The final chapter of our Florida State football spring questions is a position loaded with depth but has very little experience. There are no seniors in this group. Replacing Telvin Smith and Christian Jones seems like no easy task.
As we enter the spring practice and examine FSU's linebacker corps there are elements of the known and unknown. And to be honest, the unknown far outweighs what we can say with conviction that we know or even what think we know.
While I do put stock into the idea that FSU will play the style and "brand" of defense that Jimbo Fisher calls for, I think it would be naive to expect a carbon copy of last years schemes and philosophies when the Seminoles will be introducing both a new defensive coordinator and a new position coach at linebacker in Bill Miller.
The closest thing FSU has to a known entity at linebacker is Terrance Smith. Smith, a rising junior, returns after a season that saw him start ten games and play at a relatively high level. After last years Boston College game, Dan Hick's loss (with Christian Jones more or less sliding over and assuming his role) was very much Terrance Smith's gain as a place for him to see regular playing time emerged and Smith made the most of his opportunity. Smith displayed the same instincts and nose for the ball that stood out to me during his time at Atlanta's SWD. Smith seems to be a very popular personality both on the team and on the general campus. It will be interesting to see if this affable persona translates to being able to provide leadership at a position that losses two seniors - including one of the better leaders FSU football has seen in the past fifteen years in Telvin Smith.
Another thing I know when reviewing FSU's roster at the linebacker position: a very solid argument can be made that FSU has recruited this position as well as anyone in the country the past three years. Iron sharpens iron and whoever emerges from the next group of individuals we will look at are very talented and will posses the ability to be dynamic players. I'm much more confident that FSU will have excellent linebacker play than I am in telling you who will provide that excellent level of play.
When I examine the tape of the other returning players at linebacker I do not know that any player has film that would scream at me that they will emerge as a starter. And that's not a bad thing.
Ukeme Eligwe saw meaningful snaps in 2013 and appears to be the player who you would think would be the most likely to fill the role that Christian Jones moved into after last years BC game. Eligwe appears to have the body to continue to put on healthy weight, and in my opinion likely has the greatest shot at emerging as a starter. While Eligwe did not see a huge amount of snaps, the commodity of meaningful playing time can be incredibly valuable and he is the only linebacker in this group who can make such a claim. However, Jimbo Fisher also said that Eligwe will also see time at linebacker this spring, which is important, because he separated linebacker from the edge role occupied by Christian Jones in 2013.
Matthew Thomas from I have seen and been told may have the highest ceiling of any current linebacker in Tallahassee. After appearing in only four games, Thomas missed the rest of the year after having to have surgery on an injured shoulder. Despite, his significant physical gifts, Thomas very much needs to have a productive spring to position himself to take over one of the openings vacated by Smith and Jones. Thomas is very versatile and in my opinion could be someone who gets snaps at all three linebacker positions, because of his length, size and burst. On most teams, Thomas not starting would be a huge shock, but the talent at linebacker in Tallahassee is ridiculous.
Ro'Derrick Hoskins is a player that FSU coaches seem very high on and somewhat surprisingly appears to be slotted (according to Jimbo Fisher's opening press conference) to play in a hybrid role seeing time at both linebacker and some at end in obvious passing situations. Hoskins, 6'2, 235, redshirted in 2013. He was used mostly as a defensive end in high school.
Reggie Northrup (6'2, 217, JR) has looked a very solid player anytime he has been on the field whether it be in mop up duty or covering kicks on special teams. This spring is very important for Northrup, he needs to establish himself someone that can earn playing time or else he risks falling behind younger, perhaps more talented, players on the depth chart. Northup profiled as a Will or Mike, and does not have the length to be the edge player in the role vacated by Christian Jones.
I was surprised by how well E.J. Levenberry (6'3, 237, SO) played last year. It is not that I doubted Levenberry's talent, but it was, to me anyways, a pleasant surprise to see a player who did not always face a great level of competition in high school look comfortable and well suited to play at an elite college level. Levenberry is a very exciting prospect and may be the best true/traditional middle linebacker prospect currently on FSU's roster.
As I mentioned earlier, FSU has an immense amount of talent at linebacker. This pool of talent will only grow when they add four-stars Kainn Daub, Delvin Purifoy and Jacob Pugh to the roster once freshman report during the summer (Daub is on campus but won't take part in spring thanks to a clearinghouse issue). Charles Kelly and Bill Miller have an incredible amount of talent to work with and what the final product looks like remains a mystery. However a lot of the answers (scheme, personal, leadership roles, etc) may well begin to emerge from this year's spring practices.