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FSU defensive backs spring preview: Options abound for talented unit

Lots of pieces to fit into a few different places.

Derwin James
Derwin James
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In 2015, the Florida State secondary improved from the previous year, despite losing starting cornerbacks Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams to the NFL. How? Returning talent starred (Jalen Ramsey), unproven players stepped up (Marquez White, Lamarcus Brutus, and Javien Elliott), and a key recruit contributed early (Derwin James). 2016 could play out remarkably similar, beginning this spring.

Ramsey is the superstar who will need replacing at the boundary corner spot, and Florida State seems to have a couple of options in considering his successor. Senior Marquez White (6-0, 181) is coming off a very nice year at the field corner spot, and he should have a starting spot locked down-- the question is if he remains at field or if he transitions over to boundary. He has the physicality to do so, and I think the answer will hinge on how well he breaks on throws that are typically shorter than those he faced last season.

As far as unproven options go, former five-star recruit and sophomore Tarvarus McFadden (6-2, 201) finished last season as Ramsey's backup, and he seems primed to push for a starting role this spring. His size gives him an edge in defending passes: length can compensate for instincts that are still being refined. Also competing for time at corner will be senior running-back-turned-DB Ryan Green (5-11, 205), back from a season-long injury last year, as well as junior Malique Jackson (6-0, 163), who served as White's backup in 2015. And flexible sophomore Marcus Lewis (6-1, 196), who battled injuries throughout last season, can play either corner or safety.

Speaking of safety, James figures to remain in the strong safety spot that allows him to wreak havoc at the line of scrimmage and in opposing offenses' backfields (Lewis has the game to vie for time here as well). But back at the last-resort spot of free safety, the 'Noles saw the departure of the top two on the depth chart, Lamarcus Brutus and Keelin Smith. This is another spot where Lewis could challenge, but keep an eye on sophomore A.J. Westbrook, too. Westbrook looks to have put some good weight onto his 6-0 frame and could very well be north of the 182 at which he's listed. Sophomore Calvin Brewton (6-0, 181) will also join the safety competition. Senior Nate Andrews (6-0, 210) has more career starts than any other FSU DB (18) and looks to be in line to reprise his role at the money position-- free calls for a bit more range than Andrews features. Like Andrews, Trey Marshall is also best near the line of scrimmage, and he figures to return to the star position, where he excelled before an injury shortened his 2015 season.

The Seminole secondary that will take to the practice field this spring has a nice balance of experience and youth. In addition to Andrews, White (13), James (8), and Marshall (6) have all started multiple games. On the other hand, Jackson, McFadden, and Westbrook have tallied scant defensive statistics in single-digit appearances, while Lewis, Brewton, and Green have yet to register an entry in the FSU defensive ledger. Which veterans step up to lead the uninitiated will certainly be an important storyline, both this spring and as the 2016 season approaches.