Florida State defensive backs ready to shine again
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) The Florida State defensive backfield has dubbed itself the ''The No Fly Zone'' after finishing 2013 as the No. 1 pass defense in the country and setting a school record with 26 interceptions.
The top-ranked Seminoles will have the opportunity to live up to the moniker when they face Oklahoma State in Arlington, Texas on Saturday. The Cowboys, who employ a fast-paced, up-tempo attack, were the No. 14 scoring offense in the FBS last season and have scored 20 or more points in 52 consecutive games- the longest active streak in the country.
''No Fly Zone means no touchdowns, no catches getting caught on us really,'' junior cornerback Ronald Darby said. ''That's how it is.''
The FSU defensive backfield is the deepest unit on the roster of the reigning national champions with three potential first round NFL draft picks despite losing second round draft pick Lamarcus Joyner and third-rounder Terrence Brooks.
NFL Media senior analyst Gil Brandt said he has junior cornerback P.J. Williams (6-foot-0, 196 pounds) ranked among his top 25 underclassmen in the country. Brandt helped build the Super Bowl-winning Dallas Cowboys as vice president of player personnel from 1960 to 1989.
Williams was named the defensive most valuable player in the BCS championship game after he recorded a career-high seven tackles and intercepted a pass.
''He's tall and he's long, both,'' Brandt said. ''He's got the size and speed you want to compete against all these big, tall wide receivers that we're seeing now.''
Sophomore safety Jalen Ramsey started all 14 games in2013 and was the first FSU freshman to start at cornerback since Deion Sanders in 1985. Coach Jimbo Fisher will use him at the Star position, vacated by Joyner, when five defensive backs are on the field. The Star position brings Ramsey to the nickelback slot where he can use his 6-1, 204-pound frame to pass cover, play the run or blitz the cornerback. The role is similar to the way Charles Woodson was used when he was named the 2009 NFL MVP with the Green Bay Packers.
Joyner shined in the role, but Ramsey has better size. He's become the most vocal leader on defense, a notorious trash-talker and thrives on the competition between the defensive backs.
''If you go ask P.J. about it right now, he'll say he's the best corner,'' Ramsey said. ''If you ask me, I think I'm the best corner. If you ask Nate (Andrews) or Tyler (Hunter) who the best safety is, they'll both say they are. You ask me, I think I'm the best safety.
''We all want to be the best. We're all going to work hard and keep pushing each other.''
Darby (5-11, 195 pounds) may be the best cover corner of the group. Junior safety Hunter (5-11, 200) knows the defense better than anyone else on the roster and sophomore safety Andrews (5-11, 210) played all 14 games last year.
''They have depth and they have two very good corners,'' Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said. ''Sometimes, when you look on tape, you're not sure exactly which one is the best one of the two.''
Fisher cross-trains them all so they know each position in the secondary.
''You can do different coverages, move guys around to different matchups,'' Fisher said. ''That's why now safeties, if you get safeties and guys that can't cover like wideouts, they become a liability. People will just go empty on you and force you to have to cover and do things.
''The way the game is now and how multiple and spread out it is, all those guys have to be able to tackle in space and be able to cover and judge the football.''
Hunter said that confusion leads to many of the turnovers.
''We see it all the time, just sometimes I'll line up on the line like I'm blitzing and the next play I'm in the deep part of the field, so teams never really know what we're going to do,'' Hunter explained. ''That's huge just to disguise stuff.
''That's really how we make a lot of plays in the back end, just disguising and confusing the quarterback and baiting them into throwing the ball.
The Seminoles aren't shy about labeling themselves the best defensive backfield in the country. They also feel a responsibility to uphold the tradition created by FSU defensive backs of the past - Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, Terrell Buckley, LeRoy Butler, Monk Bonasorte, Xavier Rhodes and Joyner.
''They seem to go and know who to recruit and the size and speed it takes to play their position,'' Brandt said.