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Seniors Ready to Lead FSU Defense

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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A new leadership core must emerge on defense, a side of the football where Florida State has a history and tradition as proud as any program in the country.

Of Florida State's school-record eleven NFL Draft selections, the highest total of any college team in 2013, seven of those picks were off of a Seminole defense that led the nation last fall, allowing just 3.85 yards per play. For point of reference, mighty Alabama was second on that list, surrendering 4.18 yards a snap. This is a unit that did not allow a single opponent to score 20 points or more in Florida State's final eight games of the year. 

Gone are Bjoern Werner, Xavier Rhodes, Tank Carradine, Nick Moody, Vince Williams, Everett Dawkins and Brandon Jenkins, though he missed the vast majority of 2012 due to injury. Werner led all defensive lineman nationally last season with 13 sacks. He, Rhodes and Carradine each earned first-team All-ACC honors. Werner and Rhodes were taken in the draft's first round by the Indianapolis Colts and Minnesota Vikings, respectively. If not for injury, Carradine certainly would have been as well.  

Though expectations are always high in Tallahassee, a new leadership core must emerge on defense, a side of the football where Florida State has a history and tradition as proud as any program in the country. A number of tried and true veterans are ready to serve as a savvy, solid core for FSU's rebuilding, or retooling, effort.     

Lamarcus Joyner enters this fall as, for lack of a better description, the new face of the Seminoles. With a young quarterback under center and an important new position for Joyner himself, expect the All-American candidate to be a key spokesperson on and off the field. After earning first-team All-ACC recognition as a safety last season, Joyner has been switched back to cornerback for his senior year. He started his career there in 2010 after being Named the USA Today National Defensive Player of the Year coming out of power St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale.

"He can jam, he can run and you'll see him there," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher explained. "You can see him in those nickel and dime situations inside. I think he'll be a great blitzer and a great slot cover guy because he's extremely quick and powerful and I think that is something that he can do at the next level. I think it's what best for the team but that is what he truly is."

Linebacker Christian Jones' decision to return to school was a major coup for the Seminoles. At 6'4'', 232 pounds, Florida State's leading returning tackler is one of the top athletes in all of college football. With 95 total stops in 2012, he is the most productive returning defender in the ACC Atlantic Division. He steps into a starring role on a front seven that will be featuring many new, albeit highly-talented, players.    

Joining Jones in the middle is arguably the Seminoles most dynamic defender. While slightly undersized, Telvin Smith from Florida State pipeline Lowndes County High School in Valdosta, Georgia, brings a blink-and-you-miss burst that often translates into plays made at or behind the line of scrimmage. Smith compiled 11 tackles in the ACC Championship Game versus Georgia Tech and totaled 9.5 tackles for loss on the year. 

The return of Terrence Brooks at free safety is one of the reasons the coaches felt comfortable enough to move Joyner back to corner. A versatile defender who can play multiple spots in the secondary if needed, Brooks has come up big in the Seminoles' last two bowl games. He closed the Champs Sports Bowl victory over Notre Dame with an endzone interception and recorded another with Florida State nursing a one score lead and backed up in their own territory in the third quarter of the Orange Bowl win over Northern Illinois.

First-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has two returning seniors along the defensive line. Demonte McAllister should be ready after missing this past spring while recovering from shoulder surgery. He recorded 33 tackles and five sacks in 2012 and is considered a top five defensive tackle prospect per NFLDraftScout.com. Jacobbi McDaniel, a former five-star recruit, is back after a redshirt season due to injury. At 6'0'', he plays with a low center of gravity and is an impressive athlete who also played baseball at FSU. He recorded 31 tackles as a true sophomore before succumbing to injuries the last two seasons. 

End Dan Dicks, who missed last year with a knee injury, and safety Gerald Demps, also from Lowndes, will provide additional veteran leadership.

As Florida State looks to defend their league crown and Orange Bowl title, they will likely do so amidst relatively-modest pre-season expectations. The Seminoles must replace the first quarterback taken in the NFL Draft in E.J. Manuel and will turn to either freshman Jameis Winston or sophomore Jacob Coker to lead the way. Florida State also has a crowded room full of new assistant coaches working their way towards cohesion and familiarity.

Internally, however, this is a program that expects to contend for a national championship. And for good reason, as talent is log-jammed at every position. While defensive players from each class are ready to step into roles left vacant, it will be Florida State's seniors who both lead the way and set the tone.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports