TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida State’s defense has never lacked for swagger or confidence under Jimbo Fisher.
As the Seminoles continue preseason preparations for their Sept. 5 opener in Orlando against Mississippi, the defense is hoping its actions on the field are as boisterous as their words to opposing offenses.
“I like how we’re savages this year. I know when it’s time to play, we’re going to be ready to play because we practice like that,” junior safety Tre Marshall said.
Florida State returns six defensive starters from a 10-3 team. It finished ninth in the nation in points allowed per game (17.5) and didn’t allow any opponent to score 25 points or more until a 38-24 loss to Houston in the Peach Bowl.
The Seminoles were also ranked high nationally in yards per pass (fourth, 5.6) and yards per play (10th, 4.68). Defensive coordinator Charles Kelly was happy with those areas, but he is looking for marked improvement in two others — pass rush and getting off the field on third down.
After getting only 17 sacks in 2014, Florida State’s pass rush nearly doubled that last year with 32, which was tied for fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
From 2010-12, Florida State led the ACC in sacks, averaging 41.7 per year.
“We always want to generate more pass rush. We improved last year in affecting the quarterback but we can still get better at that. There are different ways to do that. You can play more variations in the secondary,” Kelly said.
Senior defensive end DeMarcus Walker was the first player since 2012 to post a double-digit sack season when he had 10.5 last year. Walker had the second-most votes for a defensive player on the All-ACC preseason team. Sophomore safety Derwin James, who is the team’s top returning tackler, has played rush end in some situations and could get some increased sack opportunities.
Kelly thinks if the Seminoles can get consistent pressure on the quarterback that could help put opponents in more third-and-long situations. Last season Florida State had the fourth-worst conversion rate as teams converted 39.23 percent of the time.
With the unit’s speed and versatility, some are thinking the defense can be as good as it was in 2013 when the Seminoles went 14-0 and won their third national championship. Those are lofty comparisons considering seven members of that unit started on NFL teams last season and Jalen Ramsey went fifth overall to Jacksonville in this year’s draft.
“I feel like everyone knows their jobs and roles this year which is going to allow us to play fast all the time,” James said. “Last year’s team was great but I really like this year’s. It could be scary.”
Notes: Fisher was happy with quarterback Deondre Francois after Wednesday’s scrimmage. Fisher said that the redshirt freshman made a lot of plays downfield and had quite a few touchdown passes. Fisher noted that Francois had only one interception but that it was a good decision and just a bad pass. … Fisher said the scrimmage covered all types of game situations with particular attention paid to third down, red zone and the two-minute drill. … Among starters who did not participate in the scrimmage were linebacker Jacob Pugh (foot), safety Nate Andrews (calf) and wide receiver Travis Rudolph (hamstring). Offensive lineman Alec Eberle and defensive linemen Jacob Pugh were held out due to concussion symptoms. … Quarterback Sean Maguire had successful surgery on Monday to place a screw in his left foot. Fisher said the timeframe for the senior’s return remains 3-4 weeks.