Florida State has had consistent talent in the secondary, but constant issues have plagued its ability to be successful.
New defensive coordinator Adam Fuller and defensive backs coach (and defensive passing game coordinator) Marcus Woodson will try to succeed at maximizing the talent of an athletic but crowded defensive back room that in recent seasons has not lived up to its potential. It’s important to keep in mind that roles are fluid as the staff tries out different combinations this spring and some players may be in different roles come fall camp.
Fuller likes to use a 4-2-5 defense, and he has three hybrid roles, one for each level of the defense — there’s the Fox on the defensive line, the Stud at the linebacker level, and finally we get to the Buck in the secondary.
Fuller’s Stud is primarily a linebacker role, but it has some slot coverage responsibilities generally reserved for nickel corners. Athletic linebackers Amari Gainer and Kalen DeLoach have spent some time this spring learning the position. But we mention it here because Jaiden Lars-Woodbey, who redshirted last year after suffering a season-ending injury in the fourth game against Louisville, seems like a natural fit for the Stud position and we may see him get some burn there as well.
However, Woodbey is currently training at the hybrid linebacker/safety Buck position, along with intriguing 6’2 sophomore Brendan Gant and fellow sophomore Raymond Woodie III. Gant, a former blue-chip recruit, played in all thirteen games last season, starting one, and recorded a season-high seven tackles in the Sun Bowl against Arizona State. Woodie played in ten games in a largely reserve role and notably forced a fumble against Arizona State.
Senior Hamsah Nasirildeen is arguably the heart and soul of the ’Noles secondary. Nas was always around the football last season and seemed to repeatedly come up big in crucial moments, often bailing out a struggling defense with Herculean efforts; he recorded games of 17 and 22 tackles and forced several well-timed turnovers. It’s no wonder he put up over 100 total tackles on his way to second-team All-ACC recognition and multiple ACC Defensive Back of the Week honors. Nas also seems like a fit for the Stud or the Buck, and while we could see him at either or both before it’s all said and done, safety allows Nas to fully showcase both his coverage and run fit abilities.
Next come the only other seniors in FSU’s secondary, Cyrus Fagan and Carlos Becker III, both of whom are still full of potential. A former composite four-star, the 6’1 Fagan started five games last year and flashed at times, including earning ACC Defensive Back of the Week against N.C. State last season. Becker was also highly rated but has struggled with injuries in his time at FSU. An early-season injury derailed his 2017 campaign and he missed all of 2018 and redshirted. Hopefully the injuries are behind him as Becker made his first two career starts down the stretch last season against Florida and Arizona State.
You might be surprised to see rising sophomore Renardo Green listed here instead of with the corners, and we’ll have to see if this sticks. Green played in all thirteen games last year at corner and was up and down, flashing exciting talent one play and struggling the next, but that’s to be expected from a true freshman.
Akeem Dent is currently injured, but we expect him to roll with the corners once he’s healthy. Last season Dent also flashed; the 6’1 Pahokee standout was often around the ball but could never quite seem to finish the play, notably dropping several interceptions. Still, he had 35 tackles and seven pass breakups, which led the ACC among true freshmen.
Isaiah Bolden is one of six sophomores in the secondary this season. After redshirting in 2018 the former track star put his explosiveness to use in 2019 on both defense and special teams, appearing in all thirteen games last season. Bolden’s 6’2 194 lb. frame should serve him well on the boundary.
It might shock you, but our last boundary defensive back is also over six feet and explosive. The former consensus blue-chip Under Armour All-American Travis Jay stands at 6’2 and was rated a top-20 player at the position. His frame and freakish athleticism could pay huge dividends. Jay is still a bit raw, but his ceiling is extremely high.
The only actual junior in the room, Asante Samuel, Jr. started twelve games last year and recorded 14 pass breakups, which led the ACC. The 5’10 Samuel would likely be competing for the boundary spot if he were a bit taller, but what he gives up in height he makes up for in ball skills. They’re pretty much what you’d expect from the son of a former NFL first-team All-Pro and 2x NFL interception leader. Samuel, Jr. seems to have locked down the starting field corner spot.
But that doesn’t mean you should disregard his understudy, the redshirt freshman Jarvis Brownlee. Brownlee played against Clemson, Virginia, Louisville and N.C. State before redshirting last season.