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2022 FSU position previews: Defensive line

Despite losing their leaders, the DL is poised to shine in ‘22

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 26 Syracuse at Florida State Photo by Logan Stanford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As the start of the 2022 Florida State Seminoles report for the start of fall camp, we’re continuing our breakdown of FSU’s position groups. From the known commodities to the unknowns looking to break out, we’ve got a look at all the players you need to know.

Next up, FSU’s defensive line. which was a powerhouse unit in 2021 thanks to first-round pick Jermaine Johnson along with major contributions from Keir Thomas. Between a mix of experience and a new transfer portal pickup, the Seminoles’ will look to maintain the trenches as a strength of its defensive attack.

Florida State Seminoles football: Defensive line

Main name to know

DT Fabian Lovett, redshirt junior

The top name on this roster outside of the quarterback position, Fabian Lovett is going to be the leader of the FSU defense this season. That statement backed up not only by his play and experience on the field, but head coach Mike Norvell’s choice to bring him to ACC Kickoff as one of the three faces of the program.

Last season, this unit was the rock that everything on defense was built around. The star-like ascension of transfers Jermaine Johnson II and Keir Thomas turned this into one of the best defensive lines in the conference and the country. The pair finished 7th and 81st in the nation in sacks, combining for 1.5 sacks per game. An unreal level of production that gave FSU a puncher’s chance entering every game in 2021.

They both may be gone, but don’t sleep on Lovett’s impact in those stats.

At 6’4” 318 lbs, Lovett commands a lot of attention up the middle of that line. In his 11 games last season, he posted 4.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks, which was enough to earn him All-ACC honorable mention.

It’s tough to post large stats playing up the middle, but, with holes surrounding him on the DL, Lovett being an anchor at the core of that unit will be an enormous boost to a unit that will need to be productive again in 2022 for the Noles to take the next step.

If those stats do pop, FSU’s other pieces could find their footing with less resistance from opposing offensive lines, potentially putting this defense as one of the best units in the conference.

Returning players

DE Derrick Mclendon II, redshirt sophomore

We just talked about Florida State’s two big missing pieces from 2022 in Johnson and Thomas and the need for somebody — probably two somebodies — to fill that void.

The first guy who will likely be counted on to do that is Derrick Mclendon.

The former four-star defensive end saw limited playing time in 2019 and 2020, but he made appearances in all 12 games last season as a mainstay in the DL rotation. Now, instead of being a mainstay in the rotation, he’ll be looked at to lead it. But he’s certainly not shy of embracing that role.

He’s certainly flashed the skills to be an elite defensive end. Last season, he managed 4.5 tackles for loss with 3.5 sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. That sack total made him the only player on the roster outside of Johnson and Thomas to reach more than two sacks.

The key though will be consistency. Can he up the production while taking on a larger role for the defense?

DT Robert Cooper, redshirt senior

The other returning stalwart on this line is big defensive tackle Robert Cooper. Between Cooper and Lovett, the Noles will have loads of size and experience up the middle.

Cooper, while not having the reputation Lovett has built for himself, has become a reliable stalwart along the defensive line. He appeared in all 12 games a season ago, starting 10 of them and earning All-ACC honorable mention as well. The 6’2” 335lb DT posted just half a sack and 4.5 tackles for loss on the season in that time though, but he was able to post more than two dozen pressures.

If he’s able to turn even half 25% of those into sacks, Florida State’s defensive line becomes even more wildly dynamic. If not, he’s at worst big body that can get pressure and be a stabilizing force in the middle of this line.


DE Jared Verse, redshirt sophomore

Is this the next great emerging superstar?

In his very short time on the roster, nobody has built more buzz than the Albany transfer Jared Verse. With the success of Johnson and Thomas after their arrival through the transfer portal, Verse immediately got showered with expectations and it’s easy to see why.

He’s got the right build — 6’4” 248lbs almost identical to Jermaine Johnson — and was extremely productive in his last stop. In two seasons that totaled 15 games, Verse recorded 74 tackles with 21.5 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks, 15 quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles at Albany. Last season alone, he recorded 53 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks and 13 quarterback hurries.

The eye test says star in the making. But he’s also about to take a big leap in competition.

Though, there are even examples of him shining bright against ACC foes as well.

If he shined this bright surrounded by FCS talent, could the FCS freshman All-American be poised to explode onto the scene in 2022? Florida State surely hopes so and it seems like lots of other major programs think so too as LSU, Florida, USC, Oklahoma, Auburn and Miami were all in on him in the transfer portal.

And to quiet all doubts, Fabien Lovett checked off the last box on Verse last week. Yes, Verse does have that dog in him.

This unit is easily the strongest on the team thanks to this group of potential stars. They all have the ability to be playing on Sundays in the future and that’s nothing something you can say about any other unit on this roster. Meaning this defense will only go as far as this DL can take them.