There's no doubt the bar is extremely high - FSU finished in the top ten in nearly every defensive category last season. But there is an argument to be made that the 2013 defense will be a much deeper unit as a whole.
Defensive end is the only position that there is a clear drop-off, but that's what losing three players to the NFL will do. Aside from defensive end, every position on the field is more talented than it was a year ago. For Jeremy Pruitt – now it's just a matter of time.
Even after the loss of first-round pick Xavier Rhodes, the secondary will be a more deep and talented unit than last season due to the emergence of young guys like Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams, as well as Nick Waisome now having a full season of starting experience under his belt. Additionally, there's Lamarcus Joyner who made the switch to cornerback and received high praise from the coaching staff the entire spring.
At the safety position the Noles' return all contributors from last season aside from the previously mentioned Joyner. Starter Terrence Brooks is back for his senior year as well as Tyler Hunter and Karlos Williams who have both seen significant playing time in their career.
At linebacker there's a rather even tradeoff – the Noles' lost two seniors, but have a stable of very promising young guys to replace them with in Markuss Eligwe, Reggie Northrup, Terrance Smith, and Matthew Thomas. In addition, Christian Jones and Telvin Smith both opted to return for their senior year and will be the leaders of the unit. Regardless of which young linebacker earns a starting spot, you can expect all of them to see a fair amount of playing time.
The loss of starting defensive tackles Everett Dawkins and Amp McCloud makes it a position where some might expect to see a drop-off. But nobody will question that Demonte McAllister and Timmy Jernigan are an improvement in terms of talent. One question that remains unanswered is how Jernigan is recovering from a leg injury suffered late in the spring. He was last seen on the exact scooter Brandon Jenkins rode for all of last season and there has been no update from the staff. Assuming he returns healthy for the fall, expect big things from this duo.
That leaves defensive end. Losing your starters in the first two rounds of the draft and a third in the later rounds, you can only hope to minimize the damage as much as possible. Mario Edwards Jr. will start on one side and it's likely that Dan Hicks will start on the other. Both of which are more than capable of holding their weight on the defense. Add Chris Casher and freshman Demarcus Walker to the mix and there's plenty of young talent, now they just need to catch up to the speed of the college game.
There's no question it's going to be nearly impossible to top what last year's defense did on the stat-sheet, but there are a few areas that you can expect to see an improvement.
It all boils down to how long it takes for this defense to be comfortable in Jeremy Pruitt's scheme. Early on there are going to be growing pains with missed assignments and busted coverage, which is to be expected. But Pruitt thrives off his defense being aggressive and playing with a mean streak, and with that aggression you will see an increase in turnovers – the one thing the defense lacked under Mark Stoops.
In essence, this year's defense probably won't resemble that of 2012, especially not statistically speaking. There's going to be some big-plays given up that leave you scratching your head, but there will also be a few game-changing turnovers that have you jumping for joy. And in time, Pruitt will have the Seminoles defense among the most feared units in all of college football.