02/02/2014

Derrick Brooks, Walter Jones Selected to NFL Hall of Fame, FSU Doubles HOF Count

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Saturday will be remembered as a day for the ages in Tallahassee. After celebrating the third National Championship in the school's history at Doak Campbell Stadium in the early afternoon Seminoles fans were also greeted with news that two of their own, Derrick Brooks and Walter Jones, had been selected to join the NFL Hall of Fame.

Derrick Brooks (1991-1994) was twice selected a consensus NCAA All-American and helped lead the Seminoles to their first national championship in 1993. He would go on to have a legendary 14-year NFL career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Brooks is one of the most beloved athletes to ever play at FSU and he was a winner at every level he played. He won a state title as a high schooler, he won a national title at FSU and he was instrumental in the Buccaneers' first Super Bowl win. Brooks is also a pillar of the community, having earned the "Great Floridian" award last year for his philanthrophic endeavors.

Walter Jones (1995-1996) was only a Seminole for two years after trasnferring from a junior college -- he played but a single season after redshirting his first year. Still, despite the brief duration of his tenure Jones is bar-none the best offensive lineman to have come out of the Florida State. Over the course of a dominant 12-year NFL career Jones established himself as the top left tackle in the game, earning nine Pro Bowl selections and All-Pro six times.

Both players were selected in the first round of the NFL Draft and both were selected to the Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility. This marks the tenth time in NFL history two players from the same college were inducted in the same HOF class, it is just the second time in history that both players from the same school were first-ballot selections.

FSU now has four NFL Hall of Famers -- Deion Sanders and Fred Biletnikoff being the other two.

 

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01/24/2014

Taking Stock of Florida State's Losses: Underclassmen

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The first loss Florida State fans experienced all season came a day after the Seminoles' final game when junior running back James Wilder Jr. declared for the NFL Draft.

Three more underclassmen chose to follow suit -- Wilder's backfield-mate, Devonta Freeman, as well as DT Tim Jernigan and WR Kelvin Benjamin -- and entered the Draft early. By the time the deadline to declare had passed four Seminoles had chosen to forego their remaining eligibility while a handful of others -- Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary, Cam Erving, Tre Jackson, Josue Matias and Karlos Williams -- decided to come back. 

Let's take a look at the impact the loss of Benjamin, Freeman, Jernigan and Wilder will have on the team.

James Wilder Jr., RB
Projected Round: 4-5
Impact of Loss: Negligible

The bruising running back never truly came on at Florida State like many fans had hoped. That's not to say he wasn't productive, but Wilder was never the featured runner in the Seminole backfield and rarely saw more than 10-12 carries per game. Wilder will find an NFL home. He has the pedigree and his combination of size and physicality will definitely earn him a roster spot. In terms of the impact his loss will have on the Seminoles though, it will likely be negligible.

 

Devonta Freeman, RB
Projected Round: 3
Impact of Loss: Small

In the annals of Florida State history few players have been as habitually overlooked and underrated as Freeman was. The former Miami Central standout finishes his career at Florida State ranked 8th all-time in rushing yardage and third all-time in rushing touchdowns. In 2013 Freeman became the first 1,000 yard rusher at Florida State since Warrick Dunn in 1996. It still didn't earn him the respect he deserved though. Hopefully he gets it at the next level. Freeman is an extremely well-rounded back with a tireless work ethic. Losing him hurts more from a cultural standpoint -- he was a 'brick and mortar'-type, team-first guy per his head coach, Jimbo Fisher -- than it probably will on the field. The Seminoles are deep in the backfield right now.

 

Kelvin Benjamin, WR
Projected Round: 1
Impact of Loss: Moderate

FSU benefits from the fact that Nick O'Leary and Rashad Greene will be back next season, otherwise this loss would hurt a lot more. Benjamin has all the high-end potential to be an elite NFL receiver, that was evidenced by the 15 touchdowns he caught this season and the way he grew from start to finish. Benjamin's confidence and consistency could both do with a little improvement, but you can't teach being 6-6 and you can't teach the combination of speed and agility that Benjamin has been endowed with. He made the right choice for himself by turning pro, but his loss will certainly hurt next year. Benjamin would have entered the season as FSU's top receiver. 

