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Florida State Position Preview: Defensive Line

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No room for excuses

Syracuse v Florida State Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

As we approach the start of the 2021 football season, Tomahawk Nation is breaking down each position group on the Florida State Seminoles football team. First we covered running backs, then the offensive line, and then special teams. Today, the Defensive Line.

Florida State Football’s defensive line saw a rocky 2020 and outcome that left many unsatisfied. Repeatedly, we saw the defense fail to stop the opposing teams’ run and what seemed to be the collapse of our defensive line. Players left and many were drafted, leaving Norvell and staff with gaps in positions and issues that needed to be addressed immediately.

With the return of play makers like Fabien Lovett and the acquisition of talent from the transfer pool and new recruits, Florida State’s defensive line is set to show major improvement, not just in their performance but also their attitude on and off the field.

Defensive Tackles

The defensive line lost some big names, but leadership and experience were maintained with the return and retention of core members. Fuller’s defense is built around aggressiveness so blitzing the opposing quarterback and improving their pass rush is necessary if they are to have a successful season.

Returning

Robert Cooper (Junior)

Standing at 6’2” at 332 pounds, blue chip player Robert Cooper was awarded Jimmy Rogers Jr. Most Valuable Lineman Award in 2019 for his performance at the Sun Bowl. He appeared in 8 games in 2020, collecting 15 tackles and one pass break up. Cooper made do on several opportunities against opponents on defense recording a season high of four tackles in the season open against Georgia Tech and three tackles in a 56-35 win versus Duke. He will for certain be the starting nose tackle as he has taken many steps and efforts to not only transform his body but mindset on the field. Which is great, since the energy and support he brings combined with ability and skillset will allow for others on the defensive line more one on one opportunities.

Dennis Briggs Jr. (Redshirt Sophomore)

Briggs Jr. saw 5 games in 2020 but made a lasting impact in his season debut versus No.5 North Carolina in a 31-28 win for the Seminoles. Briggs Jr. had a season high three tackles and one quarterback hurry against the Tarheels, earning FSU’s Defense Most Improved award. Like Cooper, Briggs Jr.’s numbers from 2019 were completely different with his time at Boston. Though, now with a full year under Fuller’s defense, expect to see his number making big stops on the field soon.

Fabian Lovett (Redshirt Sophomore)

Transferring from Mississippi State, Lovett appeared in eight games and managed to collect 14 tackles, 1.5 that accounted for a loss and 1 sack. Considered the “Best of the Bunch’, Lovett had a career-high five tackles at North Carolina for a win. Lovett is another player on the line who has had experience under Fuller’s defense. He will for sure be a fun play maker to watch and a leader on the field for new and younger talent.

Jarrett Jackson (Redshirt Sophomore)

Considered at one point as one of the best defensive linemen in his recruiting class, Jackson seems to be accustomed to greatness. Nephew of former NFL Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson, Jarrett is set on making his own legacy here at FSU. He started as a defensive end during his true freshmen season at Louisville but after a coaching change, entered the transfer portal. Upon his arrival to FSU, he saw little time on the field but his FSU debut versus Duke resulted in a solo tackle in the Seminoles’ 56-35 win. Expect to see great things from this player as he is determined to leave a statement on the field.

Tru Thompson (Redshirt Sophomore)

Seminole Scholar Thompson saw eight games in 2020, recording 7 tackles and 1 sack. True to his ability and performance from 2019, Thompson is a powerful defensive tackle, who was rated as a 4-star prospect in his 2018 recruiting class. He could very well be a standout in the classroom and on the field.

Malcolm Ray (Redshirt Freshman)

Though he only appeared in six games, Ray put up two solo tackles and stops. With more game time and the help of senior linemen, Ray should be on track for more opportunities.

Newcomers

Joshua Farmer (Freshman)

Farmer was a three-year starter at Gadsden County, earning the team’s first All-Big Bend recognition. A four-star versatile prospect that will have the opportunity to work under Fuller’s program with the help of veteran defensive linemen should allow him to deepen his skillset and play.

Liam Mccormick (Freshman)

Mccormick made 31 tackles, 1.5 sacks and had 5 quarterback hurries at IMG Academy. Standing 6’3” at 278 lbs. he has plenty of time and potential to grow into something major on the field in future seasons.

Defensive Ends

Coach Norvell and staff pulled in two big name transfers and clearly homed in on recruiting a versatile array of talent for this position. A win in retaining senior leadership may be the glue that allows this group to transfer a culture of strong defense to players who have plenty of production years under FSU.

Returning

Leonard Warner III (Redshirt Senior)

Warner had four starts and an appearance in eight games in 2020. He recorded 12 tackles and 1 quarterback hurry. Seminole Scholar, Warner chose to finish his Senior year with FSU after initially entering the transfer portal. Looking to improve on the new position, the former linebacker is sure to have a breakout year as his final goodbye.

