How Does FSU Rebuild the Defense?

Florida State lost four highly rated players to the NFL from the 2014 defense. Who replaces them and what does their loss mean for the 2015 defense?

The Florida State defense didn’t lose any starters to graduation, but four left early for the NFL and were drafted in the first three rounds. How does the defense look without them?

Defensive Line

Losses: Mario Edwards Jr., Desmond Hollin, Eddie Goldman

Returning: Demarcus Walker, Lorenzo Featherston, Jacob Pugh, Rick Leonard, Giorgio Newberry, Chris Casher, Derrick Nnadi, DeMarcus Christmas, Nile Lawrence-Stample, Derrick Mitchell Jr., Arthur Williams, Fred Jones, Adam Torres, Keith Bryant,

Additions: Josh Sweat, Darvin Taylor

What FSU has to replace on the Defensive Line:

Losses

Mario Edwards

Eddie Goldman

Desmon Hollin

Tackles

44

35

33

Sacks

3

4

0

TFLs

11

8

4

Batted Balls

5

1

0

Florida State only lost three players on the defensive line, but two of the three were the best players at their position. Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman both left early for the NFL and were selected in the second round. The three players Florida State lost from 2014 accounted for 42.3-percent of the tackles, 70-percent of the sacks, and 54.1-percent of the tackles for loss by defensive linemen last season. Two of those players didn’t live up to the expectations set for them in 2014, but what does that say about the rest of the roster?

Who Replaces Edwards and Goldman?

Florida State may actually be better on the defensive line despite those losses with the depth that they have compared to 2014. At defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi and Demarcus Christmas are both a year more experienced and veterans Derrick Mitchell and Nile Lawrence-Stample are both still on the roster. Keith Bryant, Arthur Williams, and Fred Jones are all capable defensive players as well.

At defensive end, Lorenzo Featherston and Jacob Pugh are the bright young stars. Demarcus Walker and Chris Casher are the veterans of the depth chart. Walker was very good during the spring and may have turned the corner. Rick Leonard also took advantage of injuries this Spring and made the most of his opportunity. With Josh Sweat coming in Chris Casher may be on the outside looking in of playing time.

Depth was a major problem for the 2014 defensive line, but that doesn’t look to be an issue in 2015.

Linebacker

Losses: E.J. Levenberry

Returning: Reggie Northrup, Mathew Thomas, Terrance Smith, Ro’Derrick Hoskins, Delvin Purifoy, Tyrell Lyons

Additions: Lorenzo Phillips, Sh’mar Kirby-Lane

What FSU has to replace at Linebacker:

Levenberry had minimal impact at linebacker so he’s not a major loss. He accounted for just 7.8-percent of the tackles and 8.3-percent of the sacks by linebackers last season. Since Florida State runs a base 4-2-5 it’s not something Florida State can’t recover from. However, it’s not about what Florida State is losing at this position. The linebackers took a major hit with injuries this spring, and only Tyrell Lyons and Roderick Hoskins were able to finish the spring. The Seminoles lost Ukeme Eligwe last season when he was kicked off the team, which left them very thin at the position.

How does FSU work around the injuries at Linebacker?

Reggie Northrup and Mathew Thomas could both miss significant time due to injuries, and Terrance Smith has a nagging foot injury that limited his play in 2014 and this spring. Florida State will depend heavily on JUCO linebacker Lorenzo Phillips, but at this point he is still finishing up some online classes and can’t fully participate. Delvin Purifoy is still sidelined with a foot injury that he suffered last summer so the options are very thin at this position. Smith will likely play through his turf toe and Northrup has a chance to be back by the first game. If he isn’t the Seminoles will rely greatly on Phillips to fill that hole.

Secondary

Losses: P.J Williams, Ronald Darby, Nick Waisome

Returning: Tyler Hunter, Marquez White, Ryan Green, Jalen Ramsey, Trey Marshall, Malique Jackson, Nate Andrews, Colin Blake, Keelin Smith, Lamarcus Brutus

Additions: Derwin James, Tarvarus McFadden, Marcus Lewis, A.J. Westbrook, Calvin Brewton

What FSU has to replace in the Secondary:

2014 Losses

P.J Williams

Ronald Darby

Nick Waisome

Interceptions

1

0

0

Passes defensed

11

4

0

Tackles

74

43

3

Tackles for Loss

6.5

1

0

Florida State lost both starting corners from last season, and, although they had a decline from the 2013 season, both were considered among the Top-5 corners in the country. Nick Waisome did not play much after a decent sophomore campaign due to his size. Williams and Darby accounted for 31.2 percent of the passes defensed by the secondary. If you just consider their stats against the other corners on the team that jumps to 100-percent. No other corner had more than 3 tackles and none had a single pass break up or interception.

Who replaces Williams and Darby?

The good news for Florida State is that there’s this guy named Jalen Ramsey who’s still on the roster. He started out his career at corner, but moved to safety and then to star the last two seasons. This season he’s taking Williams spot at corner. Ramsey led the secondary in passes defensed, tackles for loss, sacks, and forced fumbles in 2014.

That leaves one open cornerback position, which, at this point, belongs to Marquez White. He beat out Ryan Green and Malique Jackson for the job in the spring. This summer he will have some new candidates for the job with two highly rated freshmen showing up on campus in Tarvarus McFadden and Marcus Lewis. White has the most experience of the group playing in 12 games last season, but that was mostly on special teams.

With Ramsey moving over there’s a hole to fill at the star position and Trey Marshall has stepped into that role very well. He played there last season during the ACC Championship game after Darby was hurt and Ramsey moved to corner. Veterans Tyler Hunter and Nate Andrews man the safety positions, but Andrews has to be looking over his shoulder at true freshman Derwin James.

Overall

Florida State should benefit from a better pass rush this season and from better depth on the line. Lack of a pass rush last season, just 17 sacks, caused major issues for the secondary and linebackers. Fixing that has been the number one priority for new defensive coach Brad Lawing.

The linebacking unit is a major concern at this point with very little depth and questions as to who will be able to play due to injury. Right now there are three linebackers who can play the position for Florida State. One has a lingering toe issue, one was converted to defensive end and is now back at linebacker, and the last is still listed as a safety on the roster. Florida State plays two linebackers in a lot of their sets, but with only three healthy players taking reps that unit could tire out very quickly. They will need Phillips to come in and immediately produce, and could need Kirby-Lane to do the same.

The secondary will still be extremely talented, but there will be some bumps. Jalen Ramsey is an elite player and will lock down one side of the field, but the other side has some major questions. Whoever wins that job will be targeted early and often this season and will need to step up big. If Derwin James isn’t the starting safety ahead of Nate Andrews at the start of the season, he will be by midseason. He’s just too talented to keep off the field and Florida State can put Andrews back in his original money role where he was very successful.

The defense as a whole have major questions, but will benefit from hungrier players taking over in key positions. This has the potential to be a Top-15 defense, but will need someone besides Ramsey to step up. That hasn’t happened yet.


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