The backbone of a National Champion

Did you know that the last 10 National Champions all had at least one player from their defensive line go on to be drafted into the NFL? It’s no secret, defense wins championships. And the guys that make some of the biggest impacts are generally a little less heralded than the star running backs or quarterbacks. A superstar quarterback generally will go as far as his offensive line can take him, and you can say the same thing about a defense as a whole. A defense will go as far as the defensive line will take it.

Luckily for Florida State, the Seminoles return one of the best defensive lines in the country led by senior defensive end and captain DeMarcus Walker. Walker absolutely broke out last season, he started in all 13 games and finished the year with 58 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, and 10.5 sacks. After the career year, Walker thought about entering the draft early but ultimately decided to return to Florida State to try and win a National Championship in his senior season. As one of the players on the team who isn’t afraid to take command, Walker is the leader and captain of the defense, and the likelihood of an improvement on his 2015 season should only take him to new heights as a player.

The other catalyst for this defense is physical freak Josh Sweat. He has bulked up from 230 to 250 and has actually improved his speed. As a freshman, many didn’t expect Sweat to play much or to the best of his abilities after a serious knee injury derailed his senior season of highschool football. However, Josh Sweat grinded out his rehab and recovered from his injury enough to become a contributor on the defense. After starting 10 games, Sweat notched 41 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, and two sacks. What’s crazy is if Sweat had been fully healthy, he likely would have finished a few more sacks. Entering the 2016 season, there is a lot of hype around Sweat, he is fully healthy and I expect him to have a monster year that could top DeMarcus Walker’s 2015 season. The duo of Walker and Sweat will be fun to watch during pass rushing situations this fall.

Now remember, the star defensive ends are only half of the four man unit that will help hold the defensive front for the Noles this season. Derrick Nnadi is entering his junior season, and he has blossomed into the strongest player on FSU’s team. It was reported that he is bench pressing 525 pounds, and squatting 750 pounds. Those are colossal numbers, and they are testaments to what Vic Viloria has done with the players in the weight room. Nnadi finished 2015 with 45 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks. His strength forces teams to double him which routinely opens up gaps for the linebackers and other linemen to make plays. The sky’s the limit for Nnadi if he continues to improve and get stronger.

Next to Nnadi is likely going to be redshirt sophomore Demarcus Christmas. He’s a guy who is flying a little bit under the radar, but he has the build of a solid prospect. At 6-4, and 308 pounds I expect Christmas to have a solid season in his first year as a starter. Offensive lines are going to be game planning to try and take away the impact that Walker, Sweat, and Nnadi bring to the game, so Demarcus Christmas is going to have to step up and make plays.

Behind the starting four are a few capable backups, a few concerns, and an outlook that is positive for the future of this unit.

Wally Aime was a junior college transfer that signed with the Noles in 2015, and he has already worked himself into the backup role right behind Nnadi and Christmas. Junior Jacob Pugh is the primary backup to Josh Sweat and is honestly a bit of a forgotten man, he will shine in pass rushing situations. And Brian Burns is my pick for the player that is likely to get the most burn as a freshman on the defensive line. Jimbo Fisher absolutely raved about Burns during media day and he seems to have added weight on his frame. He is a great pass rusher and is a guy who could become a solid contributor early in his career.

As for the concerns, it’s the overall depth of the defensive line. If Walker was to go down with injury, his current listed primary backup would be Adam Torres. Torres is a converted defensive tackle who switched positions after losing a bit of weight. At nose tackle, Fred Jones is currently listed as the backup and saw some snaps last season. He recorded 8 tackles and 1 tackle for loss, but is he ready for a bigger role? And the depth behind Jones is even murkier. Darvin Taylor, Arthur Williams and Cedric Wood are all young talents, but they need game time experience.

Despite a few depth concerns, it’s obvious that Florida State has an extremely talented defensive line, and that is even more amazing with how few seniors are listed on the depth chart. DeMarcus Walker and Justin Shanks, a reserve defensive tackle, were the only senior defensive linemen that were listed on the preseason depth chart. That means that FSU is still very young on the defensive front and we should only see improvement from this unit during the next few seasons.

The Noles have shown they are committed to bringing in quality defensive linemen and they have a built a solid backbone for this team, will that pay off in a National Championship season? We’ll just have to find out starting September 5th.


Dustin Lewis

Lead writer for NoleGameday. Majoring in English Editing, Writing, and Media at Florida State University. Writer for FSView Sports and Hashtag Basketball.

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