Photo courtesy of Bill Pearce/Florida State athletics
Let’s be honest: Florida State’s linebacking corps had an abysmal 2020 season.
It seemed as though everything that could go wrong went wrong for the Seminoles. The unit consistently missed gaps, blew assignments, and whiffed on tackles.
There is reason to have some hope for FSU’s linebackers for the upcoming year. The Seminoles have had a full offseason to dial in and learn the defensive system, which should result in more consistency. In addition, the unit lost zero players to attrition this offseason.
Let’s look at who the Noles return and who they’re getting at linebacker:
Redshirt sophomore Amari Gainer and redshirt senior Emmett Rice were the two diamonds in the rough in 2020. This duo is shaping up to be the primary starters in defensive coordinator Adam Fuller’s 4-2-5 system. Rice took a while to become a contributor at FSU, but since 2019, has been a leader on defense.
The reliable defender tallied 134 tackles and two sacks over the past couple of years and had a solid spring. Gainer, on the other hand, is the kind of mean linebacker you’d expect to play for an FSU defense. He has some room to grow in terms of reading and reacting, but tallied 134 tackles and four sacks in his two full years. Gainer and Rice will be solid starters for the Noles, but the key to their success will be staying healthy.
The rest of FSU’s current linebacker corps can be described as overhyped and underdelivered. Sophomores Kalen Deloach and Jaleel McRae were highly-touted recruits in 2019 but have yet to find solid spots in the rotation. Junior DeCalon Brooks has mostly been a liability and likely won’t be seeing a lot of snaps this season.
Redshirt freshmen DJ Lundy and Jayion McCluster have spent their time mostly developing and have not contributed much on the field. Stephen Dix Jr. has been a rare bright spot for the Noles, tallying 44 tackles as a true freshman. If he can develop his grasp on the playbook and decision-making, he has the athleticism and physicality to be a great linebacker.
Florida State’s defense would greatly benefit from finding a plug-and-play transfer linebacker like it did at defensive end. That hasn’t happened yet, so FSU’s 2020 class brings in just two freshman recruits to work with.
Jordan Eubanks, a three-star safety from Texas, still needs to put on weight to play at the linebacker position. His potential is exciting, however, because his time as a safety has given him the coverage ability to be versatile at his new position.
The second to arrive in the 2020 class is Shyheim Brown, a three-star recruit from Lake City, Fla. Brown tallied 77 tackles during his senior season of high school and contributed on special teams. His experience at special teams will allow him to see the field sooner rather than later.