ended that line of thinking violently.

"Pretty much we were in our base package and I was the spy, I told Bjoern and all them to crash in because I knew the quarterback was right-handed so I knew he was going to roll out to the right side," said Jones, who later admitted he made the call before he realized it wasn't Daniels. "I just stabbed in and came outside and I just saw Tank coming, it was funny because the ball just bounced up into my hands so I just ran it in after that."

That play made all the difference, it put the Seminoles up 20, shifted momentum for good and got the Seminole-heavy crowd back into the game. Florida State's defense gave up just over 20 yards in the 2nd and 3rd quarter combined, capped by the defensive touchdown on the Carradine sack.

All things considered, that play probably made all the difference last night.

“It was huge for our momentum because you know our defense came back with a fumble, then a touchdown," said Lonnie Pryor. "That was huge for us, not just for defense but for offense, too.”

“It feels good. It wasn’t pretty, there were some ups and downs, but a win’s a win. That’s how we look at it. They came out here and played a tough game.  It’s our first road game and it wasn’t going to be easy.”

Keep checking back for more Seminoles coverage from the 30-17 win over USF.

Wrapping Up: FSU 30 USF 17


Wrapping up from the press box here at Raymond James Stadium in what was one of the more bizarre-feeling games I can remember covering. Even Jimbo Fisher admitted afterwards that this game had a weird feel to it. From the sunny rainstorms that came before the game, to the 50-50 bowlgame-like crowd to the very strange rhythm (or lack thereof) that FSU seemed to operate out of all day. This was a weird win.

But a win is a win, and Florida State is on a bus headed back to up to Tallahassee right now 5-0, which means they accomplished what they came to do today.

USF's game plan was good, Seminoles fans should credit the Bulls with playing a solid game, having a good plan of attack and really pushing the Seminoles today. USF deserves kudos, they gave the Seminoles their best shot and afterwards you could tell the 'Noles knew it.

"We all had to learn a lesson as an organization that it’s pretty tough to go into someone else’s home," said Lamarcus Joyner in the tunnel after the game. "They’re going to fight you hard, they are going to claw.”

And USF did, they scored on their opening drive, they were highly opportunistic when given chances and even down by three scores in the 4th quarter, they still had a pulse (even if their fans didn't realize it and were heading for the exits).

This isn't a game where any one player on the stat sheet jumps out at your or where there's a clear cut story-line to pull from. It's tough to say what we learned about any one player today. But as a team, I think Florida State learned a lot.

This was their first road test, it wasn't their best performance and they had plenty of mistakes, MA's, penalties and all other range of errors. But they fought through it and made plays when they needed to. The defense in particular buckled down after a sloppy first quarter and held the USF offense largely in check during the 2nd and 3rd. The Seminoles yielded just 18 second quarter yards and gave up just nine in the third quarter.

By the time USF had any semblance of offensive success again, Florida State was up 20 in the 4th quarter and the Bulls were running out of time.

Make no mistake about it, the defensive play in the 2nd and 3rd quarter, in particular Tank Carradine's strip sack on the last play of the third quarter, was the difference in this game. Florida State's offense was inconsistent and victimized by penalties for much of the evening, but the defense was solid.

A couple quick notes:

-USF Quarterback BJ Daniels shouldn't have been in the game in the 4th quarter. On the penultimate play of the 3rd quarter, Daniels got leveled on a tackle, took a blow to the head and stumbled as he tried to make it to his feet. I'll try to find a replay tonight, but watch his knees buckle. Right there, he should have been done for the day. I'm highly curious what, if any, concussion test was administered to Daniels. From my vantage, I saw him get drilled, stumble to the sideline and then get thrown back in on the very next drive after his backup got creamed on a touchdown-scoring strip-sack during his only snap of the game. Maybe USF did go through due-diligence last night with regards to Daniels' head injury, but it sure didn't seem that way.

-Chris Thompson ran wild on Saturday night, but very little of it counted. The Seminole senior RB is truly a home run threat every time he touches the ball, but a couple of holds negated two long TD runs and kept the Florida State ground game from breaking things wide open like it threatened to do a couple of times.

-Special Teams are a bit of a concern after Florida State gave up points for the second week in a row on a blown play. Last weekend a muffed punt caused issues against Clemson, on Saturday night it was a blocked punt that put USF right back in the thick of it to start the third quarter. The return game and kick coverage are great right now for the Seminoles, but there are some other areas on special teams that need to be cleaned up.

