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 linebackers.
Much-maligned going back as far as the Jimbo Fisher-era, linebacker depth has been a question at Florida State over an extended period of seasons. In 2022, after restructuring the room via attrition, talent development, recruiting, position changes, and the transfer portal, there’s a chance that the linebacker room could be one of the strengths of the defense moving forward.
Let’s break down the names.
The main name to know
Redshirt junior Kalen DeLoach
A year ago, the redshirt junior being the top name to know in the linebackers group wouldn’t have been unbelievable, but it would have darn well been shocking. A talented, blue-chip prospect coming out of high school, DeLoach flashed here and there but never quite got the chance to live up to his potential, finding himself losing stature in the linebacker room at the end of the 2020 season.
But after a big spring, great fall, and even better season, Savannah’s own now finds himself at the head of a revamped linebacker room that could very well be a strength of the Florida State defense in 2022.
DeLoach put in phenomenal work last season to elevate his game, becoming an essential part of the defense’s success, highlighted by a fantastic heads-up play that resulted in a safety vs. Boston College. If he can continue to elevate his game even further, the sky is the limit.
Redshirt junior Amari Gainer
A Tallahassee product, the redshirt junior has logged four years of experience with Florida State, a period of time in which he’s had two different coaching staffs, three different defenses, multiple position changes and still found time to showcase and take advantage of his talent, heading into 2022 as the Seminoles’ active leading tackler (193).
A move from STUD to WILL last year helped take advantage of Gainer’s physical talents, resulting in him being FSU’s highest-graded linebacker, per PFF.
Redshirt sophomore DJ Lundy
One of FSU’s other main returning starters behind Gainer and DeLoach, Lundy took a step forward in his second year at Florida State, solidifying himself as a key part of defensive coordinator Adam Fuller’s plan with the position group. A liability in pass defense, where Lundy (a former high school wrestler) shines most is in run defense. With the linebacker room starting to fill up some, is there a chance that Lundy could get some looks at the FOX position, occupied by Keir Thomas last season?
Redshirt sophomore Stephen Dix Jr.
Dix Jr. was thrown right into the fire his freshman year at Florida State, getting plenty of burn in 2020 due to youth of the team and personnel issues at the position — a blessing and a curse, as he struggled to keep up with the speed of the game freshly out of high school. After a season to sit back and soak in some knowledge, this spring will be a chance for Dix Jr. to showcase lessons learned.
Redshirt junior Jadarius Green-McKnight
Converted from safety last season, Green-McKnight didn’t get the chance to make an impact on the field, and will look to emerge as a possible rotational player in 2022.
Redshirt junior Brandon Gant
Gant could have just as easily been placed under new faces, as he’ll undergo the same transition this spring that Green-McKnight did in 2021. FSU’s roster was updated to reflect that Gant, a safety, would be making the switch to linebacker, reflective of his strengths in run support.
The new faces
Redshirt junior Tatum Bethune
A UCF transfer who previously played under new FSU linebackers coach Randy Shannon, Bethune has the chance to step in and immediately make an impact for the Seminoles’ defense. He led UCF with 101 tackles last season and brings experience, talent and leadership to a room that could do with an infusion of it.
Freshman Omar Graham Jr.
The lone linebacker high school signee of the 2022 recruiting class, Graham Jr. brings with him raw talent that saw him earn first-team All-State honors for his 102-tackle 2021 performance. He mainly played off the edge in high school, and could potentially have a future at the FOX position or, alternatively, on the line as a true edge.