Matter of Style

Over the years, FSU's defense played a vital role in the program's rise to national prominence. Andrews' units have featured an attacking style up front, pressure on the edges and plenty of depth. Of course, Andrews had to tweak his style last season due to injuries, inexperience and a lack of overall quality. He wants changes this season. "We will expect more out of this group. Fewer mistakes. Mental toughness, being accountable, being dependable. Doing your job. No excuses," Andrews said.

It has been an unsettling trend, one that Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews says can't be repeated if the Seminoles want to regain their footing among the nation's elite. As Andrews eyes his unit, he wants to believe FSU will be in a better position to stop opponents this year.

"Last year we didn't get to substitute. ... actually for two years," Andrews said.

"I know in the secondary we didn't get to substitute as much as we would like to. It probably cost us the Miami game (2000) because we got down there on that fourth-quarter drive and we didn't have anything left. This year we have more kids who are ready to play and can substitute and play at the level we want to. You look out there and there may not be as many first-rounders or second-rounders than we've had in some years past but we've got more good, solid football players who can go out there and tee it up."

The Seminoles, who finished 8-4 and ranked 15th, are a consensus top-four selection in most preseason publications. Many of these same publications are saying what FSU fans are hoping -- last year was simply a hiccup. An aberration. An errant tee shot, for that matter.

Inexperience -- seven players started for the first time -- forced the crafty Andrews to tinker his scheme. The Seminoles neither blitzed nor played bump-and-run on the edges as often as past years. Additionally, the Seminoles' pass rush was tepid at best. They had only 14 sacks, an all-time low under Andrews and coach Bobby Bowden, and finished tied for last in the ACC with Duke in that category.

Players, especially the cornerbacks, have been vocal this preseason about wanting to return Andrews' aggressive, in-your-face style. FSU returns seven of its top 10 tacklers, including linebackers Kendyll Pope and Michael Boulware, its top pass rusher in Alonzo Jackson and two starting cornerbacks in Stanford Samuels and Rufus Brown.

"One of the key parts of coaching is the realization of what your group can do, what your players can do and what they can't do," Andrews said.

"There were times last year that (we) tried to force them into situations and having them fight through it, it didn't turn out well. So, you change some of the ways that you do things. We didn't get up there and play as much bump-and-run as we had in years past because we weren't. ... we couldn't pressure as good as we had in the past and our coverage wasn't as good. So, you take that approach -- you don't quit working at trying to get better at want you want to do. But you got to change maybe some of the ways that you play the game on Saturdays. That's good. I am glad they feel that way. They will get better if they are working at it hard enough."

There's also good reason for Andrews' optimism.

FSU returns six of its seven starters along the front of his unit. While Seminole cornerbacks are tested, the secondary will feature two new, hard-hitting faces in rover Claudius Osei and free safety Kyler Hall. Overall, Andrews will have 30 lettermen at his disposal, not including a highly-touted group of incoming freshmen.

"We will expect more out of this group," Andrews said. "Fewer mistakes. Mental toughness, being accountable, being dependable. Doing your job. No excuses.

"You are not going to go out there and have a perfect play every play. We know that. We do a perfect play drill and it takes us a bunch of times to get a perfect play run sometimes. But that's your goal. To have one perfect play. When you are playing team ball, that's what it's all about, 11 people doing their job. Then learning how to play at the level we want them to. I think the thing that we will be able to do by being able to substitute more this year is we will never have a tired player on the field. And when we've been our best on defense, that's what we've been able to do."

OVERCOMING INJURIES

The Seminoles appear on track for a healthy start to fall camp, which is good news. However, concerns remain surrounding tackles Darnell Dockett (Achilles heel) and Travis Johnson (ankle). The pair continue to recover from offseason surgery and are unable to participate in conditioning sessions. They will likely be limited during two-a-day drills.

"Getting folks healthy is important," Andrews said.

"We still have to find out how healthy Dockett is going to be and Travis is going to be. And Jerome Carter has had a knee problem that has bothered him all the time. We've had a couple of guys who have had hamstrings, ankles, whatever. We need to get those guys back. Basically, Dockett, Travis, Pig, (Jeff Womble) they have to get healthy. Talking with (strength coach) Jon Jost, they are on schedule right now. But with injuries you never know until you get out there and start to work with them. But right now they are not 100 percent. It's hard to work in the offseason like you want to when you are trying to get injuries well. That's a concern there.