-Finally, Florida State's offensive playcalling was interesting tonight in that they seemed to have the most success when they attacked USF's secondary vertically, yet they rarely did so. A big part was issues along the line with pass-pro, several times EJ Manuel really felt the pressure bearing down on him and had to check out, but there were other opportunities to attack that went untaken. It didn't end up costing the Seminoles on Saturday night, but I'm sure fans would have liked to see them open up the passing attack a little more and throw down the field.

Now, the flipside of that is that early on USF was intent on running a more ball-control approach to keep FSU's offense off the field. So early on, throwing a bunch of times and then running a tiring defense back out there too soon wouldn't have been in the Seminoles' best interest. But when Florida State wanted to go vertical on Saturday night, it was there for them a lot. File that away for later in the season.

I'll be back with plenty of follow-up coverage, quotes, interviews and stats to breakdown from tonight's 30-17 win. Keep checking back at the Herald tonight and tomorrow for tons of Seminoles news.

Halftime: FSU 13 USF 3


This has felt like a very weird game, Florida State is winning 13-3 but the Bulls have moved the ball well on offense and Seminoles have yet to get a good rhythm going this evening.

Things started quickly with USF driving down the field for a field goal on their opening drive. But a 60-yard Karlos Williams kick-return quickly set FSU in Bulls territory and within five plays they were up 7-3.

Since then it's been back and forth with neither team taking control. Dustin Hopkins has made two field goals but missed a fairly makeable one at the end of the 2nd quarter, otherwise it would be 16-3.

The Seminoles offense has been decent, but hardly the potent world-beaters that they were last weekend against Clemson. They've moved the ball fairly well, but Manuel's decision making has been quesitonable at points in the game. He's made a few interesting reads on pass plays in the second quarter and almost gave the ball up on a very ill-advised option toss that was later reversed by the official replay.

The statline looks a little better than Manuel's been so far.

EJ is going to need to start to get the offense rolling in the second half and at least make better decisions or one FSU turnover could put the Bulls right in the middle of the game. Not that USF is out of it, but with the ball headed to Florida State to start the second half and with a little momentum after a late 2nd quarter BJ Daniels INT, the Seminoles have a chance to take the game over at the start of the third quarter.

Overall though, this one just feels odd and the longer FSU lets the Bulls hang around, the riskier this gets.

FSU Leaders:

Passing- Manuel 12/15 139 yards 0 TD

Rushing- Pryor 1-44-0TD

Receiving- O'Leary 4-40-0TD

Pregame: FSU at USF


It's been raining on and off here all day in Tampa, the sun is still out, but in true Florida fashion the weather is whacked out of its mind just an hour and a half before kickoff.

Fans and students are just pouring into the stadium now, gates were at 4:30. Thus far, it looks like a pretty even split between Seminoles fans and Bulls fans. I'll have a better idea closer to kickoff, but there will be no lack of support for Florida State today.

A few things to look out for today, this is the Super Bowl for USF, a win almost completely redeems their season and it's definitely a date the Bulls have had circled all off-season. You can expect to get USF's best shot today, the team that showed up against Ball State and the one who comes out of the tunnel today are not going to be the same group of kids. For all intents and purposes, toss out the Bulls' record and consider this a one-off. They will not play like a 2-2 team today.

That being said, I don't know that USF's best shot will still be enough. Clemson is head and shoulders above what USF is capable of, the Tigers threw their best shot at the Noles last weekend and fell short. If Florida State comes out and plays their game today, they should be able to handle the best the Bulls have to offer.

The issue will be miscues and momentum. Turnovers, blown plays or a bad quarter can give the Bulls just the level of confidence they need to pull off the upset. The Bulls are overmatched, but not out of their league. USF boasts some very talented skill players and BJ Daniels, all criticisms aside, is the kind of quarterback who can get hot and hurt a team on the right afternoon.

As long as Florida State doesn't come out asleep, they should be able to handle this game. But I'll be back at halftime with the update.

Attendance: 65,787 (sellout)

TV: ESPN (Sean McDonough play-by-play, Chris Spielman color, Quint Kessenich sideline)

September 28, 2012

Culture Shift Has Florida State Poised For Big Things


The final year of Bobby Bowden's tenure at Florida State looks smooth now when you compare it to his only contemporary's exit late last year. 

Joe Paterno's exit was brutal, filled with bizarre behavior and legacy-shattering revelations that will leave Happy Valley reeling for years to come. 

Bowden just lost, or at least publicly that's what it was.

