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Freshmen DL and DB’s looking for a chance to contribute
On Wednesday we took a look at how Florida State’s depth chart might look on offense with the addition of its 2018 signees. Now, we will put the focus on the other side of the ball and project what the depth chart could look like on defense.
Coach Willie Taggart and his staff have eight starters to replace on defense, so it’s likely that spring practice will feature a lot of fierce competition across the board.
New defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett will bring a fresh approach and a new scheme, but his base defense is likely to be a traditional four-man front. Against spread offenses, he’s likely to get an extra defensive back on the field in place of a third linebacker.
Regardless, there’s a lot for him to evaluate even though he will have plenty of talent to work with.
Which spots could newcomers play a role and what spots are likely up for grabs during the spring?
Let’s take a look as we project the defensive depth chart entering spring practice.
Levonta Taylor led all ACC cornerbacks with a passer rating of just 26.1 when throwing into his coverage this past season. pic.twitter.com/h1cny1uE0o
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) January 13, 2018
Starters: Demarcus Christmas (senior), Fred Jones (senior)
Next man up: Walvenski Aime (senior), Marvin Wilson (sophomore)
Others to know: Robert Cooper (freshman), Cory Durden (redshirt freshman), Ja’Len Parks (redshirt freshman), Arthur Williams (senior), Cedric Wood (redshirt sophomore)
While the defense will see an overhaul at most spots, the interior of the line should represent one of the team’s biggest strengths overall.
Longtime defensive line assistant Odell Haggins has a deep crop of talent to work with, despite losing multi-year starter Derrick Nnadi from the 2017 unit.
There’s a nice blend of experience, talent and youth in the group. Christmas, Jones and Aime are three seniors likely to play a pivotal role. Of that group, Christmas — who was a starter last season — has a chance to be a dominant force this season.
— FSU Football (@FSUFootball) December 20, 2017
Wilson, a 5-star recruit in the 2017 cycle, could be in line for a potential breakout season. Spring will be pivotal for the 6-foot-5, 332-pound Wilson in helping him establish a spot in the rotation.
Another pair of 2017 signees that could factor in the mix are Parks and Durden. Both players redshirted last season. New signee Cooper is a massive space-eater that physically looks the part of a college defensive tackle. However, with the depth the Seminoles have, he could possibly redshirt in an effort to groom him for the future.
Starters: Brian Burns (junior), Joshua Kaindoh (sophomore)
Next man up: Tre’ Lawson (redshirt freshman), Janarius Robinson (redshirt sophomore)
While defensive tackle has depth and players who have proven themselves on the college level, defensive end is a little different story.
A pair of oft-injured seniors in Purifoy and Torres are tough to factor in given their history with missing time.
Burns has flashed the potential to be a dominant pass-rusher, and he enters 2018 as the most proven edge rusher the Seminoles have on their roster.
Former American Heritage (@AH__Athletics) standout Brian Burns had quite the efficient season in Tallahassee, pulling down 30 QB pressures in Year 2 in Garnet & Gold. He finished the season hot, with 20 QB pressures over his final 7 games. pic.twitter.com/oldxu2Wbw9
— Cam Mellor (@PFF_Cam) January 1, 2018
Kaindoh has all the physical tools you could want in a defensive end. With the departures of Josh Sweat and Jalen Wilkerson to the NFL draft, the time to assert himself is now.
Behind those two lies a depth littered with young, but inexperienced options.
Robinson is the most likely candidate to step up as he enters his third year on campus. Redshirt freshman Lawson will be available to push him in the spring.
Taggart and the Seminoles signed four players who could factor in as defensive ends on the college level in the 2018 class. Yet, all four signees are versatile enough to play another position if necessary.
— High5Sports (@High5Sports) February 7, 2018
The trio of Briggs, Chatman and Lamar are bigger ends who are strong enough to play along the interior in certain situations while Peters could get snaps as an outside linebacker.
However, with the lack of established depth at defensive end and the emphasis placed on that position by the staff with the 2018 cycle, it would be a reasonable conclusion to expect a few of the freshmen to find the field this fall.
Starters: Josh Brown (junior), Dontavious Jackson (junior), Emmett Rice (junior)
Next man up: Adonis Thomas (redshirt junior), Leonard Warner III (sophomore)
Others to know: Amari Gainer (freshman)
Arguably the thinnest position on the defensive side of the ball is at linebacker. As noted above, Barnett could opt to sub out a linebacker for an extra defensive back against most offenses the Seminoles face.
However, any type of attrition at this position could put Florida State in a serious dilemma this fall.
While quantity might not be on the Seminoles side, there’s certainly quality still left on the roster — even if the majority of it is unproven.
Four juniors make up the core of the group in Brown, Jackson, Rice and Thomas.
— AMARI FERRARI (@AmariGainer) December 20, 2017
Warner and Gainer—an early enrollee from the 2018 class—are also ready to compete for a spot in the spring.
With no starting spots being locked in and there being little depth to work with, every member of the unit should have a shot to earn valuable reps in the spring and in the fall.
That includes Gainer, who will gain invaluable experience since he’s already on campus and participating in spring drills.
Starters: Stanford Samuels III (sophomore), Levonta Taylor (junior)
Next man up: Carlos Becker (junior), Kyle Meyers (junior)
The Seminoles bring back a trio of players with experience at the corner spot led by Taylor, who had a strong sophomore campaign and enters his junior season as one of the top corners in the ACC and potentially the nation.
Meyers has played a good bit during his first two seasons and Samuels came on strong toward the end of his freshman season.
Becker has a lot of talent, but has been unable to remain healthy during his time in Tallahassee. Behind him will be a host of freshmen.
— Orlando Sentinel-FSU (@osfsu) February 7, 2018
Wilson will be available to work in spring practice and fight for a spot in the rotation. Help is on the way in the form of a trio of standouts from the 2018 class in Bolden, Lytton and Samuel.
Bolden is a versatile defender who could play safety or corner at the next level. Lytton and Samuel are smaller corners, but both players possess great speed and instincts and both play bigger than their size indicates.
Florida State has a history of playing defensive backs early and that is something that shouldn’t change under Taggart and Barnett’s guidance.
Starters: Hamsah Nasirildeen (sophomore), A.J. Westbrook (senior)
Next man up: Cyrus Fagan (sophomore), Jaiden Woodbey (freshman)
Others to know: Calvin Brewton (senior), DeCalon Brooks (redshirt freshman)
The only player with a significant amount of experience who returns is Westbrook.
Despite being a veteran presence, he will be pushed by a trio of underclassmen oozing with talent and ability in sophomores Fagan, Nasirildeen and Brooks.
Nasirildeen played extensively as a freshman and possesses the type of size (6-foot-5) and athleticism that had the previous staff comparing him to former Seminoles All-American Derwin James.
— ⚡️THOR ⚡️ (@JaidenWoodbey) December 21, 2017
Fagan and Brooks are both versatile defenders who each bring different skill-sets to the equation. Fagan is a big hitter who will bring a physical presence in run support while Brooks is the type of hybrid prospect who has elements of linebacker and safety in his game.
Additionally, Woodbey, perhaps the crown jewel of the Seminoles 2018 class, is an early enrollee who is on campus and will participate in spring practice.
Woodbey is another big safety with range and athleticism who could be a star in Barnett’s defense once he gets acclimated to the college level.
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