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Talking Florida State With Tomahawk Nation

Streeter Lecka

This week I caught up with Dylan Kidd, who is a contributor over at Tomahawk Nation. Below we touch on several different subjects, though the quarterback situation never came up. Wonder who they got flingin' the ol' pigskin nowadays. I also answered some of Dylan's questions, and you can find that piece right here.

1.) Florida State went through quite a bit of coaching turnover during the offseason. What sort of affects have those changes had on the program, if any? Are the Seminoles doing anything significantly differently, from a scheme perspective?

One of our writers did an excellent series that chronicled the changes to the Florida State program over the last year (and beyond), and the coaching changes were the subject of one installment.

In short, the offense hasn’t changed at all schematically, as James Coley was the offensive coordinator for FSU in name only. Jimbo still called the plays and dictated everything that the ‘Noles did on offense. The defense, however, has changed dramatically. The Bama-style defense that Jeremy Pruitt brought with him has been a significant departure from what Mark Stoops ran in Tallahassee. This is a defense that brings pressure from a lot of places, presses with its defensive backs, and plays a whole host of different coverages. The aggressive style contrasts significantly with the Stoops defense, which often relied on FSU’s outstanding defensive ends of years past to generate pressure while it sat back in coverage.

Any time a team makes changes this dramatic to its scheme, growing pains are going to be felt. It’s just a lot for college kids to learn, and we will see if Pruitt can teach the techniques, such as pattern-match coverages, as effectively as his mentor Nick Saban. Though the group is still learning, our hope as FSU fans is that the abundance of talent on defense can abate the steep curve that would normally be expected. The defense has looked excellent in consecutive weeks against spread teams Maryland and Clemson after struggling at times against pro-style Boston College. I’m interested to see how the ‘Noles defend NCSU this week.

2.) Let's talk, at least for a second, about some dudes not named Jameis Winston. How well has FSU's offensive line played this season, and how reliable is the ground game?

Florida State’s offensive line was a bit banged up early in the season, more so than I think was publicly admitted. Center Bryan Stork suffered a known concussion, but LT Cam Erving and RG Tre Jackson also struggled with minor injuries, the extents of which we didn’t really know. The bye week was extremely beneficial for FSU, and the line looked healthy and phenomenal against the Tigers last Saturday night. The interior line is excellent, as expected. The tackles have been good so far, with RT Bobby Hart exceeding expectations and LT Cam Erving having a solid start. The line is very, very big and utilizes a zone-blocking scheme. They manhandled the best defensive line they’ve seen to date last week, and have protected Jameis satisfactorily this season, particularly when one considers how long #5 is prone to holding the ball at times. The ‘Noles currently rank 11th in rushing S&P+.

The backs have likewise been very good so far. Devonta Freeman is playing the best football of any of them, both in running the ball and in pass protection. He’s very good between the tackles with a nice burst. Just a consistent, talented runner who takes pride in blitz pickup. James Wilder had been banged up with a shoulder since the opener at Pitt, and then suffered a concussion against Clemson last week and is unlikely to play.

Then there’s Karlos Williams. Up until the Nevada game, Karlos was a 235-pound safety. Thing is, he runs about a 4.45 that size. Jimbo wanted him on offense for quite some time, but Karlos insisted that he was a safety. Not even a linebacker at that size. Only a safety. So they sort of created a role for him in 4-2-5 packages where he’d stand close to the line, blitz, cover TEs and backs, but they called him a safety. He wasn’t good in coverage, and was finally convinced to make the move for his future. On his first touch from scrimmage, Karlos ran in a 60+ yard touchdown. He’s still very much a project in learning to run in FSU’s zone scheme, but he does run very physically and has game-breaking speed when the ball is in his hands. The Pack will also likely see freshman Ryan Green, who has talent but is, ahem, well, green.

3.) Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine were a couple of the big names up front last year, but now that they're both gone, who are the defensive linemen we should be most worried about this year?

Werner, Carradine, and Jenkins (who was hurt all of last year) were big losses to the NFL. These guys were the primary pass rushers in the Stoops system, as mentioned. However, the Seminoles have done very well in replacing them for a few reasons. The first is a stockpile of talent. When the ‘Noles lined up for the first defensive play against Clemson on Saturday night, the four down linemen were all former five-star recruits. That’s not something that has happened anywhere in the country this year. You’re just not supposed to be able to reload after losing three defensive ends of that caliber to the league.

The second reason that the loss has been somewhat mitigated is the change in scheme. Pruitt does not rely on the defensive line to pressure the quarterback to the extent that Stoops did. They pressure from a lot of different places, and this defense does not put a premium on sacks. The goal is to affect the quarterback, which they’ve done very well for the most part.

With the exception of the opening few minutes of a few games, they’ve also played well against the run. There have been examples of linemen not trusting their new roles and getting out of their lanes, attempting to selfishly make the big plays themselves. These have been cleaned up in the past couple of weeks, and FSU fans hope that continues against NC State. Mario Edwards, Jr., Timmy Jernigan, Eddie Goldman, and Demonte McAlister are linemen to watch for FSU, but there are many other contributors on the line. This position group is second only to the defensive backfield in terms of depth of talent.

4.) I think everybody figured Jameis Winston would be a good football player--he obviously possessed the tools--but he stepped onto the field in Week 1 like he'd been a starting college QB for years. How significantly has he exceeded expectations at this point, and should he be the Heisman frontrunner?

I think Jameis has exceeded everyone’s expectations, except maybe his own. After a fantastic spring game performance, Winston was actually locked in a very close battle for the starting job with Jacob Coker. Jameis got the nod for several reasons, but it was far from clear-cut after a sub-par fall camp for #5. Then he took the field at Pitt. That debut was one of the finest performances at the QB position in Florida State history. The word I use to describe him is savant. He has an understanding of the position rarely seen in the game. He throws with anticipation, feels pressure, and rockets through his progressions.

No matter how good you believed he would be, and we thought he’d be good, I don’t think you saw this coming. I wouldn’t take another quarterback in the country over him in Florida State’s system. As to the Heisman, most places in Vegas have him as a favorite or co-favorite with Mariota. I think the award places far too much emphasis on team wins, and partially because of this, it’s hard not to see these two as the front-runners for the award in December. I don’t worry too much about it, but I do recognize that it’s great publicity for the program and the school. Plus, a win would likely mean FSU has won a whole lot of football games.

5.) Bill Murray nearly killed Lee Corso last week as Corso attempted to plant the spear in a small patch of grass on the GameDay set. What can we expect for an encore with Bobby Bowden set to plant the spear in Tallahassee?

Yeah, Murray goes from ripping wedges into the net behind the crew in a Piggly Wiggly shirt to tackling a 78-year-old man in Seminole garb with a spear in his hands. That was a special moment in GameDay history. SEGUE: if you’re a ‘Noles fan, the return of Bowden will be similarly special. In his first game back at FSU since his unseemly, but utterly necessary, exit from the program, Bowden will bring all the trappings of tradition for Saturday afternoon. Something like 300 former players will be on hand. Bowden will be involved in speeches, ceremonies, and basically everything else you can think of. It will be a nice moment for the program and a perfect time for him to come back. The energy around Florida State’s football program is at a high not seen for a very long time, and this will only add to the good feelings. I’m happy that it worked out this way. But, Florida State needs to get it done on the field in solid fashion (I believe they will) or they’ll be completely embarrassed.