 

Tim Jernigan, DT
Projected Round: 1-2
Impact of Loss: Big

When you listen to Jimbo Fisher talk about building a football team he starts by talking about the big bodies on the defensive line. They're difficult to find but they are absolutely vital to everything that a team does on defense. Considering Jimbo Fisher just won a BCS title -- and that he picked a lot of this up from Nick Saban who had won three of the previous four -- you can put some stock in that. Ok, a lot of stock in that. Then consider the fact Fisher called Jernigan one of the best defensive linemen he's ever been around, it gives an indication of how important Jernigan was to Florida State last year. It was expected that Jernigan turned pro, and FSU has some depth in the middle of their defensive line, but until somebody steps up Jernigan's loss is going to hurt a lot next year in Tallahassee. 

 

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01/23/2014

Report: FSU Promotes Charles Kelly to Defensive Coordinator

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Charles Kelly will serve as Florida State's defensive coordinator next season. 

After Jeremy Pruitt surprised Jimbo Fisher and FSU by accepting Georgia's defensive coordinator position, Florida State stayed relatively quiet in regard to their defensive coordinator search. Mississippi State defensive coordinator Geoff Collins was rumored to be under consideration but he was quickly given a raise and a contract extension that took him off the market.

Ultimately the Seminoles decided to promote Kelly from linebackers coach to coordinator rather than make an outside hire.

Kelly has coordinator experience at three other schools -- most recently at Georgia Tech where he assumed the role midseason and turned the unit around -- and is well versed in the nuanced defensive system that Jeremy Pruitt installed last season (and Nick Saban has made famous).

Pruitt's departure seems to have rubbed many in Tallahassee the wrong way. In addition to the lascivious rumors that have circulated following the news he had accepted the Georiga job, news has emerged that Jimbo Fisher was not happy with the decision and the Pruitt hadn't even met with his players before leaving.

One thing that can be said for the program that Fisher runs is that intentions are typically out in the open and communication is usually very good. It's common to hear Fisher's players say something along the lines of "it's a business" when discussing position changes, turning pro or anything that has long-term ramifications. 

Fisher and his coaches make it a point to be realistic with players, to be honest with players -- and it pays off. 

Part of that is players understand that much like they have ambitions and goals, the coaches do too.

When Mark Stoops left players talked about how happy they were for him and you could tell they meant it. Same with Eddie Gran. Same with DJ Eliot. The reason was simple, those coaches had always been honest about their intentions to move up in the coaching world. Lamarcus Joyner probably summed it up best last year when he said that this team struggles together so they can all reach their own goals.

That's why this fly-by-night departure that saw Pruitt leave Tallahassee without meeting with any of his players doesn't seem to have engendered much good will from the Seminoles.

By promoting Kelly Florida State has more or less closed ranks. They'll maintain more continuity next year with Kelly running the defense and a new guy coaching the linebackers than they would have with an outside hire.

It's also going to come a lot cheaper. 

 

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01/20/2014

Four Seminoles Set to Play in the Senior Bowl

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When the Senior Bowl is played next weekend, on January 25th, Florida State fans will get one final chance to watch some old favorites don the garnet and gold.

Terrence Brooks, Telvin Smith, Christian Jones and Bryan Stork will all represent the South team come next Saturday. 

Stork won this year's Rimington Award -- given annually to the nation's top center -- and was one of the last remaining players from the Bobby Bowden era. Earlier this season after FSU beat Florida he referred to his first few years in Tallahassee as the dark days before saying, "now it's our time."

Two months and a BCS Championship later, it's now Stork's time and the 6-4 300-pounder is looking to improve on the third round grade he's received early in the draft process.

Of all four players, Christian Jones is likely the one who needs the Senior Bowl exposure the least. Over his four years Jones has played all three linebackers position and mid-way through this year -- after being moved to end -- demonstrated a fairly dynamic ability to rush the passer. Jones may not have been an ideal fit at linebacker in Jeremy Pruitt's defensive scheme, but is more than capable of playing as a linebacker in the NFL and should see plenty of opportunities to showcase his versatility in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, look for Telvin Smith and Terrence Brooks to try and emulate Vince Williams' Senior Bowl performance from last season. Williams rocketed up draft charts with a very strong showing in the Senior Bowl (at practice and during the game) and both Smith and Brooks could be in line to do the same thing this year. 

