Every now and then you go into an interview expecting to write a story one way and by the end of it the narrative has gone a completely different direction.
That happened this week when I spoke with FSU Hall of Famer Willie Jones Sr.
The story I'm referring to will be in the paper on Saturday, but suffice it to say talking to Willie Sr., the father of current Florida State linebacker Christian Jones, provided more than a few valuable pieces of insight -- not all of which could make it into the article.
So here's perhaps the best out-take...
"During the first three years [Christian] was there I think [FSU was] more simplified in terms of -- not so much one dimensional -- but I think they had a more simplified [defensive] system," Jones Sr. said about the defense Florida State ran under Mark Stoops.
That's a break from the Florida State party-line. If you ask almost any Seminole defender (or Jimbo Fisher) they'll tell you the Seminoles are still running essentially the same defense as they have run the past few years.
That's not exactly what it looks like on film, but it hasn't stopped the Seminoles from continuing to say it.
"The system itself, you look at the Pruitt system compared to the system before, there’s a lot more complexity involved in it," Jones Sr. said.
He would know. Jones Sr. was at Florida State a year before Bobby Bowden, playing his freshman year under Darrell Mudra. He notched 17 sacks over his junior and senior seasons -- four alone his senior year against UF -- and got drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the 2nd round of the '79 draft. Jones Sr. is an FSU Hall of Famer who also made coaching stops at FSU, Alabama A&M, UCF, Temple and in NFL Europe. He knows his X's and O's.
Jones Sr. played in a different era though.
"You keep talking about all those defensive ends back in the day, I’m not sure Willie ain’t the best to ever play here," Jimbo Fisher said on Monday. "[In his era] it was playing the dive, playing the quarterback and playing the pitch on the option, do all three of them -- I mean he could do all that and rush the passer. In today’s time turning him loose -- his sack numbers would have went through the roof too. That guy was a heck of a football player."
Added Christian: "Even back in the [90's] when some of these great defensive ends were here he’d be like, ‘these guys line up in a 9-technique and just run up the field. [He always says] if I played in [this era] I’d probably have about 40 sacks.”
Now that you've got a concept of Willie Sr.'s credentials to make this sort of commentary, here's the salient stuff:
"It’s a great system and I know the guys there playing for Coach Pruitt in the system have had to make great sacrifices, not only during the Spring but during the Summer, to learn all the details of that system. So right now you’re seeing those guys -- they’re still evolving," Jones Sr. said.
"They’re still evolving, I don’t think they have it yet. What we’re seeing now is just a glimmer of what we’re going to see as far as the greatness in that system. But there is a learning curve and the way I’ve seen Christian -- and I’ve seen some of the other guys -- struggle early on to pick it up they’re good enough athletes to make some mistakes and still come off pretty good.
"But as time goes on I saw -- starting with the Maryland game -- a big turnaround there. And I saw a glimmer of greatness in the Clemson game."
There's been a lot of talk about the chemistry this team has forged. Jimbo Fisher, Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks -- just this week -- have all talked about how much this team loves each other. Well that can come from long hours spent together learning a new defensive scheme. This isn't Mark Stoops' scheme, this is a pro-level defense and this has been a challenge to implement.
Of course FSU isn't going to advertise that there have been growing pains, but that doesn't mean they don't exist.
"They’re under construction -- put it like that -- that defense is still under construction," said Jones. "And I know the coaches and the assistant coaches they’re all doing a great job and they’re working hard to tweak everything that needs to be tweaked. So as we go on to the second half of the season to the bowl game -- to the championship game -- we’re going to see the defense [blossom]."
As for Christian -- who has come on since moving back outside -- Willie Sr. thinks the best is yet to come: “I’m beginning to see him get comfortable in it now and not think too much. In the beginning of the year he was thinking a lot, playing a little slower.
"As we evolve and move forward from this point on I think they’re going to get better."
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