FSU's LB shuffle shows promising signs

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – When the decision was made for linebacker Christian Jones to make the move, he figured he should prod his former teammate for some advice on playing the weak side.

Nigel Bradham had played the role to some acclaim during his tenure at Florida State, racking up more than 300 tackles in his career, but he wasn't interested in detailing the Xs and Os. He didn't think Jones would need it.

"The one thing he told me," Jones said, "was, 'Get ready, because you're going to like it.' "

On the other side of the field, senior Nick Moody is quickly acclimating himself to a new role, too.

For four years, Moody was a safety, where he started 16 games during his career. But when Jones was moved to the weak side, coach Jimbo Fisher began pondering a switch for Moody, too.

Again, the change wasn't born of desperation, but of logic.

"If you watch last year, every time there was a play-action pass, that's where Nick was standing," Fisher said. "So we said, why not just move him up there? He always liked to stand up and hit somebody, so why don't we just move him up there?"

This offseason has brought massive changes to the Florida State linebacking corps, and in turn, the group has become a rare question mark on a defense poised to be one of the best in the nation.

But Jones and Moody aren't worried about adjusting to new roles, and Florida State's coaches aren't concerned that the changes won't work out.

Instead, spring practice and fall camp have underscored the prediction Bradham made when Jones first made the switch. This isn't new ground for Florida State's linebackers. It's home.

"I feel like I've always had the ability to be a playmaker," Jones said. "And the (weakside) spot will be perfect for me."

At 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, Jones has always had the ability to be a playmaker, but for two years he labored under the restrictions of the strong side. Now, he can move into the box, attack the running game and, Fisher believes, blossom into a star.

"He was in space (on the strong side), and he was more like a nickel guy at times," Fisher said. "But his tackles should significantly go up because he's in the box and there's more action in there."

Moody will now pick up the responsibilities Jones abdicated on the strong side, but as a former safety he's well equipped to handle playing in space.

As one of FSU's biggest hitters, it's a job Moody enjoys, although he does have one minor complaint about the transition.

"The one thing I miss about safety is the individual period (or practice), because it was easier at DB than linebacker," Moody said. "Less running."

Beyond that, however, Moody said the move has been simple.

For a fifth-year senior, uprooting the past and adjusting to a new job might have been a source of frustration, but Moody jumped at the chance. It gets him on the field, gives him a chance to make plays and, he said, could help him get noticed at the next level when the season ends.

"It wasn't a complicated decision," Moody said. "It wasn't, ‘Do I really want this?’ It was easy."

It's not that the transition for either player has been completely straightforward. There is a novelty to the new roles, and communication has been key.

For Moody, he's had the benefit of Jones' experience on the other side of the field. If he has a question about the strong side, Jones is there to answer.

And while Jones is still new to his role on the weak side, he's played enough snaps at linebacker for Florida State to understand how the system works. That's part of what makes the change so intriguing.

"I think the sky is the limit for him," said linebacker Vince Williams, who will again split time with Telvin Smith in the middle. "I wouldn't even put him in the same category as Nigel because Christian's younger, he's already been in the system for three years. He knows what's expected of him, and he has that rapport with Coach (Mark) Stoops. The cap on his potential is really limitless."

Potential is a big word for this group.

On the defensive line, Bjoern Werner and Brandon Jenkins and Timmy Jernigan have built their resumes already.

In the secondary, Xavier Rhodes and Lamarcus Joyner don't need to prove their credentials.

At linebacker, however, there are questions. It's something new, something different.

But while there are moments when Jones finds himself out of place, or Moody needs an extra second to survey the backfield before a play, none of it feels strange.

It's new, but it's where they belong.

"We all click together out there," Jones said. "And I think we're all going to do fine this year."