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, next up was special teams; followed by the defensive line. Up today, the linebackers.
Florida State’s linebackers in 2020 played hard but they did not play well; whether it was missed gaps, blown assignments, or missed tackles whatever could go wrong did go wrong for the Seminoles. Yet there is a sign of hope for 2021: FSU returns every single lettermen from its 2020 group.
Year 2 in a system is usually when you see the most growth and FSU needs its group of experienced yet also young linebackers to be ready for a growth spurt.
Emmett Rice (Redshirt Senior)
The 6’2 227lb senior a serious sideline-to-sideline linebacker and has been FSU’s most talented off the ball LB for a while now but it took a minute for him to put it together. His first three seasons he played primarily on special teams but since 2019 he has been one of FSU’s most reliable second level defenders. 68 solo tackles including 12 tackles for loss over the last two years combined with a very strong spring has Rice poised to lead a bounce back year for FSU’s defense.
A knee-injury cut his strong spring short but he is expected to be full-go for the Fall and a leader in the middle of FSU’s defense. If all things go according to plan this will be his best season yet.
Amari Gainer redshirt-sophomore.
Gainer is a bit of fan favorite (which makes sense as he is from Tallahassee) and the redshirt-sophomore (covid free year) is entering his fourth-year in Tallahassee. At 6’3 232lbs Gainer first arrived as a rush end but has since transitioned into an off-the-ball role at linebacker. Physically imposing and impressive he was solid and sometimes very good in his first year reading and reacting but it was clear on film that he has plenty of room to grow.
Lucky for FSU fans Gainer is no stranger to hard work.
Stephen Dix, Jr. redshirt-freshman
FSU fans had reason to be excited about Stephen Dix, Jr. when he enrolled early and immediately started packing on the muscle. Dix arrived on campus and you could tell that he spent serious time in the weight room and that one is of a few reasons why he saw so many snaps last year as a true freshman.
17 solo, 44 total tackles including 3.5 tackles for loss led to him named to Rivals’ Freshman All-American team and the Devaughn Darling Defensive Freshman of the year award. FSU is hoping the mental ability will catch up with the physical ability.
Those are the three most productive of FSU’s returning linebackers. Next up are a couple of highly-touted recruits that are running out of time to live up to the hype.
Jaleel Mcrae-redshirt sophomore
Played primarily on special teams last season with one start. Mcrae is a player with the right attitude but his production simply hasn’t lived up to his talent. The 6’2 232lb former Under Armour All-Ameican was envisioned as someone who could play all three downs at FSU and despite a knee injury in HS he hadn’t lost any of his athleticism.
With no staff turnover hopefully the light will turn on for Mcrae.
Kalen Deloach-redshirt sophomore
Another highly recruited 2019 recruit Deloach arrived on FSU with coverage abilities that were perfect for facing modern offenses but unfortunately he has not played up to that ability just yet. Slightly undersized at 6’1 213lbs Deloach has to work on his physicality or he could find himself getting lapped even further.
Decalon Brooks-redshirt junior
One of FSU’s veterans Brooks’ spend most of his time on special teams these days. Brooks saw extensive playing time as a freshman but that was a result of necessity and not necessarily talent. The truth is unless something catastrophic happens injury wise Brooks will not be seeing a lot of starters snaps this season and as the consummate teammate he plays his role well.
DJ Lundy-Redshirt Freshman
Lundy is a special case because he saw snaps on both sides of the ball last year playing linebacker and at times fullback for FSU. His athleticism has to improve to become an every down player but the physicality and right kind of violence that he plays with immediately shows up on film. He’s sort of an old school player, an absolute thumper.
Jayion McCluster-Redshirt Freshman
McCluster spent the majority of last season on the scout team before playing vs. Duke in the season finale. He has gained 20lbs since he was a former three-star recruit and former under-armour All-American and earned the Scout Team Award. It would not surprise me to see him make a name for himself this season but for now his story is largely unwritten.
Jordan Eubanks, a three-star recruit from Guyer HS in Denton, Texas. He starred at safety in High School but is a linebacker at Florida State. He’s already up 12lbs since his senior season in high school and safeties that can grow into linebackers yet still maintain there coverage ability will find themselves gaining plenty of playing itme
Shyheim Brown, a three-star recruit from Columbia HS in Lake City, Florida. Same HS as former FSU great Timmy Jernigan. Brown did everything for Columbia that ended up one victory away from a 6A State title; he had 77 tackles. He returned kicks, he blocked kicks, he did it all and now he’ll be bringing that all-around athleticism to FSU.
How I feel going into 2021?
This is a group that should see an improvement in 2021 largely due to familiarity with the scheme and their second year in Adam Fuller’s defense. The guys ahead of them on the defensive line should be better with better depth and therefore they should have more opportunities to make plays. I’m expecting Emmett Rice to start but the truth is you have ten players competing for mostly two spots and the competition should be fierce.
Whomever comes out of it will be stronger and it will be good for FSU.