Fault the Seminoles for many things, but one thing that was done fairly well in Bowden's final days was the wagons were circled and the infighting amongst the players and coaches was largely hidden away from public consumption where it could truly damage the program.

To this day, it's difficult to ascertain all the politics that played out between regimes and incoming and outgoing coaches as the writing was ultimately scribbled on the wall midseason that 2009 would be the last year in a legendary coaching career.

Instead you're left with momentary glimpses, flashes between scenes where the curtains were pulled back and you could catch a fleeting glance of the inner-workings behind it all. 

On Saturday September 26th, 2009, one of those moments occurred when USF handed Florida State an embarrassing 17-7 defeat at Doak Campbell Stadium. It was arguably the loss that got the wheels turning on Bowden's exit and it was indicative of the massive culture problem that Jimbo Fisher inherited when he took the reins of this Seminole team three years ago.

Problems Just Beneath the Surface

"It was so good," said Dustin Hopkins sarcastically when asked how the lockerroom felt after 2009's loss. "I remember we reported the next day and everyone was just kind of like in shock almost, like 'what happened?'"

"I remember they came out swinging for lack of better words, they were on fire, we came out flat and we never recovered."

That moment sent the Seminoles to 2-2, after an opening loss to Miami, Florida State had beaten Jacksonville State 19-9 and then unloaded on #7 BYU in Provo 54-28. The win had the Seminoles over-confident and they got socked in the mouth by a hungry Bulls team the following week.

"I feel like some guys took it to heart and other guys were like ‘I’m done’ kind of thing," said Hopkins. "Not like they quit or whatever, but that loss might not have given them more push whereas I think some guys took it to heart and just kind of stuck in their claw a little bit."

What the loss marked was a turning point in the culture of Florida State. The Seminoles would go on to lose their next two games and drop to 2-4. They spent the rest of the season climbing out of that hole and limped to a 7-6 finish thanks to then-freshman EJ Manuel going 3-1 as a starter in place of the injured Christian Ponder.

Inside the lockerroom, Jimbo Fisher inherited a mess.

"You can tell because a couple spring games that we had here in the past that I won’t talk about we had fights break out during them because we were so divided," said redshirt senior DE Toshmon Stevens.

“It was a little bit [divided], I felt throughout that year it was a little clique-y, we definitely didn’t have the team atmosphere like we do now," confirmed Hopkins. "It was more segmented, [Toshmon] was accurate in saying that."

How to Change a Culture

Jimbo Fisher had a problem that was systemic, held over from the last coaching staff. The team concept was secondary to position groups and competing sides of the ball. For years the defense had carried the offense, then with the arrival of Fisher as OC and the decline of the defense, the pendulum swung in the other direction.

"It was offense-defense, offense-defense and when it was even more divided it was O-line, D-line, linebackers and it got to a point where it became like little cliques and we didn’t talk to anyone else," said Stevens. "Offense? We didn’t care about them, wanted to beat them up, make them cry, have the coach yell at them. Same thing for them."

"Now we go out there, we do our job, we might beat you but we help each other up, we talk to each other, if I beat you on a certain play, I tell you ‘good job, you’ve got to concentrate, make sure you get your block, you’re stepping too much.’ That way we can win as a team. It’s not about yelling at each other and getting on each other’s nerves, which we all do because we’ve got a lot of testosterone, it’s about us coming together so we can have the season we’re having now."

So what changed? Pretty much everything.

As soon as the "In Waiting" was removed from Jimbo Fisher's title and he assumed full control of the team he brought in his own staff and went to work on revamping the fractured culture of Florida State football.

"It takes time," said Fisher. "You have to get to know somebody to build a relationship. We changed the lockerroom to where offensive and defensive players are besides each other at every locker, it’s offense-defense, big guy-little guy, we rotate it so [you're with] guys you’re never around as much. We eat all our meals together, it’s mandatory, you’re not eating off campus, you’re eating in here, so you’re in here sitting more. We try to do more functions, unity council, it’s just a lot of little things that you try to do."

That all seems to be paying dividends, the unity councils for instance are player-run and help the team self-police and maintain accountability without coach involvement. Those wouldn't have happened in 2009. 

It's also the kinds of players the team is bringing in. Hopkins alluded to players losing interest (diplomatic wording by Hopkins), those kinds of guys don't end up at Florida State anymore.

"We have a bunch of [like-minded] guys, when you recruit a bunch of guys who have the same goals and aspirations, they kind of think alike they're similar type people, they like hanging around together," said Fisher.

