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Spring Position Previews: Defensive Line

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Deep in the middle; fresh faces on the edges.

Syndication: Tallahassee Democrat Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat / USA TODAY NETWORK

Ahead of Florida State football beginning spring football practice, Tomahawk Nation is diving in and breaking down the roster position group by position group. Today, we look at the defensive line.

Arguably, FSU’s most important position group in 2022 is the defensive line.

As you can see Bill Connelly’s returning production metric predicts a big step forward for FSU but is that enough to counter the lost of arguably FSU’s two most important pieces up front?

Defensive Tackles


The Starters

It’ll start with the leadership of FSU’s two returning starters at defensive tackle

Robert Cooper: Redshirt senior

Big Coop, FSU’s 338lb man in the middle returns to FSU for one more year following an impressive All-ACC honorable mention season with unfinished business. There’s not much new to learn about Cooper; he’s a stalwart in the middle that’s very hard to move off his spot and allows FSU’s linebacker to flow freely and quickly to the ball. He’s not the most gifted pass rusher but he has shown a propensity for crushing the pocket and not giving opposing QBs much room to climb the pocket with.

Fabien Lovett: Redshirt junior

Another All-ACC honorable mention returning for another year with FSU. This one was a bit of a surprise because I thought for sure would test the waters via the NFL Draft. A bit overshadowed by future NFL’ers Jermaine Johnson and Keir Thomas Fabien Lovett just might be FSU’s best player on defense; although there’s two players in our upcoming linebacker and defensive back previews that might have something to say bout that. I expect a jump in his numbers from a year ago where he has 28 tackles, 2.5 TFL along two sacks. He’s a tremendous, twitchy talent.

The Reserves

Melvin Ray: Redshirt sophomore

Ray came to FSU as undersized defensive tackle but after bulking up the first two years he really started to contribute late in the year. 10 games played, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks in 10 games played as a reserve. He’s one of the reasons FSU expects to have very good depth up front.

Jarrett Jackson: Redshirt junior

The transfer from Louisville took a year to acclimate to Tallahassee but he also saw action in 10 games last year. A notable presence in FSU’s pass rushing packages, the 6’6 308lb defensive tackle is one of FSU’s longest athletes up front and causes disruption when he comes in off the bench.

Joshua Farmer: Redshirt freshman

There’s not much known about him; he’s a 3-star class of 2021 prospect from Apalichicola, Florida. He early enrolled and came to FSU at 250lbs; he has since put on approximately 40lbs of what looks like good weight. It doesn’t always translate but i’m excited to see how that kind of work ethic in the weight room translates to the field this spring.


The Newcomers

Bishop Thomas: Freshman

A high three-star recruit that committed to FSU in June of 2021 and never wavered. Just my personal opinion but if he had played his senior he likely would’ve blown up as a recruit. A plus athlete with rare lateral agility and burst for his size; I’m looking forward to what he can do at FSU.

Daniel Lyons: Freshman

Another high three-star recruit that committed to FSU in July of 2021 and never wavered. Length and explosion is the name of his game and as FSU moves to more one-gap defense it will have the players inside to match it.


Defensive Line

Dennis Briggs: Redshirt junior

You probably noticed that there was a name missing from the defensive tackle group and that name was Briggs. At the moment Dennis Briggs is the leading man to replace Keir Thomas at the fox position in Adam Fuller’s defense.

Thomas should step in at the Fox position (the boundary side) and his role will be a little different. More emphasis on stopping the run will be placed on Thomas but when third down comes we will see him pin his ears back. Thomas greatest asset though could be his ability to slide inside and matchup against guards. Getting Thomas matched up on a slower player should benefit the ends as the QB will not have a pocket to step up into. This one gap mindset (we are going to dig into this more) also helps your blitz packages. Suddenly Keir Thomas has impacted two or three positions.

