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Previewing FSU football’s 2017 defensive backfield

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This secondary isn’t second to many.

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Florida State Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As with any preseason preview series, our position group breakdowns of the 2017 Florida State Seminoles detail a number of concerns— although not many reside in the ’Nole secondary. The FSU defensive backs are both talented and deep, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some questions that need answering as the season approaches.

The first such question concerns the cornerback spot. Tarvarus McFadden (6’2, 198) has the boundary CB position locked down, as he returns for his junior season after tying the national lead with eight interceptions last year. Promising sophomore corner Carlos Becker III (6’2, 183) has been spelling McFadden.

But a battle continues for the field corner spot, with the primary candidates being sophomore Levonta Taylor (5’9, 169) and true freshman Stanford Samuels III (6’2, 170), a pair of heralded recruits. The field CB spot tends to be a little more forgiving than the boundary position, as it’s on the wide side of the field, and the ball takes a little longer to get out there from quarterbacks.

This is the third straight year that the Seminoles return one highly celebrated corner and a bit of a question mark on the other side— although history has smiled on that unproven entity. In 2015, Jalen Ramsey was a known quantity at the boundary spot, and Marquez White had a breakout performance at field. White was then the given in 2016, when the unproven McFadden made his mark. Now, McFadden is the no-brainer, and the Seminoles will hope that either Taylor or Samuels will continue the trend. With McFadden’s proclivity for ballhawking, whoever wins the job will likely see his fair share of targets.

At FSU’s crucial star spot, versatility is key. A hybrid position that requires an athlete stout enough to hold up against the run, fast enough to cover, and smart enough to quickly diagnose plays, star is a demanding role. So it should come as no surprise that redshirt-sophomore phenom Derwin James (6’3, 211) has been seeing time at the position. James returns after missing the vast majority of 2016 with a knee injury, and you can expect to see him all over the field. That said, he’ll have the ability to affect more plays if he’s around the line of scrimmage, and Florida State rushed James frequently when getting its opponents into third-and-long situations. Impressive sophomore Kyle Meyers (6’0, 168) could play star on some of those passing downs.

Of course, James moving up from his free safety position can only work if the Seminoles remain steady on the back end. Senior Trey Marshall (6’0, 210) will get the nod at strong safety, and junior A.J. Westbrook (6’0, 186) has been seeing free safety reps. Of course, Marshall is suspended for the first half of FSU’s opener against Alabama, so the safety depth will immediately be tested. Fortunately for the Seminoles, they have experienced options, including the only DB remaining from Florida State’s 2013 national title team, Nate Andrews (6’0, 205), as well as senior receiver-turned-safety Ermon Lane (6’3, 209), who played meaningful defensive snaps and started four games last year while Andrews was injured.

Junior safety Calvin Brewton (6’0, 195) saw some time, too, but a new name could be one to keep in mind at the safety spot. Freshman Hamsah Nasirildeen (6’4, 210) has drawn rave reviews during fall camp, while fellow frosh Cyrus Fagan (6’1, 180) has missed time to have cartilage removed. Rounding out the scholarship DBs is rookie Ontaria Wilson (6’0, 175), who projects more as a corner at this point.

The defensive backfield experienced a bit of attrition in the offseason, as Marcus Lewis transferred and Malique Jackson was converted to wide receiver, but, overall, this is a very skilled position group that should be a strong point of a formidable defense.