Both are currently projected as mid-round picks, but oftentimes with draft analysis and scouting you see "experts" lean too heavily on statistical output and not heavily enough on the eye test. Brooks and Smith both stand to benefit from that once scouts descened on Mobile and see the speed and instincts they possess. 

Both will be considered "undersized" by conventional standards, but both have high football IQ's, good instincts, elite closing speed and professional-level work habits. 

Don't be surprised if at the end of Senior Bowl week Smith and/or Brooks are being mentioned among the biggest risers.

The Senior Bowl will be at 3PM on January 25th.

 

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01/14/2014

Jeremy Pruitt Departs for UGA, Leaves Behind More Questions Than Answers

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For the second year in a row Florida State University will be looking for a new defensive coordinator at the end of the football season. 

A year ago Mark Stoops left to take a head coaching job at Kentucky. Today, Jeremy Pruitt -- who came from Alabama to replace to Stoops -- has made a lateral move and accepted the defensive coordinator position at the University of Georgia.

This move was definitely unexpected and I'm hearing that Jimbo Fisher is not happy about it. Fisher is in Texas today but is rumored to have spoken with Pruitt -- who told him the Georgia job set him up better for a head coaching job than Florida State's did -- and didn't see eye to eye on the move.

I'm sure FSU will deny that and (to his credit) Fisher is typically very supportive of coaches moving up and getting better opportunities, but I'd also be willing to wager that Fisher doesn't view the Bulldogs' DC position as a move up from FSU's. Especially not with the 'Noles hot off a national title and after their last coordintor, Stoops, got an SEC head coaching job.

Now, for the second time in two offseasons Fisher begins by replacing a defensive coordintor.

 

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01/11/2014

Devonta Freeman Decides to Turn Pro

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Wild and Free is officially over at Florida State. Several days after his backfield-mate, James Wilder Jr., opted to enter the NFL Draft early, fellow FSU junior RB Devonta Freeman has also made the decision to turn pro.

Freeman's career at Florida State was one of the more underrated in recent memory. After leading the team in rushing as a true freshman he narrowly missed that mark again his sophomore season before becoming the first 1,000 yard rusher since Warrick Dunn in 1996 during FSU's national title campaign -- when he ran for 1,016 and 14 touchdowns. 

Freeman finishes his career with 440 carries for 2,255 yards and 30 TD's. That ties him for eighth all-time in career rushing yardage with Antone Smith and third all-time in rushing touchdowns with Amp Lee. 

At 5-9, 203 Freeman is a very compact back. He's not exceptionally fast, but he's very quick. He's not a bruiser (like Wilder was, for instance) but he runs with deceptive power. Freeman may not be elite in any one particular aspect, but he does everything very well and that makes for a complete back. Freeman is good in pass pro (here he is telling an opposing defender, 'I'll block you' and then doing it), he's good catching the ball out of the backfield and he can run well between the tackles. 

Frankly, leaving was probably the right move for the former Miami Central standout. Freeman likely wasn't going to help his draft stock much more by coming back. He was fresh off a 1,000 yard season and was looking at a crowded backfield next season. Freeman has been given an early-to-mid round grade by most draft outlets -- with some rating him near the middle of the second round and others putting him as low as the 4th. 

 

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01/10/2014

Kelvin Benjamin Reportedly Set to Enter 2014 NFL Draft

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Kelvin Benjamin potentially had two years of eligibility left but the redshirt sophomore has opted to forego both of them and will reportedly enter the 2014 NFL Draft.

Nobody on Florida State's roster saw their draft stock soar more this past season than Benjamin. The 6-6 230 WR tied a Florida State single season record with 15 touchdown receptions and really came on strong at the end of the season. Whether it was destroying Florida for [insert] or hauling in the game-winning catch against Auburn in the BCS Championship Game, Benjamin showed time and time again this season that he is capable of making the big plays and the highlight reel catches that are so coveted in the NFL.

