The linebackers spent the Spring learning new schemes and techniques from new defensive coordinator Mark Stoops and new linebackers coach Greg Hudson. One significant change was Stoop's more zone based scheme.
That learning curve will still take some time, but the hope is that the players are more prepared in August camp and that they can build on a strong Spring.
This unit should be the strength of the defense and at least six players are vying for playing time.
It would be a huge surprise if Nigel Bradham (6-2, 241) was not a starter. The rising junior led the team in tackles with 93 last year and had 5.5 tackles for loss to go with two sacks. He is FSU's most talented LB and it is a huge year for Nigel. People forget that we should not know a lot about Bradham right now, but we do because he was forced into action almost immediately. That experience should pay off this year as he has a chance to be the ACC's most dominant linebacker. Bradham should start on the weak-side.
Kendall Smith(6-0, 235) will begin camp as the starter in the middle. The senior registered 85 tackles, seven for loss, and two sacks in 2009. Smith has been solid thus far, but not spectacular and he will see plenty of competition(discussed below) this season. He has experience and there is plenty of talent there, he just needs to put it together and be more consistent.
Nigel Carr(6-2, 231) emerged in the Spring as one of the most consistent performer's and he has the inside track to start on the strong side. Carr chipped in 26 tackles with 1.5 for loss in back-up duty last year. Carr is a very emotional player, a guy who plays with great energy, that is certainly something that should work in his favor as he tries to fend off a talented group of challengers.
Mister Alexander(6-3, 227) had a huge Spring and he is going to be a factor for a starting spot. Injuries have been the problem for Alexander, if those are behind him, he brings elite athleticism to this group. Last year in back-up duty he had just 17 tackles, but seven went for loss and he chipped in five sacks. Alexander figures to compete on the strong side with Carr for the starting job and there is some reason to believe he can win it after being named the most improved linebacker after Spring. Coach Fisher made a point to say he was playing better than anyone.
Jeff Luc(6-0, 249) is certainly part of the future, the question is whether he is part of the present. The freshmen enrolled early and took part in Spring practices, that should allow him to be ready to compete for playing time. Where does he fit? Middle linebacker might be his ultimate destination, but is the youngster ready for that role right now? That remains to be seen, but he has the athleticism to play any of the three LB spots. He is certainly a guy who will get some rep's this year and it would not surprise us if he was starting by the end of the year. Luc takes his game very seriously as he is known to spend time in the film room.
Vincent Williams(6-0, 252) missed last year with a back injury, but looked terrific in the Spring. He is a bit of a wildcard right now and he may get a long look in the middle at some point. Williams has enough versatility to think he could help at any of the three spots. The redshirt sophomore adds yet more depth to this unit.
It would shock us if the three starters did not come from the above six(and almost all the playing time), but if there is a player who could possibly break in it would be uber talented freshmen Christian Jones. Jones is a bit of a freak athletically; at 6-3 he can run like a deer and is going to be a star down the road. It is generally thought that he will need a period of adjustment to college football however.
Telvin Smith(6-3, 205) and Nigel Terrell(6-2, 215) also enter the mix, but they will need time in the weight room getting physically stronger before they are truly ready to compete for playing time. There was some chatter about him Smith playing safety, long term we feel that is unlikely.
Overall: This unit has the talent that we are used to at the position. With six legit starting caliber players the depth looks to be excellent. The concern would be injuries, both Alexander and Williams have had their share. It could get a little thin, particularly on special teams if that was to happen again. In the end, this is the brightest spot on the defense and it should be one of the best in the ACC in 2010.