Fisher thinks revamped LB unit can thrive
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — One of the biggest questions on Florida State's defense is at linebacker, where two players have shifted positions and the Seminoles are replacing leading tackler Nigel Bradham.
While senior Vince Williams and junior Telvin Smith will split the responsibilities at middle linebacker, there is change next to them. Christian Jones has moved from the strongside to the weakside, and Nick Moody slides up from safety to the strongside spot.
"I've been very pleased with those guys and their knowledge of what's going on and how they are adapting," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said.
The coaching staff thinks that Jones is poised for a breakout junior season. He had 56 tackles and three sacks in 2011 and is the leading returning tackler for FSU (Bradham led the Seminoles with 86).
Jones was often forced to play out in coverage last year, chasing down running backs, receivers and tight ends (something Fisher said Jones excels at). But Jones also wants to be more of a read-and-react, stay-in-the-box linebacker — and the move to the weakside should allow him to do that.
"Christian is very skilled," defensive coordinator Mark Stoops said. "He is a guy that could probably play any three of the linebacker positions and play them well. We expect him to be more consistent. We expect him to be a dominant player."
Moody is a senior with plenty of experience, playing 34 games in his FSU career at safety. He gained nearly 20 pounds in the offseason and is regarded as one of the best hitters on the defense.
In many ways, moving from safety — which involved both run support and dropping into coverage — isn't all that different from his move to strongside linebacker.
"He's been a great player down low at linebacker," Stoops said. "Nick's a very good football player. We had to put him in a position to be successful."
Moody said that he has adjusted well, using spring practice to get acclimated. Fisher feels Moody projects better as a linebacker in the NFL, and when he was asked about Moody's transition, Fisher said, "Nick likes to hit."
And Moody's experience as a defensive back should be an advantage when he is asked to take on Jones' old role of defending tight ends, receivers or tailbacks.
"We all know what Nick can do," Williams said. "But you take a guy like Nick and move him to the linebacker position, there is no tight end in the nation that can beat Nick Moody. He's used to covering receivers. I think Nick is going to have a tremendous amount of success in this defense."
FSU has an advantage with both Williams and Smith splitting time at middle linebacker. The depth behind Jones and Moody is inexperienced, but the starters have praised the development of redshirt freshman Terrence Smith and newcomers Markuss Eligwe and Reggie Northrup. Eligwe was considered one of the top 10 linebackers in the 2012 class, and Northrup was a four-star prospect that chose FSU over Miami on National Signing Day.
Though Smith is clearly ahead of the true freshmen because of his familiarity with Stoops' schemes, it's likely that all three could see playing time as reserves, especially late in FSU's first two games against Murray State and Savannah State.
And while there is some uncertainty about how the transition for Jones and Moody will impact the linebacking corps, Jones thinks that the moves will solidify a defense that last year was one of the top five in the nation.
"I think we have a chance at having the same amount of success we did last year or even better — just for the fact that we return of a lot of key guys," Jones said. "I feel like we can have a pretty special year on defense."