The question moving forward will be Benjamin's consistency. Were it not for his age (Benjamin will be a 24 year-old rookie next season) it may have been good for Benjamin to return for another season. His size and athletic abillity are top notch but consistency has been an issue for KB in the past. It's not uncommon (as happened against UF) for Benjamin to drop a fairly routine catch or two during the course of the game and then go make a spectacular grab a series later that drops a jaw or two and ends up in the Sportscenter Top 10. 

If Benjamin is going to live up to his potential at the next level he's going to have to get a handle on some of the concentration issues that have plagued him and called his consistency into question. A lot of that can be attributed to Benjamin's relative inexperience though. Whereas most players at the collegiate level started playing football back as a grade schooler, Benjamin played just three years of high school ball before arriving in Tallahassee. 2013 was the first time he saw consistent playing time. 

Still most NFL teams will be enamored with Benjamin's upside. He's already receiving a first ground grade from most draft experts and his combine and Pro Day workouts should vault him up even higher. You just don't see many receivers with Benjamin's combination of speed, size and body control. Somebody is going to take KB very high come the NFL Draft.

 

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Tim Jernigan Entering NFL Draft

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Florida State defensive tackle Tim Jernigan has opted to forego his senior season and will enter the 2014 NFL Draft.

Frankly, of all the players on the draft bubble, Jernigan's decision to turn pro was the most predictable. Since arriving on campus Jernigan has been one of the best defensive tackles on the Florida State roster. He got significant playing time as a freshman, was a vital cog as a sophomore and then proceeded to turn in an absolutely dominant 2013 season as a junior. Jernigan capped that effort with a tremendous BCS Championship game -- playing with the flu -- that saw him impose his will on a very good Auburn rushing attack. 

Most scouting services have Jernigan pegged as a first round pick with many listing him as high as the top 15 players. Jernigan's statline is impressive on its own -- he finished third on the team with 63 tackles and added 4.5 sacks -- but it's not indictative of the impact he had on the Florida State defense this year. It all started with the defensive front and Jernigan was the anchor of that front. Whether it was eating up blockers, collapsing the pocket from the middle or just clogging a gap, Jernigan wasn't always the guy making the play but he was almost always affecting it. 

Jimbo Fisher has called Jernigan one of the best defensive linemen he's ever been around.

As for Florida State, they still have a fairly deep group of defensive linemen but will also be losing Jacobbi McDaniel and Demonta McAllister. Eddie Goldman, Justin Shanks, Keith Bryant and Nile Lawrence-Stample will all be back next season and FSU will look to them to replace Jernigan.

Easier said than done.

 

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01/08/2014

FSU RB James Wilder Jr. Decides to Turn Pro

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Florida State running back James Wilder Jr. has decided to forego his senior year and enter the NFL draft according to a post on the junior running back's Instagram account.

"I wanna first thank GOD my family the whole nole nation and nole fam my brothers my coaches for being able to put me in a blessed situation to be able to continue my dream on to the next level and being able to enter the NFL," the post reads. "I had the best 3 years of my life being a nole and will always be a nole at heart that being said GO NOLES!!!!!"

Wilder carried the ball 81 times for 563 yards and eight touchdowns during the Seminoles' national championship campaign. He also caught three passes for 21 yards. 

At 6-2, 230 Wilder has the kind of size and above average speed that should find him a nice home in the NFL. Questions about his upright running style and vision are likely to come up during the pre-draft process but between his size and NFL pedigree the Tampa native is likely to go in the middle rounds of the Draft. NFLDraftScout.com currently has Wilder listed as the 12th best eligible back in the country and projects him as a fourth or fifth round pick.

Wilder's father, James Wilder Sr., played in the NFL for a decade (mostly with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers).

Really, this isn't a very surprising move. Wilder's carries were already diminished after Jimbo Fisher switched Karlos Williams from safety to running back following the Pitt game. Williams finished with 730 yards and 11 touchdowns this year and should see the lion's share of the carries come next season when he's had an entire Spring and Summer to really pick up the nuances of his new position. 

Devonta Freeman -- who became the first 1,000 yard rusher at FSU since Warrick Dunn during the BCS Championship game -- could also return for his senior season. In addition, Ryan Green and Mario Pender could challenge for more time next year and highly-touted Miami Central recruit Dalvin Cook is set to enroll early and participate in Spring practice as well.

