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Florida State football: 2021 linebackers spring preview

Who will take the reins for the Seminoles?

Don Juan Moore

2020 did not progress the way that most Florida State Seminole fans hoped, especially, at the linebacker position.

It was a younger group that never really took a step forward but did see the emergence of redshirt senior Emmett Rice, a pleasant surprise and one of the only true glimmers of hope in 2020. Coach Chris Marve is at the helm of the LB position and is a rising star in the profession — but he needs to get the young LB’s up to speed.

Again, the 2021 spring is going to be a bit of a transition as FSU is going to run more nickel looks defensively. Some are dubbing this a move to the 4-2-5 but FSU was already playing quite a bit of that. Instead, there will be less “big nickel” as defensive coordinator Adam Fuller has dubbed it. Expect to see just two LB’s on the field this spring and fall. Reads and fits should stay mostly the same for the two interior LB’s.

This is a group looking to take a jump in 2021. With a veteran leader and plenty of young talent in the wings it will be important for the LB’s to become a steady force. Plenty of question marks up and down the depth chart but vast potential.

2021 Florida State Seminoles Linebackers

Tomahawk Nation Projected Starters

Mike LB: Redshirt senior Emmett Rice

Will LB: Redshirt sophomore Amari Gainer

Rice returns as the elder statesman of the position and Gainer brings plenty of experience (though not in the box). Rice should be a consistent force at the second level and a player that leads the FSU defense. Gainer has a lot of questions to answer as an interior player but possesses the traits a coach looks for.

Both players are fluid and fit the modern defense which looks to defend the run-pass option (RPO). Expect a point of emphasis to be placed on reading RPO action and defending it with second-level defenders.

Rice and Gainer are starting somewhat fresh at new positions which makes this spring significant. Reps on the field and film to breakdown will do Rice and Gainer wonders come the fall. Both players need to make their fits and roles to be second nature and that happens through hundreds and thousands of snaps. Stay healthy and learn is the name of the game for these two.

Returning Players

  • Redshirt freshman Stephen Dix Jr.
  • Redshirt freshman D.J. Lundy
  • Redshirt sophomore Kalen DeLoach
  • Redshirt sophomore Jaleel McRae
  • Redshirt senior DeCalon Brooks
  • Redshirt senior Leonard Warner III
  • Redshirt freshman Jayion McCluster

This group of players is intriguing on the surface. — youth, experience, size, and speed mixed throughout the depth chart at both interior LB positions.

This list also comes with serious question marks, since heading into last spring we were all excited about the potential of this group and it was show over fall that nobody ever truly took reigns of the position.

  • Dix Jr. and Lundy will push for starting spots as the talented redshirt freshmen saw plenty of action last year. The biggest question mark is can they fit in the modern game?

We saw Dix Jr. and Lundy struggle in space last year so a spring of RPO reps will help them both. Both players are good coming down hill and flashed when blitzing but they have to improve against the pass. The jump made by players from their first to second years is traditionally big so can Dix Jr. and Lundy make a similar jump?

  • DeLoach is a talented player who found his name at the top of the depth chart to start last year. Quickly he found his way to the bench though and seen mostly on special teams. Where is DeLoach’s head at heading into his redshirt sophomore year? One of the better space linebackers on the roster but how does he fit inside? Is he big and physical enough to handle the box? If he can answer these questions with “yes” it would be a big win for the FSU defense.
  • Jaleel McRae was in and out of the lineup early and then found himself relegated to the bench. We all remember the spring that McRae had his freshman year though. Can he find that magic again? Another player who needs to prove himself in space.
  • Is Warner III a LB or a defensive end? Listed as a LB on the official roster but a player who moved up to the “Fox” role last year. After putting his name into the transfer portal and then taking it out, Warner is one of the more experienced players in the group.
  • McCluster is a player trying to find a home. A physical player who seemingly outgrew the safety positon. Does FSU keep the “Stud” position around and matchup against pro style offenses with the big nickel? Is that McCluster’s home? This is a player to watch moving forward as FSU tries to improve against the space race.

Stay tuned to Tomahawk Nation all week long as we preview each position unit before the start of Spring Practice on Mar. 9.