FSU Defense - A Preview

Although many consider this to be perhaps the weakest Florida State team over the last decade and a half, it isn't because of the defense. As is usually the case with a Mickey Andrews' coached squad, the 2001 defense has talent and speed everywhere you look. The only difference is the lack of experience - FSU returns only four defensive starters from last year's 11-2 team.

As with past Seminole teams, look for FSU to concentrate on stopping the run first. Last year the Garnet and Gold led the nation in stuffing ground games, and that is the strength of the 2001 squad as well.

The soft spot on defense is the vulnerability to big plays and the deep pass. With the lack of a viable pass rush and two new cornerbacks, the Tribe have given up some long gains on occasion, something that cost them dearly in the upset loss to North Carolina.

Darnell Dockett

The heart of FSU's defensive line Darnell Dockett

It all starts up front with a pair of players who will likely end up playing on Sundays. Although only a sophomore, many believe that Darnell Dockett, at 6'4", 280-pounds, could turnout to be one of the best defensive tackles to ever play at Florida State. A freshman All-American last season, he leads the team in tackles for loss. Right next to him at noseguard is run-stuffer Jeff Womble. The 6'3", 290-pound sophomore hyperextended his left elbow in the Wake Forest game and may be somewhat limited.

The injury to Womble could be become a huge problem because of FSU's lack of depth in the middle. The Noles' top reserve, freshman Travis Johnson, has been fighting a nagging ankle injury and his status for Saturday is questionable. When you combine that with the departure of Chris Woods, who recently quit the team and the injury to walk-on Brian Ross, FSU is extremely thin up the middle. That leaves basically only junior Tony Benford, a career back-up, and walk-on Mike Shaw as the only healthy reserves at DT and NG.

Although the starters in the middle are FSU's strength, the primary weakness is at defensive end. The same program that sent some of the top pass rushers in the game, Peter Boulware, Jamal Reynolds and Andre Wadsworth, to the NFL is lacking in that department in 2001. Making matters worse the two players who were starters in the season opener, Alonzo Jackson (knee) and Eric Powell (shot), are both out. Kevin Emanuel, who has bounced back and forth from DT to DE, will get the start at left end. The sophomore from Waco, Texas is known primarily for his run-stopping abilities, not his pass rush. Starting on the other side is Charles Howard who got his first start last weekend. Unlike Emanuel, Howard has some legitimate pass-rushing ability but his skills are not as refined as most of the Noles' past greats at this position.

Depth is a problem here as well. With the loss of the two starters to graduation last year, and the two starters this year to injury, there are very few bodies left. The only other player with real game experience, O.J. Jackson from Miami, is questionable with a groin injury. That could leave true freshman Eric Moore and walk-on Josh Charles as the back-ups versus Miami.

Michael Boulware & Kendyll Pope

Sophomore linebackers Michael Boulware and Kendyll Pope

Although Florida State is still recovering from the loss of Tommy Polley and Brian Allen, both with the St. Louis Rams, the play at linebacker has been pretty solid. Senior Bradley Jennings, nicknamed the Monster, is a ferocious hitter who plugs up the middle. The three-year starter at middle linebacker is one of the main reasons FSU's run defense has been so good. Kendyll Pope has been drawing raves from fans and experts alike. The sophomore from Lake City has great speed and instincts and has been compared to former Seminole great Derrick Brooks. He is equally adept against the run and pass recording two interceptions in FSU's last game. On the other side is Michael Boulware. If that name sounds familiar it should, he's the younger brother of former All-American and current Baltimore Raven Peter Boulware. As with Peter, Michael is an unbelievable athlete with enormous upside but he is still learning the position.

As with everywhere else on defense, there isn't much depth at linebacker. Former walk-on Allen Augustine is the back-up at the weak-side spot. On the strong side two newcomers, true freshman Ray Piquion and junior college transfer Robert May, should see some time behind Boulware. In the middle, 277-pound junior Jerel Hudson is the second string middle linebacker.

The Seminole secondary had to replace three starters from the 2000 team including two, Derrick Gibson and Tay Cody, who are currently playing in the NFL. The one holdover, preseason All-American Chris Hope, has been a little quiet so far this season. Considering the magnitude of this weekend's game, look for the six-foot, 205-pound free safety to have a huge outing. Next to him is another senior in Abdual Howard. Although not as big a name as Hope, Howard is an outstanding strong safety who is second on the team in tackles. Backups who could see playing at safety include senior Gennarro Jackson, and freshmen Claudius Osei and Jerome Carter.

As with defensive end, the other big question mark is at cornerback. Two Miami natives, Malcolm Tatum and Stanford Samules, have been getting the starts. However, Tatum, a 6'0", 170-pound junior, missed the last game with a broken hand but will likely return to the lineup this weekend. Both Tatum and Samuels have excellent coverage skills but have a tendency to make mistakes and take chances, something that could cost them against the Hurricanes. Sophomore Rufus Brown, who started for Tatum against Wake Forest, should see significant playing time, if not start. At the very least he will be a frequent contributor in nickel situations. Hollywood, Florida native Bryant McFadden has also been working into the rotation at cornerback.

If Florida State is to have any chance against the top-ranked Hurricanes on Saturday the defense must be ready to play a near perfect game. Don't be surprised if Mickey Andrews, one of college football's top defensive coordinators, comes up with a few new wrinkles for the highly touted Miami offense.

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