Andrews admits injuries were a sombering fact of life last season.

"We had Dockett hurt the whole (last) year. Travis was hurt. And Pig was hurt -- he was playing with a big ol' cast on his elbow half the year," Andrews said.

"Then we had all the DBs seemed to have a broke hands or broke thumbs or something the whole year. Being healthy, that's always just as big a key. You go back and think about that '93 (national title) team, I don't think we had a single starter who missed a game that year. We didn't lose them in the preseason like we did last year. So, somehow or another we have to make sure we are making progress each week and just hope we can keep them healthy in the process."

All eyes also remain on middle linebacker Jerel Hudson, who is expected to fill the void left by Bradley Jennings. However, Hudson just might be too large to squeeze into that void, as it weight continues to hover around 280 pounds, far from Bowden's target of 265. Following spring drills, Hudson had indicated he wanted to return for drills at 250 pounds.

On the depth chart, Hudson is backed by Robert May and JUCO transfer Nate Hardage. May played sparingly last season and Hardage missed spring drills due to injury.

"Hudson has got to get his weight off," Andrews said.

"He just can't be an effective player as big as he was last year. It's not an easy thing to do for him to do to lose weight and keep it off. He will lose a little bit and then you have to celebrate that you lost five pounds. He needs to watch people eat more instead of eating. He's trying. We told him if we don't get that weight off we are going to move him to the defensive line. We will put him up there and we play a defense where we can put him up there as a defensive tackle, a standup tackle. Leave him up there if he's too big to play with the other boys."

QUALITY COMPETITION

By design last spring, linebackers coach Joe Kines rotated his players along all three linebacking spots (weakside linebacker Kendyll Pope also missed drills following shoulder surgery but is expected to be fine for the start of drills). Andrews also is eager to see incoming freshmen Sam McGrew, A.J. Nicholson and Buster Davis.

"I think the thing they've got is they've got to feel comfortable playing their position," Andrews said of his linebackers. "The thing that Joe (Kines) did is he moved them around some from position to position, trying to get, first of all, your three best people out there. And then where do you fit the other guys, maybe one is a better middle linebacker and you need him at SAM or whatever. But we moved them around, just trying to find out where they fit, and of course they got a lot of work with Kendyll not out there and Michael (Boulware) missed a little time and ol' Big Boy (Hudson), too.

"It's still not as good as we like it to be (depth in the middle) but we feel like we are going to get some contributions from the freshmen coming in -- McGrew, Nicholson and ol' Buster. Three pretty good football players. The thing there is what we will have to do is decided where do you fit them? Do you fit them at their best position or do you fit them where you need help the most? So, we will kind of look at see .. and we have to look at the other kid we have in from the junior college (Nate Hardage). We really didn't find much about him because he stayed hurt the whole time. It will be interesting."

While Andrews believes the Seminoles' talent level has increased, thanks in a large part to experience, he also stresses his unit remains relatively young. Only four seniors -- Jackson, defensive tackle Tony Benford, Hudson and Samuels -- are listed on the preseason depth chart as starters. In the secondary, first-time starters Hall and Osei are just sophomores. In fact, 10 of the 13 players listed on the depth chart in the secondary are underclassmen.

"You look at this group right here, coach made a statement last year several times that it wasn't a matter of talent but it was a matter of experience. And that's true," Andrews said.

"When you were as young and as inexperienced as we were last year, a little mistake is magnified because a kid can't recover from it. Whether it be in the secondary or linebacker or up front, whatever, we are still a relatively young ballclub defensively. I don't think we have a safety, maybe one safety, is farther along than being a sophomore this year. So, we are very inexperienced, very young there. But they play hard. They are aggressive. That helps you become a better defense when you have kids playing like that. So, they will get experience and that part will come around."

Andrews has made a habit of building nationally ranked defenses at FSU. While last year's unit fell well below expectations, Andrews believes this year's group will surprise people, pointing to its talent and depth.

"We got more people ready to play going into next fall," Andrews said. "Much farther along than what we were last year. We got some competition there to push each other, where it wasn't that strong last year. And then the help (from) our young kids.:"


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