Photo credit: Bill Pearce/Florida State athletics
Florida State had a lot of preseason hype in the defensive trenches in 2020. What should have been a dominant line often found itself bullied on the field.
The Seminole defensive front had trouble getting pressure and could not consistently stop the run. The pass rush unit finished the 2020 season ranked 113th nationally.
There’s plenty of room for this roster to show its worth after several players left or entered the NFL Draft. Defensive coordinator Adam Fuller builds his defense around the effectiveness of its line, so it will need to step up in a big way in 2021. Whether Florida State wins or loses games is going to hinge on this unit.
Let’s take a look at the familiar faces and new additions for FSU’s defensive line:
There is little need to worry about Florida State’s defensive tackle situation. Despite losing stud tackles Cory Durden and Marvin Wilson, the Noles return a wealth of experience and skill at the position. Defensive line coach Odell Haggins has a knack for developing quality depth, and this year is no different.
Robert Cooper and Fabian Lovett are returning after managing to produce despite the defensive woes. The duo was responsible for a combined 29 tackles last year and look to be starters in 2021. The position is also returning a solid rotation consisting of Tru Thompson, Dennis Briggs Jr., Jarrett Jackson, and Malcom Ray. These four saw extensive action in 2020 and will benefit from a full offseason in Fuller’s system.
A large contributor to the poor performance of FSU’s defensive line was its defensive ends. The exterior of the line continuously showcased its inability to get to the quarterback or contain the run. The Seminoles lost starting ends Janarius Robinson and Joshua Kaindoh this offseason. With the majority of the previous season’s production gone, head coach Mike Norvell has looked to the transfer portal.
The Seminoles return four freshmen from last year who saw action in limited capacity. Josh Griffis, Derrick McLendon II, TJ Davis, and Quashon Fuller are all vying for a spot in the rotation after all but Davis saw the field in 2020. FSU’s only other returning player is redshirt senior Leonard Warner III.
The former linebacker saw action in eight games last year but was most productive with his hands in the dirt. He has found a spot on the depth chart as a defensive end and hopes to have a breakout final year.
The Noles are welcoming two defensive tackle recruits this season in freshmen Liam McCormick and Joshua Farmer. Farmer was Gadsden County’s first All-Big Bend recipient and has a high floor. McCormick put up impressive stats at IMG Academy during his senior season of high school, tallying 31 total tackles. Both freshmen likely will not contribute right away, but have incredible potential to become something great.
Two big names have made their way to Florida State’s campus to instantly improve the defensive line play. South Carolina transfer Keir Thomas and Georgia transfer Jermaine Johnson II are set to make huge impacts at the position. Thomas has freakish speed and agility for someone who is 6-foot-2 and 275 pounds. The redshirt senior played five seasons at South Carolina and recorded 142 tackles with 8.5 sacks in 47 games.
On the other side is Johnson, an explosive athlete who tallied 36 tackles and 7.5 sacks in his 21 games at Georgia. These two transfers bring the experience and talent needed to instantly raise the ceiling of the defensive line.
Florida State had a rich 2020 recruiting class in terms of defensive ends. FSU brought in four 4-star freshmen that will benefit from a year in the weight room and Fuller’s system. Patrick Payton, Shambre Jackson, Byron Turner Jr., and George Wilson Jr. are all poised to contribute sooner rather than later.
The transfer portal brought a last-minute addition as well in graduate transfer Marcus Cushnie. Cushnie is an agile prospect with surprising speed for his large frame. The talented transfer will likely break into the starting lineup in 2021.