Countdown to Camp

The Seminoles' defensive tackles slot has experience, talent and depth -- at least on paper, that is. Of course, an important key to improved play will be the health of Darnell Dockett and Travis Johnson (pictured). Also, Jeff Womble and others have enjoyed solid summers. Defensive tackles coach Odell Haggins wants the unit to overcome last year's inconsistency and build on its spring performance.

Post-Spring Starters: Jeff Womble (Jr.), Darnell Dockett (Jr.)

Reserves: Tony Benford (Sr.), O.J. Jackson (Sr.), Travis Johnson (Jr.), Donnie Carter (Fr.), Mike Shaw (Sr. walk-on), Brian Ross (So. walk-on).

Coming attractions: Broderick Bunkley (Tampa Chamberlain)

Florida State's defensive tackles slot should be extremely strong this season. The top three returnees - Jeff Womble, Darnell Dockett and Travis Johnson - accounted for 136 tackles, including 35 behind the line of scrimmage, last season.

But that's only part of the story, as assistant coach Odell Haggins might say. And it also goes without saying that Haggins is hoping for a good ending.

Dockett (Achilles heel) and Johnson (ankle) missed spring drills following surgery, and their status for the start of preseason drills will be re-evaluated when the varsity reports next week. While both made progress this summer, their participation in strength and conditioning drills was limited at best. It's rather obvious the duo is expected to play an important role in any defensive resurgence this season.

"Right now I am just hoping, praying that they are ready for the start of the drills," Haggins said.

While the group was minus two of its top players last spring, their absence proved to be beneficial for the likes of Womble, Tony Benford, Donnie Carter and walk-ons Mike Shaw and Brian Ross.

Although small in numbers, the group displayed its toughness and tenacity against a veteran offensive line. Carter, in fact, showed plenty of promise and potential considering it was his first spring as a tackle - he played end in high school.

"We did some good things in the spring," Haggins said. "The kids fought hard. The were more positives than negatives."

Haggins admits the positives will be magnified even more if his group gets a clean bill of health. He's also looking for improved leadership from his veterans, namely Womble and Dockett. Both reported to preseason drills last year out of shape, and it showed on the field, according to Haggins.

"(We were) very inconsistent," Haggins said of last year.

"It showed when Jeff came out of shape. It showed on film. Darnell came in a little out of shape and he tried to do too much. He has to let the game come to him. You do your job and the game will come to you. Plus, (last year) showed we didn't have the depth. This year if everyone comes in (healthy) and in shape, I will have the depth."

Womble, a two-year starter and one of the group's most talented players, has enjoyed a solid summer. He weighed in at 286 pounds for the Seminoles' performance testing two weeks ago, which represents a drop of more than 15 pounds from his playing weight last season.

Womble finished ninth on the team and second among defensive linemen with 37 total tackles. Additionally, Womble had at least three tackles in each of FSU's 11 regular-season games and he also registered five tackles for loss, three quarterback hurries and one forced fumble.

Dockett, of course, has the potential to be one of the best defensive tackles in the nation when healthy and focused.

He started all 12 games last season and has started 22 in a row dating back to the final 10 games of 2000. The 280-pound Dockett set a FSU single-season record with 22 tackles for loss and was a first-team All-ACC selection. He was the top tackler among Seminole defensive linemen with 68 total tackles and also led the way with 19 quarterback hurries.

Travis Johnson's game is built on speed, but ankle injuries have hampered his progress. Johnson had 31 tackles, including eight for-loss, in 10 games last season. O.J. Jackson, although undersized at 218 pounds, has proven to be adept at slicing past offensive linemen into the backfield. Jackson also is one of the team's more vocal leaders, a guy who is not afraid to add a little fire to the mix.

A player to keep an eye on is Benford, whose reshaped body and renewed commitment could mean additional playing time. His 10 career tackles for loss are proof he can make plays, and Haggins has been impressed with the good words filtering from the Seminoles' strength room.

"Looking at all the charts, Benford has been doing great," Haggins said. "He's doing a pretty good job. Tony's also a guy who can provide some big leadership."

Haggins said he is also anxious to see newcomer Broderick Bunkley, though Bunkley struggled in early conditioning drills. Still, Bunkley had 18.5 sacks as a senior last year and can bench press more than 350 pounds. Of course, fellow recruit Chris Bradwell failed to qualify academically. Shaw and Ross also are available and can help plug any holes that may appear.

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