In the days of old, Florida State’s defensive line was among the most feared units in college football.
With names like Timmy Jernigan, Ron Simmons, Peter Boulware, and Corey Simon, FSU has fielded some of the biggest, baddest, and nastiest defensive linemen in ACC history.
But in the past few years, FSU has failed to control the line of scrimmage in the same manner. Just look at last season, when the Seminoles allowed Notre Dame to rush for 365 yards in a blowout loss in South Bend.
Is this the year when FSU’s defensive line returns to form?
Florida State’s defensive line returns two major contributors from last season in Marvin Wilson and Cory Durden.
A Top-10 recruit, Wilson established himself as an All-ACC player as a sophomore in 2018. While the defense struggled at times, Wilson was a playmaker at defensive tackle and proved to be a legitimate NFL talent.
Durden was a rotational player in his first season of play, but showed flashes of his talent. Both players are 6-foot-5 and over 300-pounds, making them one of the most physically intimidating duos in the ACC.
In FSU’s base 3-4 look, Wilson and Durden will be joined inside by sophomore Robert Cooper.
Cooper came to FSU as a bigger player, listed somewhere north of 380 pounds. However, he has worked to reshape his body this offseason and is registered at 346 pounds in FSU’s official roster.
Cooper is the perfect nose tackle in FSU’s 3-4 defense. He is a space eater and will work to clean up lanes for linebackers to make a play in the run game. When FSU moves to nickel and dime looks, Cooper will come off the field for an extra defensive back.
With the departure of Brian Burns, Florida State is desperately searching for a pass rusher.
The two players tasked with replicating Burns’ production are juniors Janarius Robinson and Joshua Kaindoh.
Robinson is a former four-star recruit who came to FSU as a raw prospect. He racked up 27 tackles and three tackles for loss last season and will be given every opportunity this year to establish himself as a starter.
Kaindoh, on the other hand, was a Top-10 recruit coming out of high school. But the former IMG Academy product has been plagued by injuries so far in his career, which has limited the impact he’s been able to make.
In fact, Robinson is listed as the starter over Kaindoh on FSU’s depth chart simply because the latter hasn’t been able to practice this fall.
If Kaindoh is healthy, then maybe he can blossom into the impact pass rusher he was billed to be. If not, then it’ll be up to Robinson and Leonard Warner (whom we discussed in the linebacker preview) to provide FSU with pass rush coming off of the edge.
With the recent news of Ja’len Parks’ medical retirement, the duty will fall upon a few freshmen players to provide backup duties.
Malcolm Ray is a true freshman who has already reshaped his body prior to enrolling in Tallahassee. He is a player who will contend for snaps behind Wilson and Durden in the interior.
Quashon Fuller is another true freshman who will push for snaps in the defensive end/outside linebacker role. FSU will be in a good place if it can find a solid rotation between Robinson, Kaindoh, and a third player.
Finally, Tru Thompson is a freshman who enrolled early who might be able to contribute behind Robert Cooper. The nose tackle role will be limited to when FSU plays its base 3-4 looks, but the Georgia native will see some snaps this season.
FSU’s defensive line has all the talent to become a top unit in the ACC.
You’d be hard pressed to find a better starting three than Wilson, Cooper, and Durden, but the depth behind them needs to step up as well.
The real question mark is at pass rusher, where the responsibilities fall to Robinson and Kaindoh to provide support off the edge.
If FSU can get a decent pass rush this season, it would make life that much easier for the rest of the defense.