By Brandon Mellor, Seminoles.com
That’s the best word to use when describing former Florida State linebackers Derek Nicholson and Toddrick Verdell.
Last season, Nicholson’s 81 tackles led the team while Verdell’s 66 stops were good enough for second. Together, the two of them posted a combined 147 tackles as seniors in their final year in Tallahassee.
It’s not easy to replace that type of production but that is the situation Florida State linebackers coach Chuck Amato found himself in entering the 2009 spring practice session. Add in the fact that the team’s fourth-leading tackler from a season ago, Dekoda Watson, was forced to miss the spring after surgery and Amato’s challenge became even more daunting.
But the good thing about Florida State football — especially at the linebacker position if history is any guide — is that the cupboard is never bare. And more often than not, the graduation of seniors only leads to the increased roles of talented players waiting in the wings for their chance.
Enter the Seminoles’ young guns at the linebacker position: Nigel Bradham, Nigel Carr and Kendall Smith.
The two true sophomores and one true junior moved to the top of the depth chart this spring with the opportunity to prove they are the next great ones in a lineage that features the likes of Marvin Jones, Derrick Brooks and Ernie Sims.
Prior to the start of spring practice, Amato moved Smith from the strongside linebacker position into the middle where Nicholson played during his FSU career.
The results were undeniable. Smith fit right in to the leadership role that comes with playing at “Mike” linebacker and was named by the coaches as the “Most Dependable Linebacker” at spring’s end.
As for the Bradham and Carr, the two highly-touted former high school stars built off their playing experience as true freshmen last season and had a consistent spring as starters.
Bradham played in his first spring practice period with the same burden that Sims used to play with every time he suited up in the garnet and gold: high expectations for a local product.
Widely considered one of the best – if not the best – linebackers in the entire country as a high school senior, Bradham came to FSU from nearby Wakulla with the hope that he could be the Seminoles’ next game-changer on the defensive side of the ball.
The 6-foot-2, 235-pounder showed flashes with some big hits throughout the spring and a 45-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the Garnet & Gold game. But there’s no question that he has to keep studying game film and keep working on his technique if he wants to live up to those high expectations.
|Nigel Bradham | Sophomore | LB | 6-2 / 235|
Hometown: Crawfordville, FL
High School: Wakulla
Nigel Bradham was one of the top recruits
in the country coming out of high school and
will look to bring that same level of play to the
Seminoles this season. Bradham was one of two
players named as the top defensive newcomers
during the 2008 season and the only true freshman
of the two to win the award. He enters the
summer atop the depth charts at the WLB position.
What to watch for:
The return of Watson is the biggest storyline surrounding the linebackers as the Seminoles participate in voluntary summer workouts and then head to two-a-days this fall.
Watson is Florida State’s emotional leader and anyone that saw him during spring practice witnessed just how important he is to the team even though he was not practicing.
One day when he is done playing professionally, the Aiken, S.C. native will surely have the chance to be a football coach because of his leadership and teaching abilities. All spring, Watson could be seen standing next to Coach Amato, barking out defensive calls and providing insight to his younger position mates.
When he is fully recuperated from Tommy John surgery, Watson will return to the starting strongside linebacker spot currently being occupied by Carr. A three-deep depth chart of Watson, Carr and Mister Alexander looks good as those are three players with tremendous athletic ability.
This “What to watch for” section wouldn’t be complete without further mention of Alexander. If there is one player to really root for on the 2009 Seminole football team, it’s the former Texas high school standout who has had a rough road at FSU since enrolling in the summer of 2006.
Alexander, a hard-hitting defender that made the move from safety to outside linebacker last season, has only played in two games as a Seminole because of injuries. In the first extended action of his career this spring, the 6-foot-2, 227-pounder was recently named the “Most Improved Linebacker” by the coaches.
If he stays healthy, Alexander could finally earn some playing time this season.
At middle linebacker, Smith’s task of replacing Nicholson’s ability to generate large numbers of tackles is even tougher considering he has to hold off up-and-coming sophomore Vince Williams, who missed some spring practice with an injury. Like his classmates Bradham and Carr, Williams had the chance to gain valuable playing time on special teams and in certain situations at linebacker as a freshman last year.
Bradham has the inside track at weakside linebacker where his primary backup at this time is redshirt sophomore Maurice Harris.
The Seminoles’ lone signee at linebacker – C.J. Mizell from Leon High School in Tallahassee – is expected in enroll at FSU this summer and he too could compete with Bradham and Harris on the weakside.
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