Quashon Fuller (Redshirt Freshman)

The Seminole scholar appeared in only four games but managed to get 3 tackles under his belt. Fuller had play time against No.12 Miami last season, showing his determination and the hard work put in, to already earn a role in the defensive lineup. Hopefully, with more play time opportunities to showcase his full skillset will present itself.

Josh Griffis (Redshirt Freshman)

Seminole Scholar Griffis was eager to compete and challenge himself last season, earning the player early playing time. He appeared in seven games for 4 tackles, one of which was at No.12 Miami resulting in a minus five yards setback for the Canes. He is young and full of energy so that is nothing but potential ready to be converted into results.

Derrick Mclendon II (Redshirt Freshman)

Mclendon played all nine games last year! Which is great because his stats and performance got better with each snap that was taken. He ended the season with 7 tackles, 2.5 resulting in loses. Against Pittsburgh he had a season best of two solo tackles, but I would not be surprised if he surpasses that for 2021 since he has no problem with doing the work.

TJ Davis (Redshirt Freshman)

The redshirt freshman is returning for the 2021 season after working with FSU’s scouting team in last year.

Newcomers

Keir Thomas (Redshirt Senior)

The latest DE to transfer, Thomas is set to make a BIG difference for FSU’s defensive line. Bringing both the ability to pass rush and play on the edge, Thomas recorded 142 tackles, 8.5 sacks and 8 quarterback hurries in the 47 games and five seasons had at South Carolina. In 2020 he ranked second among teammates in tackles for loss and sacks which speaks to the good shot he has at playing start. Based on Tomahawk scouting reports Thomas’s role for FSU could take shape as a playing as a “big edge” or sliding inside as a penetrating 3 tech. His quickness, agility and are shown to be a great asset. That along with him standing at 6’2” and 275 pounds!

Jermaine Johnson II (Redshirt Senior)

This Georgia transfer has been referred to as explosive, talented, and the most important defensive player for Florida State! It doesn’t hurt that he talks a good game too with a great head on his shoulders. His time at Georgia saw him used as a pass rush specialist, collecting 36 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 24 quarterback pressures and 1 forced fumble. There is no doubt that he will be one of our most valuable players on field and he could be the extra ingredient we need to drive our defense and team’s success.

Marcus Cushnie

The Alabama A&M graduate transfer originally made a commitment to Purdue but after a full scholarship offer from Norvell and staff, he made the decision to come to Florida State. Described as a dominant force, Cushnie played linebacker during his first two seasons at A&M collecting 7 sacks, 27 tackles and eight QB hurries. When you look at his film, Cushnie shows his ability to rush with speed. A valued asset since agility coming in the package of 6’2” and 250 lbs. is hard to come by. He is also quick on his feet and getting off the ball, down the field. He will for sure be in the starting rotation this 2021 season.

Shambre Jackson (Freshman)

Jackson has a four-star record behind, ranked as nation’s 11th highest strong side defensive end by Rivals. No surprise that he earned District Player of the Year in his senior year. With the help of veteran players and under Fuller’s eyes, he could be a threat, soon for opponents.

Patrick Payton (Freshman)

Payton, another four-star recruit from Miami Northwestern is ranked No. 7 at his position in the nation. Eager to do the work Payton has so far added on 10-15 lbs. to his starting frame of 210 lbs. He is full of talent and potential and is another young star to look out for in the coming seasons.

Byron Turner Jr. (Freshman)

A young four-star recruit coming in at No. 20 nationally among weak side defensive ends, Turner has shown how disciplined he is in the weight room, a good sign for someone who hopes to be on the field as soon as possible. Working with Coach Josh Storms could result in us seeing a powerhouse soon once he reaches his goal weight of 250 lbs.

George Wilson Jr (Freshman)

Wilson is another four-star recruit who recently joined FSU’s defensive line. Coming in at 189 lbs., Wilson is now over 200 lbs. from his starting weight! Which will add a dynamic boost of power to Fuller’s arsenal. Which could be good news for FSU football since Wilson is ranked as the No. 12 weak-sided defensive end in the nation by 247Sports.

Projection

With the success had in recruitment and the transfer portal, Florida State’s defensive line no longer has room for excuses. It is dire that the talent acquired and obtained shows up and performs for the 2021 season. Anything outside of that would be unacceptable. After such a lackluster season where their pass rush ranked 113th nationally and they were 59th in allowing 2.48-line yards per attempt while only averaging 2.3 yards on standard down runs, they have no choice but to have a culture and attitude shift for the sake of the team and winning. This season is full of expectations that several consider as low for Florida State Football and with Fuller having a “full deck” any excuses or lackluster performances from the defensive line will not be tolerated. The players acquired and retained seem hungry and ready to make us forget about last season. The only thing that can be done, is allow them to show us through their play.

Editor’s Note: 2022 in last paragraph updated to 2021. Marcus Cushnie added to Defensive Ends Newcomers section.