Spring position battles: Defensive tackle

It is officially time for Florida State to put its 2013 championship season behind it and begin pursuit of a second consecutive national title as spring practice is just two weeks away.

While many of the Seminoles’ top players will return to Doak Campbell Stadium this fall, graduation, early departures and transfers have left coach Jimbo Fisher searching for answers at a handful of positions. There is talent and depth across the board, but the FSU staff is hoping key replacements emerge this spring before being thrust into pivotal roles in the fall.

This week we look at five key position battles for the Seminoles this spring, and Thursday's post focuses on defensive tackle. The backup quarterback battle was dissected Monday, the depth chart at running back was examined Tuesday and the job replacing Kelvin Benjamin at receiver was under the microscope Wednesday.

Position: Defensive tackle

Replacing: Timmy Jernigan

Candidates: Eddie Goldman, Nile Lawrence-Stample, Justin Shanks and Keith Bryant.

As talented as the Noles are across the defensive line, it will be no easy task for the Florida State staff to replace Jernigan. Few defensive linemen across college football were as disruptive as Jernigan, who was special for the Noles in 2013, especially late in the season. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay has Jernigan ranked No. 11 among prospects in the 2014 draft.

Although Goldman started 13 games last season, he lands on this list due to the fact the Noles need to replace not just a defensive lineman but one of Jernigan’s caliber. What should bring comfort to FSU fans is Goldman looks capable to take his abilities to the next level and be the dominant interior lineman Jernigan was. His 2013 numbers do not jump off of the stat sheet, but the 6-foot-4, 303-pound junior did what was asked of him in a defensive front that has been among the country’s best the last several years.

As a high school senior part of the 2012 recruiting cycle, Goldman was ranked as the top defensive tackle and No. 10 player in the ESPN 300.

With Goldman almost certainly assured a starting spot, it still leaves one more opening at defensive tackle when the Noles are playing four down linemen. That will be one of the more competitive position battles this spring as the Noles have a number of defensive tackles who were highly regarded recruits when they enrolled at FSU.

Lawrence-Stample could have a leg up on Bryant and Shanks going into spring camp. Lawrence-Stample started six games last season, including late-season wins against Florida and Duke. Like Goldman, Lawrence-Stample’s numbers do not stand out but that is likely to change this season.

Shanks played sparingly as a redshirt freshman, appearing in only seven games in some of FSU’s most lopsided victories. Shanks enrolled with Goldman and was the No. 10 defensive tackle in the 2012 class. The 6-2, 306-pound Shanks is better as a run defender, which could make him a valuable asset as the Noles look to Goldman and Lawrence-Stample to be more disruptive as interior pass rushers.

The player to keep an eye on is Bryant, who redshirted as a freshman last season. Bryant was No. 14 at his position among 2013 recruits and was a pivotal piece to Florida State’s signing day haul a year ago.

No matter who starts at defensive tackle for FSU, those two should see few double teams with defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. expected to draw a lot of attention from offensive linemen this coming season. The former No. 1 player in the country out of high school had a breakout performance against Auburn. And if sophomore DeMarcus Walker emerges as another FSU pass-rush specialist, the interior of the Noles’ defensive line could be poised for a dominant 2014 campaign.