"I think they are [more tightly knit], as a whole they are, because even my class when they came in they got into little groups too," said senior LB Nick Moody, when I asked him about the most recent classes Jimbo Fisher has recruited.

"I think as a class, that’s one thing I noticed, all these guys are kind of friends. That really helps when you start out like that because over the years they get even closer together. I think that’s part of it, because before [my class] started off already broken up into our groups now you start off mixed in, but I think part of it is just the team dynamic as a whole is just better."

It's About the Locker Room

As Fisher said, that dynamic took time to build. But one thing everyone continues to come back to is how much the lockerroom helped. Being immersed with teammates that aren't in the same position group has really lead to the kind of team concept that Fisher is looking for.

"I think part of it is how the lockerroom is now, before it was broken up into segments now it’s just everyone’s mixed in with each other," said Moody. "I think that helps a lot. Overall as a team we’re all like one and not broken up into little cliques and groups and stuff like before.

"There’s people I hang out with now, say offensive linemen, that two years ago I would have never hung out with offensive linemen."

A few things, the buzzword is cliques. I never used that word in any of my questions to Hopkins, Moody or Stevens and all three arrived at the same description of 2009 independently. That underscores the old culture of the Seminole lockerroom.

Now without fail they all mention the team-first dynamic, you notice it when the players pass you on the way to the dining hall, they are in random packs not grouped by sides of the ball or positon. This group seems to legitimately like one another.

And it's paying off on the field.

"Put it like this, there was one day we were practicing last week that we got rained out. Our coaches wanted to take us upstairs so we could watch film, so we watched film of us playing Clemson last year," said Stevens. "We were all in wow because of how sorry we were. We really didn’t notice how good we were or could be until we watched film of how we used to play and saw it side-by-side."

USF's BJ Daniels Poses a Familiar Challenge to FSU

The last time USF played Florida State, a freshman Tallahassee-native BJ Daniels lead the Bulls over the Seminoles in a pretty shocking upset.

Fast forward to this year and Daniels is now a senior, hosting a revenge-minded Florida State team that is looking to even the overall series at one between the two schools.

The narrative around Daniels is that he wanted to come to FSU, took it personally when he wasn't offered and played with a chip on his shoulder as a freshman. The truth is that USF team came in with a bunch of NFL players on its defense and handled a Florida State program that was down and reeling in the final year of the Bowden era. The Bulls were the more talented team last time around.

This year things are a lot different.

The Seminoles are back to their old ways, boasting a top five team and a potent defense while the Bulls are fresh off consecutive losses to Rutgers and Ball State. Moreover, Daniels isn't going to be catching anyone on the Florida State defense by surprise this time around. 

Daniels is talented, but the book on him is well-established by now and the 'Noles just finished handling Tajh Boyd, a very similiar quarterback in terms of skill-set.

"He's a tremendous challenge, he can run, he can throw, he's strong, he's competitive," said Jimbo Fisher. "I mean he can throw the ball long, long distances. No play is ever dead.

"His arm in my opinion is probably livelier more than Tajh's is, he can throw it farther, he can rip it. He's a dynamic player."

Regardless of Daniels athleticism and arm strength, the Seminole defense is confident that facing Tajh Boyd just a week earlier should have them in the right mindset to stop the scrambling senior. It's going to be able maintaining discipline and never giving up on a play.

"Just knowing that Tajh was a quarterback that could move, he was hard to tackle, preparing for that now that I know going against Tajh I know what we can expect from BJ," said senior DE Tank Carradine. "I need to be able to get off [the line] so I can be able to catch him, be able to take a great angle on him so that we can be able to contain him as a D-Line, and get him down."

That technique worked for Carradine against Clemson, Tank notched two sacks and got after Tajh Boyd for most of the evening.

One thing Daniels does that Boyd wasn't as apt to do though is make risky decisions. Given the right set of circumstances, the secondary could have more than a few chances to make a play on an errant pass.

"He extends the play, but I know for sure he throws that thing downfield, from film you can see [when] he throws it downfield a lot of them he just throws up a prayer," said sophomore corner Nick Waisome. "So I want to be able to stay in my coverage and get one of those picked off."

"He'll just throw it up, so that's something we'r trying to execute on... we're just going to try and play the ball."

That last part is actually a bit more like Jacorry Harris than Tajh Boyd, the physical skillsets of Boyd and Daniels may be similar, but Boyd is more judicious with the ball whereas Daniels will take risks. Daniels happens to have a good crew of receivers to risk it with, that's something Florida State will have to pay attention to, but against USF's receivers are no Clemson. 

