The season opener is a long way off, but Florida State senior linebacker Kendall Smith has a spoiler alert for interested fans and foes alike:
"You're going to see a new defense. It's going to look totally different."
Even in today's sneak preview — the Garnet and Gold Game, which culminates the 15 days of spring practice and the first spring with Jimbo Fisher as head coach.
Yes, it's April. Yes, the players held a draft to set the rosters for the intrasquad game. Yes, several ballyhooed prospects won't be in town until the summer. And yes, defensive performance is affected by the offense and special teams.
Still, folks — school officials hope for a record crowd of 50,000 at Doak Campbell Stadium, meeting the challenge issued by Fisher for fans to show enthusiasm and support for a new beginning at FSU — will scrutinize the defense first and foremost.
"We're never going to win championships until we're great on defense," Fisher said.
And last year, the Seminoles D might have received an F.
The Seminoles allowed an average of 434.6 yards, 108th nationally, and an average of 30.0 points, 94th nationally. Both were their worst marks since 1973, when Fisher was just 8 years old.
"We're not going to be last in our conference (ACC). We're not going to be one of the worst teams statistically in the nation," senior defensive end Markus White said. "We're going to make sure that doesn't happen."
"Coach Fisher turned the offense around; now it's (time for) the defense," Smith said.
Fisher's new defensive coordinator, Mark Stoops, along with new assistants Greg Hudson (linebackers) and D.J. Eliot (defensive ends) and holdover Odell Haggins (defensive tackles), has given his players a new scheme to absorb, one that's built on more zone coverage as opposed to the man-to-man scheme that former coordinator Mickey Andrews relied on during his tenure.
"I'm not a defensive coordinator who wants to do a bunch of things to be very flashy and trick people," Stoops said recently. "I believe you have to have sound structure to start with and be very sound and precise with our core defense and then build it out."
That takes time, certainly far more than 15 days.
But the Seminoles insist they've come far, noticeably so.
"Everybody's getting better at everything on a daily basis," White said.
In last weekend's scrimmage, sophomore cornerback Greg Reid had four interceptions. Yes, it's only an April scrimmage, but the Seminoles — much to Andrews' chagrin — struggled to create turnovers last season. They had just 14 interceptions, led by senior cornerback Ochuko Jenije and former safety Jamie Robinson, who each had four.
Today's game will provide more than a snapshot of the players' progress in grasping a new scheme and be an early indication of how well they're responding to their new coaches.
"They really make it easy for us to learn," Smith said, adding that the three new defensive coaches have brought off-the-chart enthusiasm to practices and meetings.
"He'll get you going," Jenije said of Stoops, who doubles as the secondary coach. "He brings great energy. He wants to win on every single play, and his presence, more than just play calling, has helped."
Again, folks want to see that on the field.
"We kind of made two of the greatest coaches in college football go out on sort of a sour note," Jenije said, referring to Bobby Bowden and Andrews. "Thankfully we won that Gator Bowl, but that's (the overall performance) not how they taught us. We did not play up to our potential and up to how we were coached, and we're looking to turn that around."