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Florida State football defensive line spring preview: Familiar faces return

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Insight on what the defensive line will look like for the Florida State Seminoles this spring.

Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

The 'Noles are coming off a fantastic season by the defensive line that ended up ranked inside the top-40 in the nation with 32 total sacks and just over 145 rushing yards given up per game. With the departure of only one starter from the line, the line should have the same, if not more, success as last year.

Florida State will set up one of the best defensive end combinations in the country with DeMarcus Walker (6-3, 273) and Josh Sweat (6-5, 236). Walker is coming off of a season in which he led the Seminoles in forced fumbles (4), tackles for loss (15.5), sacks (10.5) and added a blocked kick to his resume. Following the season, he decided to return to FSU for his senior year and will be the backbone veteran this defensive line needs.

Josh Sweat exploded onto the scene as a true freshman after suffering a terrible ACL injury in high school. He played in all 13 games and led the team in recovered fumbles. Despite only having one interception of his own, he was responsible for many more with his pressure on the quarterback resulting in poor throws. With his 6'5, 236 lb. body and the athleticism displayed during 2015, Sweat makes it difficult to run or throw at him and could develop into a top player in the nation.

If either Sweat or Walker go down for an extended period of time, juniors Rick Leonard (6-7, 287) or Lorenzo Featherston (6-7, 218) could fill in the void. Leonard appeared in all 13 games last season on special teams and at defensive end and has earned high praise by coaches for his work ethic. Featherston was banged up for most of last season, only appearing in four games. As a freshman in 2014, he played in 11 games and was named to both the Campus Insider and College Football News All-Freshman teams.

With the departure of Nile Lawrence-Stample, who graduated, the defensive tackle position is the only spot that should see a new starter. Demarcus Christmas, a redshirt sophomore, looks to be the one who will get the nod in 2016. Christmas (6-4, 290) had extensive playing experience last season, appearing in all 13 games and starting against No. 1 Clemson. He finished the season with two pass breakups and 19 tackles.

At nose guard, junior Derrick Nnadi (6-1, 303) will more than likely retain the role with which he is familiar. Last year, Nnadi took over and started all 13 games and excelled, ranking second on the team behind Demarcus Walker with 58 tackles. After a season full of injuries on both sides of the ball for the Seminoles, the durability of Nnadi will be a big key. In the event Nnadi goes down, they would have to turn to redshirt sophomore Fredrick Jones (6-2, 311) who played in 10 games last year for the 'Noles, however has never started or recorded more than three tackles in a game. That said, tackles are often an overblown stat with regard to defensive linemen, as their assignment often consists of maintaining position and eating up blockers in an effort to plug lanes and allow others to notch tackles. Darvin Taylor (6-3, 297) is also a candidate after redshirting in 2015 and playing on the scout team.

Bottom Line:

The projected starters all have one thing in common: experience. Nnadi, Sweat, Walker, and Christmas participated in all 13 games last season, and with the exception of Christmas, started 10 of those games. This is a huge advantage over the rest of college football, as, in total, the 'Noles will return more sacks than 80% of the other Power Five teams. Presently, Florida State holds a huge advantage on its defensive line, a position group the 'Noles should not have to worry about come next season.