If FSU doesn't play down to the competition, they should have little issue handling USF and BJ Daniels, it's if the Seminoles start to free lance and go looking for big plays that Daniels could start to take apart the Florida State secondary and put points up.

Either way though, this year BJ Daniels isn't sneaking up on anyone.

September 27, 2012

Florida State Injury List: Week Five


LB Ukeme Eligwe (hand)

OL Dan Foose (back)

DL Moses McCray (head)

DL Jacobbi McDaniel (ankle)

DL Derrick Mitchell (back)

OL Garrett Faircloth (hip)

S Justin Bright (head)

DE Chris Casher (knee)



TE Dan Hicks (knee)

DE Brandon Jenkins (Lisfranc)

RB Mario Pender (sports hernia)

DB Colin Blake (shoulder)

The Early Read: Toshmon Stevens is a Leader, Special Teams Ace

Toshmon Stevens is not a player who necessarily gets a ton of hype. He's in the defensive end rotation now because of injury, but entered the year third on the depth chart.

But the redshirt senior has become one of Florida State's most valuable special teams players and has been instrumental in transforming the unit.

"Special teams when I first got here wasn’t a big thing. It was just a place where people who weren’t good enough to play on defense or offense go," said Stevens. "But when I decided to get on it I made up my mind that that was my way, that was my role, my only role so I was going to do it to the best of my ability."

When Toshmon arrived in Tallahassee, Florida State was declining. The athletes weren't the same caliber anymore, their was infighting, things weren't necessarily functioning well. Florida State needed a culture change (I'll have a feature on that running tomorrow morning). In order for that kind of change to take hold, the team needed guys to lead by example. 

Steven was one of those guys.

"It took a while but I got my teammates to buy into it for obvious reasons, but once they bought into it I showed them that if we can do this right we can help our team win," said Stevens. "If you watched our game last week [against Clemson], you saw we made the turnaround when Lamarcus [Joyner] got that 90-yard return.

"So I mean it makes a big difference, those are the big yards that no one ever talks about, no one ever talks about how you made a big hit on a kickoff, or a big block on kickoff return or stopped their man from making a tackle on a play but these are the things that make your team win.

"So by doing that and helping my team buy into it, it has been a big factor for us and I hope that they continue to buy into it after I leave this team because I really believe I inspired a lot of young people to be leaders on that [unit], to show that they can have a future if they want it, going that route."

Stevens is the kind of guy that you want on special teams, a career special teamer who takes pride in the job and holds every other man on the unit accountable. The fifth-year senior admitted how much talent each of these new classes brings to the table, but now when they arrive they all gravitate towards special teams. 

"That’s something that they want to do because they see it as an opportunity not just to better themselves but to better our team," Stevens said.

My first thoughts after talking to Toshmon were that he'd make one hell of a coach. He clearly gets football, but he also knows how to lead. Stevens is the kind of guy who has literally etched out his own role on the team with effort and fearless special teams play, that's the kind of guy you want coaching up young players. The nautral athletes can't get every last ounce out of someone else because oftentimes they never had to squeeze it out of themselves.

That's not to belittle Stevens' athleticism at all, he'd start at most other schools. It's more to highlight the kind of work ethic he brings to the table. Stevens gets every last ounce out of his God-given talents, that oftentimes makes for a good coach.

"After my playing career is done I don’t know what’s going to happen, I have a couple of things lined up as far as jobs, but coaching, it would be nice," said Stevens. "I’ve had my high school coach ask me about that this past week in fact, he asked me to come back and help out. I would help if the opportunity presents itself, but we’ll see.

"I’ve thought about it, I have, but we’ll see."

For now, Steven is focused on continuing to make an impact however he can. It may not stand out to the average fan, but it sure does to Jimbo Fisher and his staff. Ask any coach or player who the most valuable guy on special teams is, after they mention their kickers (obligatory), they always turn the attention immediately to Toshmon Stevens. 

Stevens, as Fisher will tell you, is the kind of selfless, team-first player that is essential to turnaround a program and build the right kind of culture. Just how selfless is Stevens?

I asked him if it was gratifying to see such a transformation on the special teams unit during his time at FSU.

"It’s really gratifying, in fact I really wish Greg Reid was still here so I could have helped him break that record. He was so close."

Reid was well within reach of Florida State's all time punt return yardage record. He'd have broken it early this season. 

What's that say about a guy when you ask him about his own legacy and he makes it three words before saying he regrets not being able to put another teammate over?

Good guy to have in the lockerroom. 



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