This is a position where poor recruiting is perhaps the most noticeable. Coach D.J. Eliot would like four players to rotate at DE in order to keep the players fresh. Right now those players appear to be Markus White, Everett Dawkins, Brandon Jenkins, and Toshmon Stevens.
White(6-4, 262) played in all 13 games last year starting 12 of them, he registered 38 tackles, 10.5 of them for loss, and two sacks. The former JUCO National Player of the Year is expected to have a better season in 2010. The sack total must go up here as FSU DEs combined for just four sacks in 2009. White has double digit sack potential, he had 24.5 sacks at Butler which led the NJCAA in 2007.
The fresh start with Coach Eliot should invigorate White, in particular an increased emphasis on a player's read and alignment. Too often last year White seemed to be thinking too much out there. Don't be surprised to see White's athleticism used to drop back into coverage in an attempt to create more pressure on the QB by bringing different players on the pass rush.
Dawkins(6-2, 275) had a big Spring as he was constantly praised by the coaches. He played in 13 games last year, started seven, and totaled 14 tackles, 3.5 for loss, with one sack. His time was spent inside as an undersized DT due to depth problems. He does not possess the length nor athleticism of White, but there are signs that he has taken over a leadership role with this team and he is a very hard worker off the field.
In a perfect world, he would establish himself as a player that can be moved around the defensive line some based on the situation. The fear is that he is not moved around due to his versatility, but because depth becomes a problem. Regardless, he is certainly one of the guys who will be counted on to improve this defense.
Jenkins(6-3, 240) would be our candidate to lead the team in sacks. The explosive sophomore had three sacks in the Garnet and Gold game and seems poised to take the next step. Last year he played in 12 games and totaled 12 tackles with three for a loss.
His weight is the biggest concern, he is probably a year away from having the type of size that we are looking for. He has been reported as high as 250 this off-season, but it is more likely he will play in the 240 range. This defense is going to need players who step up and Jenkins is one of those that could really change the outlook of the entire unit with a big year.
Stevens(6-5, 235) played in 13 games last year but registered just two tackles. It was reported that Stevens has gained 13 pounds since the Spring and if so, that is welcomed news. He has the speed and athleticism to be an effective pass rusher, but his lack of bulk is a concern vs. the run. Continued progress in Vic Viloria's weight training program is really the goal this year for Stevens, but he will have to, at least situationally, provide depth to this unit.
Jamar Jackson(6-4, 250), Dan Hicks(6-4, 250), and freshmen Bjorn Werner(6-4, 260) are the depth. Jackson has never shown that he can play at a suitable level, thus it would surprise if he was more than just emergency depth. The junior had three tackles last year. Hicks redshirted and he would seem to be in position to earn himself some playing time this year. As with all freshmen Werner is going to need some time to adjust, he does have excellent size and analyst's from the Northeast(such as Matt Alkire) think he is going to surprise this year. That would be welcomed news.
A wildcard here is uber talented freshmen Darious Cummings. Seen as a little bit of a tweener right now, Cummings could have the opportunity to break into the rotation, perhaps at DE.
OVERALL: We are not going to be worse at DE in 2010, it is almost impossible to be as bad as this group was last year. How much improvement and how quickly? That remains to be seen, but if there is a position where we could ask for "everything to go right", we would choose DE. That means White shows his JUCO form, Jenkins displays why some think he can be a big-time player down the road, Dawkins makes plays all along the line, while Stevens gives us quality snaps. No serious injuries is a must for this group.
Three players are going to be counted on here in the rotation: Moses McCray, Jacobbi McDaniel, and Demonte McAllister. All three possess NFL potential, but finding quality depth behind this group is the first concern.
McCray(6-2, 302) missed the Spring with an elbow injury and tallied just 12 tackles in 2009. Entering his third year in the program, we expect him to be ready to be a force in the middle of the defense. Of the three, McCray has the best size and he will need to anchor the interior of the defense.
McDaniel(6-0, 287) was forced into action as a true frosh and he did not disappoint totaling 25 tackles and a sack. With a year of experience, more strength, and a better surrounding cast, he is in position for a strong season. McDaniel is just nasty inside with a tremendous feel for the position. He is just starting to reach his ceiling as a player and possesses big time potential down the road.
McAllister(6-2, 265) redshirted last year, thus is an unknown at the collegiate level. He showed dominant skills at the UnderArmour game his senior year where he was a man amongst boys at DE. He is expected to play inside however where his lack of bulk is a little concerning. Ideally he would have a big space eater next to him, but that appears to be a year or two away. McAllister should provide a push up the middle with his ability to get up the field. He will get better every game that is for sure.
As mentioned depth is a concern, JUCO signee Anthony McCloud(6-2, 302) has three years to play and he figures to earn a spot in the rotation this season after a strong Spring. His last time on the field was in 2008 where he registered 24 tackles and 5.5 sacks at Itawamba Community College. We like his size and word is that he has really taken the new strength and conditioning program; he is one who could surprise this year.
We think that if anything goes wrong injury wise with the four mentioned that Dawkins will see more time inside.
Freshmen Cameron Erving has long term potential, but figures to need some time to adjust. He had a big year last year with 98 reported tackles and does possess elite size. Damien Jacobs(6-3, 294) has not yet been cleared to join FSU, his future as of today is in doubt for 2010.
Walk on Joshua Rodriguez(6-0, 297) is a hard working player who has shown that he can provide depth.
Cummings could factor in here as well.
OVERALL: While the top four lack ideal size as a group, there is plenty of potential here and we are comfortable in saying that FSU is in better shape than year ago. With Dawkins ability to help inside, there is more depth and several players have next level potential. We expect some early season struggles from first year performer's McAllister and McCloud, but by the end of the year this should be one of the more solid units in the ACC. This group will be a strength in 2011.