All in all, this was probably the right move for Wilder -- who could actually see more carries next year in the NFL than he would during his senior season at Florida State. 

Wilder finishes his career at Florida State with 1,358 rushing yards and 20 career touchdowns.

 

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01/07/2014

Rapid Reaction: FSU Wins National Championship 34-31

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What happens when you hand the Heisman trophy winner the ball with 1:11 left and tell him to go score you a touchdown to win a national title?

How about he goes 6/7 for 72 yards and throws a game-winning touchdown pass with just seconds remaining on the clock. That's what he's supposed to do, at least. So much is made of the "Heisman curse" and all that comes with it, and on Monday night Jameis Winston looked like he was destined to become the curse's next victim.

Not so fast.

Winston may have struggled in the early going. And granted, his stat-line -- 20/35, 237 yards and two touchdowns -- was hardly his most impressive. But this was the national title game and Winston led a team back from 21-3. He led a game-winning drive.

When the Seminoles needed him most, Winston stood and delivered.

Of course, it never gets to that point without Jimbo Fisher's decision to fake a punt late in the 2nd quarter near his own 30 yard-line. Though far less flashy, that will likely come to be known as Fisher's puntrooskie. It was a play FSU had to have, it was one that Fisher needed confidence to call and it was a play that will come to define this 2013 season.

That all beckons back to the way this team feels about itself, about one another. Fisher was noticeably choked up when asked about what it means to say goodbye to this team -- to say goodbye to the 2010 class.

2010 was the first class Fisher recruited as a head coach. It was cobbled together by Fisher and Lamarcus Joyner and Telvin Smith and Jeff Luc and it turned into one of the greatest in Florida State history. Fans will see wins and stats and that title, but Fisher will point to two things: the team's selflessness and its love for one another. 

That all came to a head on Monday night.

In past years, maybe Fisher doesnt roll the dice in that situation. Maybe he doesn't want to risk it all yet in the first half. But this year, with this team, Fisher trusted his players and even if they didn't make it, he was willing to go for broke with them.

And they responded to that. 

FSU scored a touchdown on that drive, capping a 66-yard drive with a Devonta Freeman touchdown to cut the Auburn lead to 21-10 at the half. 

Then the defense buckled down in the third quarter, holding Auburn scoreless and starting to impose its own will on the Tigers while the Florida State offense continued to scratch and claw its way back into the game.

But in the end it would all come down to Winston -- the Heisman winner -- and whether he could overcome three up-and-down quarters in order to lead FSU on one final touchdown drive.

Auburn and Florida State had gone back and forth, trading three scores in three and a half minutes before Winston trotted out with 80 yards and 1:11 between him and a national title.

He was nearly perfect. The indecision, the hesitation, all off the negative ticks that had started to manifest as Auburn had put pressure -- and hits -- on Winston throughout the first 55 minutes were suddenly gone. There he was, this was the kid that had blown people away through the first 13 games of the season, finally he was in Pasadena. 

Suddenly Winston was stepping into his throws, getting his eyes down the field and trusting his instincts. His throws were crisper, more decisive, the ball began to come out quicker and the offense roared to life. 

58 seconds later Winston found Kelvin Benjamin in the endzone for the game-winning score.

It was the first time Florida State fans had to sweat the ending of a game all year but in many ways it couldn't have been a more perfect ending for Florida State.

After all the eye-popping numbers Jameis Winston completed the most impressive season by any freshman quarterback in NCAA history not without an absurd statistical output, but with the kind of game-winning drive that showcases a player's competitve fire. 

As Jimbo Fisher said:  "It's the best football game [Jameis] played all year, and I'll tell you why, because for three quarters he was up and down, and he fought. And just like any great player, some nights you don't have it.

"Anybody can do it when it's their 'A' game night. A lot of guys can do that. Very few can do it when it's not their night. And to pull it out in the atmosphere and environment and with what was on the line tonight, to me if that's not a great player, I don't know what one is."

Added Winston:  "I'm pretty sure I got more respect from my teammates and the people around me on that last drive than I got the whole year."

 

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