If there is one position where Florida State should be nothing short of loaded in 2012, aside from wide receiver, it's defensive tackle.
FSU didn't have a single senior along the entire defensive line this past season, so that means each and every one of them is back and more experienced than he was a year ago. On top of that, incoming freshman Eddie Goldman was a five-star high school prospect and fellow signing-day stud Justin Shanks was a four-star recruit himself.
Nevertheless, the Seminoles have been relatively thin at the D-tackle spot for the entirety of spring practice. Sophomore Cameron Erving, a quality contributor this past year, has been moved to the other side of the ball and right now is the clear choice to protect senior quarterback E.J. Manuel's blind side at left tackle. There have also been a handful of injuries preventing the likes of seniors Anthony McCloud and Jacobbi McDaniel, sophomores Darious Cummings and Timmy Jernigan and redshirt freshman Derrick Mitchell from getting valuable offseason reps.
Perhaps the biggest beneficiary has been junior Demonte McAllister, who is healthy as can be and earning rave reviews for his play so far this spring.
"He's getting more reps," coach Jimbo Fisher said of McAllister after Wednesday's workout. "He's very good in the pass rush and is learning to play the run much better. He's much bigger, 295 pounds now, and stronger. It's really good to get him back in the mix."
Buried on the depth chart in 2011 behind Erving, Jernigan, McCloud, McDaniel and rising senior Everett Dawkins, McAllister apparently wasn't in good enough shape to warrant significant playing time.
"He gained some weight last year, and I don't know if he carried it well," said Fisher. "This year, it's a mature weight. He's carrying it well. ... He looks quick, like he used to."
McAllister unquestionably started to step up in practice once Jernigan, who was a freshman All-American this past year, went down with a knee injury that sidelined him for the rest of the spring. While FSU is still a base 4-3 team, defensive coordinator Mark Stoops employs a fair amount of 3-4 looks in passing situations in order to get as many athletes on the field as possible in coverage. As a result, the nose tackle goes from being a one-gap player to a two-gap player, responsible for both "A" gaps on either side of the center, which is where Jernigan excelled in Year 1 -- McAllister is now being asked to do the same.
While all those aforementioned wide receivers have to sit around and wait to get into the huddle from time to time, McAllister has been able to work himself into a lather day after day.
"There's no such thing as too many reps," he said. "You've got to take every rep like it's your last and try to perform at your best, because you never know when that'll be your last rep."
Considering this is his fourth year in the program and he's only now making a genuine impact, McAllister could have resented someone like Jernigan for arriving in Tallahassee and getting immediate playing time, but instead he saw a chance to make the defensive tackle unit as a whole even better.
"That makes you want to work hard because he's a freshman," McAllister said of Jernigan. "He showed up and killed it, and as far as I'm concerned, it makes me want to work hard. It makes me want to compete more and bring the best out of both of us."
In response to Fisher not being especially happy with the second scrimmage of spring conducted Monday, McAllister doesn't believe it's much of a concern: "Coaches are never pleased."
John Crist is the editor-in-chief of NoleDigest.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Football Writers Association of America.
McAllister taking advantage of reps
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