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FSU football spring practice midterm evaluation: Defense

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A progress report for the Seminole defense.

Derwin James
Derwin James
Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Spring practice always presents a number of questions. And, on occasion, it even answers a few as well. We're eight practices in, with six more and the Spring Game still to come. Here's what we've learned so far, and what remains to be seen.

Defensive Line

With the return of DeMarcus Walker and only one starter leaving, the defensive line will be the backbone of the Florida State defense. So far, the line has looked solid and has had a new participant in some practices with Derwin James getting some reps as he prepares for some special packages next season. Health wise, everyone with the exception of Lorenzo Featherston is currently practicing and there have not been any major injuries forcing anyone to miss extended time.

Josh Sweat continues to practice well and full, making the impression he does not feel any effects from an ACL injury which forced him to miss last spring. In all, the defensive line is looking pretty good and there should not be a change.

Linebackers

Perhaps the biggest question entering spring was what could be expected from Matthew Thomas, who would be back with the team fresh off a one-year suspension for an undisclosed violation of NCAA rules. Early on, the returns were questionable as he missed the open portion of one of the early practices with what was later disclosed as a simple cold. But outside of that single practice, Thomas has been a consistent attendee and contributor at practice, anchoring a linebacker unit that is desperately in need of a leader.

Sophomore linebacker Sh'Mar Kilby-Lane has been in and out of practice recently as he deals with a hip flexor issue but outside of that, the health of the LBs has been excellent.

Fisher made it clear in his press conference to open spring practice that he did not view the Seminoles' linebacker depth as a liability. At this point, that seems to be indeed true as there has been a good deal of praise shared towards Thomas, who has done a spectacular job of keeping himself in shape in his year off, and early enrollee Josh Brown, who is already a member of most special teams units, cementing some early playing time there if not at defense.

Ro'Derrick Hoskins, the only returning inside linebacker who played significant minutes in 2015, is well on his way to improving on his role from last year and Delvin Purifoy is back with the unit and trying to make his mark after rehabbing from a serious ankle injury. Tyrell Lyons has not made it back to taking part in drills yet as he recovers from a torn ACL but was fully dressed at Monday's practice.

With all of this considered, it would seem that this linebacker unit is possibly a bit ahead of schedule at the midway point of spring practice, a promising trend for the position group which may have been the most questioned before spring practice began.

Secondary

This unit looks to be a real bright spot for FSU. Everyone is aware of the talent of safety Derwin James, whose versatility has also seen him train with the defensive ends as a pass rusher. Jalen Ramsey's heir apparent at the boundary corner position could very well be sophomore Tarvarus McFadden, who has put on some fantastic weight to bulk up his frame to 6-2, 201. And sophomore Marcus Lewis (6-1, 196) gets in early as well, a promising result, since returning field corner Marquez White is out with a broken bone in his hand.

And don't neglect one of the more forgotten 'Noles of 2015, Trey Marshall. After playing the Star spot prior to injury in 2015, he's seen time back at safety this spring. The bottom line for FSU DBs this spring seems to be versatility, as cross-training appears to be a real emphasis early on, which really speaks to these players' diversity. Nate Andrews looks to reprise his role in the dime-back spot as well, lending valuable experience as the only 'Nole defender to register in the stat sheet against Auburn when FSU won the 2013 national title.

Special Teams

The special teams unit only has one of the two new freshmen on campus with Ricky Aguayo enrolling early for spring practice which has seem to paid off. Aguayo is getting some much needed reps and experience with the team in advance for next year where he will more than likely be the starting kicker. In practice on Monday, he drained a 50-yard field goal, showing that he is more than ready. Punter Jonathan Hernandez is filling in nicely until Logan Tyler comes to campus this summer where he will presumably take over.

The 'Noles are also still waiting on their punt returner as five-star signee Levonta Taylor finishes up his high school education. For the time being, it was a little interesting seeing Ermon Lane returning punts however it is highly unlikely he sees any time there during the regular season. At kick returner, Kermit Whitfield continues to return, and barring any unforeseen circumstances, will hold that position through spring and into next season.