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2022 FSU position previews: Linebackers

Will the linebacker room take a step forward?

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

The 2022 college football season is quickly approaching and the Noles are getting ready to kickoff fall practice. Prior to the start of the season, we’ll breakdown each of FSU’s position groups to give a sense of where the depth chart is headed.

The Seminoles’ defense is looking dangerous, with proven leaders in the secondary and trenches, but the next level of success for the defense depends on the linebacker room and what they can do in 2022.

Florida State Seminoles football: Linebacker

Main name to know

Kalen DeLoach, redshirt junior

DeLoach took a massive step forward in 2021, finishing the season with one interception, one sack, two passes defended, and 69 total tackles. He completed the last game of the season against Florida with eight total tackles, which is one more than he had in the entire 2020 season.

From our profile on him earlier this month:

According to PFF, on the season, he missed just 10% of tackles (best amongst FSU’s linebackers) and was the Seminoles’ best linebacker in pass coverage and pass rushing. As far as production, he was second on the team in both tackles (52) and assisted tackles (50), highlighting his ability to not only create plays, but finish them.

The former blue-chip was an essential part of FSU’s defense last season, having the versatility to move in many different positions on the field but especially excelling in the box. His consistency led him to a heavy amount of snap counts in 2021 and that should only increase next season.

Returning players

Amari Gainer, redshirt junior

The redshirt junior is a popular figure in the city of Tallahassee, a hometown product who had his start on the football field just minutes away from Doak Campbell Stadium. The Tallahassee native notched one sack, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, two passes defended and 59 total tackles in his fourth year at FSU. After a strong 2019 season, Gainer hasn’t quite figured out how to consistently execute, being steady in the run stop and substandard in pass rush play.

Gainer had some of his best games against top-level talent including eight tackles and one sack against Wake Forest, one fumble recovery and one pass breakup versus Clemson, and seven tackles against NC State. The Seminoles need a more consistent Gainer next season, someone they can deeply rely on in short-field situations.

DJ Lundy, redshirt sophomore

There are a couple of Noles on this roster that have a chance to cement their names as prominent keys to success. Lundy had tremendous improvement from the 2020 to 2021 season. In 2020 he recorded just half a sack and 12 total tackles. The Georgia native pounced onto the scene in 2021, registering one sack, one fumble recovery, two passes defended and 69 total tackles, per ESPN. Despite an off night against Miami, Lundy played a steady game during the season, finishing off the year with one pass defended and nine total tackles in FSU’s season finale vs. Florida. If Lundy can take another step toward overall improvement, it’ll pay major dividends for the Seminoles’ defense.

Stephen Dix Jr., redshirt sophomore

After a successful 2020 season with the Noles, Dix took a massive dip in his production. In his first year with the Seminoles, he recorded three and a half tackles for loss and 44 total tackles, finishing third on the team in total tackles. Just one year after that, he added one pass defended and 14 total tackles. Dix certainly looks the part, currently listed at 6’2, 237 pounds. He’s thrived in the run game, but Dix is a streaky player — a big issue with the linebacker unit for years. This offseason gave Dix a chance to get even more accustomed to defensive coordinator Adam Fuller’s system, get coached up by linebackers coach Randy Shannon and continue to find his role within the defense. He was rushed into the lineup during his first year with the Noles, but hopefully, time will be Dix’s friend to help him improve.

Brendan Gant, redshirt junior

The former blue-chip prospect was recruited as a safety, but Gant will be included in the linebacker room next season. He’s currently listed at 6’2, 200 pounds. Gant had trouble in pass coverage as a defensive back in previous seasons, but he’s focused on working as a run support weapon in 2022. As a safety last season, Gant earned two starts while appearing in nine games for the Noles. He finished the season with one pass defended and 13 total tackles. He’ll no longer compete with Jammie Robinson and Akeem Dent for time on the field but he now has to wrestle for minutes in a seasoned linebacker room. Gant may not be the star of this group, but his eagerness to continue working in a Seminoles uniform should be respected.


Tatum Bethune, redshirt junior

Bethune has the chance to make the biggest impact out of any player in this position group. He transferred from UCF in the offseason after a solid career with the Knights. This will be Bethune’s fourth active year as a collegiate player, improving drastically in every season with UCF. In his final year with the Knights, Bethune sealed his UCF career with one forced fumble, two sacks, two interceptions, and 108 total tackles. While Florida State fans weren’t able to get a glimpse of Bethune in the spring game due to an injury, there’s growing hope in his ability to replicate his production with UCF.

He seems like the full package, with the ability to spread the field and be able to find room to attack against almost any offense. As a veteran linebacker with years of experience, Bethune knows how to play different schemes on the field and he had the chance to get accustomed to the Seminoles’ system during spring camp. While there might be some growing pains early on with the Noles, Bethune should be seen as another talented addition from the offseason.

Omar Graham Jr., freshman

The Seminoles haven’t had much success recruiting linebackers in previous seasons, although 2022 signee Omar Graham Jr. may prove otherwise. Graham wasn’t a highly ranked prospect in last year’s class but his willingness to learn and comfortability in his position were spotlighted during spring camp. He was quiet in terms of trash talk and never flaunted his big plays, and he’s already gained respect and props from the veterans for doing all the necessities and being well polished fundamentally. Graham may not get an overabundance of snaps in 2022, but if he continues to get in college shape and buys into the process, his time to make an impact may come sooner rather than later.