Just replace the word Thomas with Briggs and you get why you want a bigger defensive end there and at 6’4 280lbs Dennis Briggs fit the bill. He still has to recover from his season-ending injury last year but he has been a participant in Tour of Duty so far. I expect him to be ready for spring football but the potential for him to be held out is there.

Derrick McLendon: Redshirt sophomore

McLendon is the leading candidate to replace ACC player of the year and likely top 16 NFL Draft pick Jermaine Johnson. I listed Jermaine’s lofty accolades to remind everyone that McLendon is not Jermaine and that’s ok because he performed well enough last year to make his own mark. A primary backup he played in all 12 games last year and had 4.5 tackles for loss to go with 3.5 sacks. Strong with a high motor McLendon is ready for extended action.

Quashon Fuller: Redshirt sophomore

6’3 263lbs; Fuller is another reserve on the edge. Playing in 11 games last year and finishing the season with a sack. One of FSU’s highest rated recruits from Willie Taggart’s last class Fuller has to make a big jump in his play to see extended playing time because the young guns are coming.

Byron Turner Jr.: Redshirt freshman

6’4 248lbs; A three-star defensive end out of Louisiana. He spent all of last season on the scout team so there’s not much different to know about him since he signed.

TJ Davis: Redshirt sophomore

6’3 284lbs; a three-star defensive end from the class of 2020 and FSU’s Scout Team MVP. He’s another candidate for the Fox position if he doesn’t completely move inside.

Patrick Payton: Redshirt freshman

6’5 235lbs listed but internal sources have him being bigger than what he’s listed at. An early enrollee, the former four-star ‘21 recruit from Miami, Florida instantly took to the weight room the moment he arrived on campus and physically has put himself in a position to compete.

George Wilson Jr: Redshirt freshman

6’4 215lbs. A former basketball recruit; Wilson is probably the most athletic defensive end on FSU’s roster but he has a ways to go in the weight room before he’s ready to compete.

Shambre Jackson: Redshirt freshman

6’3 259lbs. A four-star recruit from the class of 2021 Jackson spent last season redshirting and playing on the scout team. An edge player in high school the assumption is that he would eventually grow into a defensive tackle at FSU. We’ll see what he does this spring.


The Newcomers

Jared Verse: Redshirt sophomore

A transfer from Albany and the Crown Jewel of FSU’s 2022 portal class. 10.5 sacks and a freshman All-American season last season resulted in everyone in the country basically wanting him once he hit the portal and FSU was able to land him. He hasn’t played a snap yet for FSU but he’s in the pole position to replace Jermaine Johnson as FSU’s most dominant pass rusher and all eyes will be on him this spring. He has big shoes to fill but his athleticism, his production, and his tape say that he might be capable of making a day one impact.

Aaron Hester: True freshman

A three-star recruit and a Seminole legacy; Hester enrolled early at FSU this winter. He committed to Florida State in January of 2021 and never wavered.

Dante Anderson: True freshman

A four-star recruit and a surprise addition to FSU’s 2021 class. A bit on the light side but a natural pass rusher out of south Florida. Teammate of FSU defensive tackle Daniel Lyons mentioned above.


Overview

The clear strength of FSU’s defensive line will be its defensive tackles. Five viable returnees including two all-conference type players in Fabien Lovett and Robert Cooper. It’s not unrealistic to expect dominance from both up front this fall and for both to lead the way, the right way, this spring.

The continued development of Melvin Ray, Jarrett Jackson, and Joshua Farmer and maybe one of the newcomers or reserves to step up will make a bona-fide three deep at defensive tackle. That hasn’t happened in a while.

Keir Thomas and Jermaine Johnson took over games last year and helped to keep FSU in a lot of one score games; pressure ruins game plans. You’re not going to be able to replace two NFL edge players (one being the conference player of the year) in one off-season or one spring.

FSU has a lot of new faces; especially on the edge and that’s good news. Four above average pass rushers can approach the production of two great ones if you keep them fresh and engaged. Does FSU have four above average pass rushers?

The potential is there for that to be true; it’s the coaches’ job to make sure it’s true.