Thoughts on Defensive Line Recruiting and Depth Issues

Recently a lot of members have been voicing their frustration over what they perceive to be a lack of success in recruiting along the defensive line.  And we here at TN have been fairly vocal about the need to re-stock the defensive line. But how did FSU develop this need?  How big is the problem?  What is FSU doing to fix this problem?  Are they doing enough?

In 2007, FSU brought in only one defensive lineman.  That's Jamar Jackson, who subsequently got hurt.  FSU did recruit another (Brian Coulter), but for approximately the 4th consecutive year, he failed to qualify.  And another went to JUCO and has returned this year.

One year is all it takes.  One year can screw up depth in a big way.  But just how screwed up is FSU's defensive line situation?  Two weeks ago I wrote:

Ideally, a team wants to have about 15-17 defensive linemen.  It should be the most numerous group on the team, despite only starting 4 players, as opposed to the offensive line's 5.  The reason for that is three-fold:  defensive linemen rotate a lot to stay fresh, they often get hurt, and they are the position that most frequently encounters academic-related attrition.  Of those 15-17, there should be roughly an equal amount of ends and tackles, with a slight lean in the direction of tackles because outside backers can sometimes become ends, whereas backers cannot become tackles.  As I've detailed for the better part of two years, Florida State's defensive line recruiting from 2006-2007 was poor, particularly in 2007.  The 2006 and 2007 recruiting classes should now be red-shirt seniors and true seniors.  That lack of recruiting is why Florida State finds itself with a less than ideal situation along the defensive line.

FSU's current defensive line roster looks like this:

Moses McCray Jr
Markus White Sr
Jacobbi McDaniel So
Jamar Jackson Jr
Amp McCloud (EE) (Rs) So
Toshmon Stevens (rs) so
Demonte McAllister (Rs) Fr
Brandon Jenkins so
Everette Dawkins (rs) so
Dan Hicks (rs) fr

The "EE" by Amp's name indicates that he is an early-enrolee, meaning he is already enrolled in classes.  AMP will have 3 years to play 3 seasons.  That gives FSU 10 defensive linemen.  Dawkins is also able to play inside if need be.

As far as current recruits are concerned, let's have a look (remember that McCloud is a recruit for this year but is in the above list because he is already on campus):

Cameron Erving Darious Cummings
Damien Jacobs

FSU is adding three guys who will eventually play at well over 300lbs, and who made All-State or All-region in Louisiana and Georgia (Erving/ McCloud).  Cummings is a very highly rated defensive end who will play end at more than 280 lbs (welcome to the new FSU defensive philosophy).  

So current roster (9) + incoming recruits (4) = 13.  But remember that we want to have 15-17 on the roster in any given year.  Our recruiting guys tell me FSU will likely take 2 more defensive linemen, which would give FSU 15, placing it within range. 

But what if FSU doesn't grab two more defensive linemen?  What if FSU's coaches don't think this year's defensive line recruiting base is very good?  That seems to be the prevailing sentiment from the recruiting guys.  It is a year in which the available elite talent is heavy on defensive backs and light on defensive linemen.  Should FSU pass on elite defensive backs to take above average defensive linemen?  FSU appears to be taking the elite defensive backs (they have the best class of cornerbacks in the country according to rivals) and looking to 2011 for more defensive linemen.  But is this a safe strategy? 

Actually yes.  2011 is considered a loaded year along the defensive line, particularly in the South and Florida.  Not only that, but consider what FSU's defensive line will likely look like in 2011...

Moses McCray sr
Brandon Jenkins (jr)
Jacobbi McDaniel jr
Everette Dawkins (rs) jr
Amp McCloud (EE) (Rs) jr
Toshmon Stevens (rs) jr
Demonte McAllister (Rs) so
Dan Hicks (rs) so
Cameron Erving (rs) fr
Darious Cummings (so)
Damien Jacobs (rs) fr
Likely 2010 recruit (rsFr or so)
likely 2010 recruit (rs) fr
NOTE: projected Jamar Jackson to transfer before 2011 season

The key here is that FSU is only losing one lineman to graduation within the next two seasons!  Think about how young FSU is at this position!  I don't know this for a fact, but I bet FSU is having a hard time selling defensive line recruits on the early playing time when the recruit can see that FSU is only losing one defensive lineman to graduation in the next two years!

If FSU loads up on defensive linemen who it deems are not of the caliber it wants, then it will create a massive gridlock at the position for the next two seasons.  That would be really stupid considering the type of defensive line talent available in 2011. 

Looking at the above chart and counting on two more in this current 2010 class, FSU would return 13 scholarship defensive linemen before taking any 2011 recruits.  That would put them in prime position to take between 4-6 in 2011, giving them a roster of 17-19, which is absolutely loaded.  In fact, it might be that FSU only needs to take 1 more defensive lineman in this current class. 

Finally, for anyone worried about the defensive line play in this coming season and thinking that recruiting in 2010 will solve it, our recruiting guys say that defensive linemen rarely contribute as freshmen.  Sometimes they are forced to play, but that doesn't mean they contribute.  It looks like FSU has a plan.  We'll see how that plan works out.

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