Spring practice is just a few weeks away for Florida State, and while the defending national champs return plenty of talent to make another run at a title, there are still some big question marks looming as the Seminoles begin work on the 2014 season. With that in mind, we’re looking at the five most intriguing players to watch this spring and projecting how they might fit into Jimbo Fisher’s plans in the fall.
Next up: LB Reggie Northrup
Credentials: Florida State’s other No. 5 didn’t make quite the same instant impact as Jameis Winston, but Northrup has still had a solid start to his career in Tallahassee. As a true freshman in 2012, he appeared in 13 games, impressed in occasional mop-up duty at middle linebacker and starred on special teams. Then in 2013, Northrup took another step forward, racking up 46 tackles (most among FSU’s nonstarters) and 2.5 TFLs in a brand new defensive scheme. Northrup still needs to refine some of his fundamentals, but he’s got a nose for the football and quick instincts on the field that have routinely impressed teammates.
How he fits: Northrup has never started a game for Florida State, but with two full seasons of experience under his belt and 56 tackles to his credit (second among FSU’s returning linebackers) he’s nevertheless a veteran in a position group that has little in the way of on-field credentials. With Telvin Smith leaving after three years at middle linebacker, the Seminoles are looking for someone to step in and attack the run, as Smith did so effectively in 2013, but also hold up in coverage when needed. Northrup isn’t their only option, but he might be their best.
Competition: With Terrance Smith appearing to be the only linebacker with a secure starting job, a lot is in flux at the position. Northrup brings some experience, but E.J. Levenberry wowed coaches last year and put up solid numbers, while freshman Kain Daub enrolled early and will push for playing time this spring, too.
Outlook: How new defensive coordinator Charles Kelly plans to approach both the scheme and the depth chart are open questions as FSU preps for spring, and as yet, Fisher hasn’t announced a new linebackers coach. That makes projecting the depth chart nearly impossible, but Northrup can go a long way toward clearing up the confusion with a strong spring. His raw skill set is obvious. Refining those skills is the question. If he takes a big leap forward, he could become a fixture in the middle of the defense. Even if he makes more mild progress, he could still split time with Levenberry, as Telvin Smith and Vince Williams did for two years under Mark Stoops.