2017 Spring Preview: Defensive Backs

In recent years, many great players have come through Florida State’s secondary. Xavier Rhodes, Ronald Darby, and Jalen Ramsey among others have played defensive back for the Seminoles and gone on to play in the NFL. Florida State has a plethora of talent returning in the secondary and it will be up to the coaching staff to figure out how to utilize it. After a disappointing defensive effort last season, mainly due to injuries, fans will be eager to see how this secondary shapes out.

The conversation at defensive back has to start with the return of Derwin James (redshirt sophomore). After sitting out the last 11 games last season due to a meniscus tear, James is a full participant in spring practice. He will anchor Florida State’s defense from his free safety spot, a position that he racked up 91 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and five pass breakups at as a true freshman. There is no denying James’ talent and Florida State’s defense is a much better unit as a whole with him back in the fold.

One player that will be sitting out this spring is cornerback Tarvarus McFadden (junior). No worries however, as McFadden has already shed the brace from his shoulder surgery. This is mostly a precautionary move from the coaching staff. Besides, we already know a lot about McFadden, who tied for the nation’s lead in interceptions last season with eight. Standing at 6-2, 198-pounds, McFadden has prototypical size that the staff looks for in the boundary cornerback position. He had a phenomenal sophomore campaign and will look to improve his draft stock as a junior.

On the other side of the field, look for cornerback Levonta Taylor (sophomore) to contend for the field cornerback job opposite of McFadden. A former five-star recruit, Taylor played quite a bit as a true freshman as the season wore on.  At 5-10, 169-pounds, he has good coverage abilities and plays the run better than you’d expect for a guy his size. While he’s not guaranteed a spot, Taylor will likely get first-team reps at one of the cornerback spots with Marquez White moving on to the NFL and McFadden sitting out with injury.

Challenging Taylor will be a host of players. A pair of young defensive backs in Kyle Meyers (sophomore) and Carlos Becker (sophomore) will be the main competition. Meyers was Florida State’s go-to player at the STAR position on third downs last year and Becker got quite a bit of burn at safety due to injuries at the position. At 6-2, 183-pounds, Becker has ideal size for the position and is also an ace on the track field as well. Look for him to make an impact somewhere on the field this season. Marcus Lewis (junior) is another player who will challenge for the job, but he is sitting out this spring with a hip injury. Malique Jackson (senior) remains a backup and rotational player.

At the safety position, Florida State has several intriguing options. Back is Trey Marshall (senior), whose hard-hitting antics were made quite famous as the season wore on. He will have to sit out the first half of the Alabama game due to his targeting ejection versus Michigan in the Orange Bowl. But Marshall actually played quite well last season and Florida State’s defense suffered when he left the field. While he might not have great coverage skills, he is hard to move at 6-0, 210-pounds and will knock you out.

A player that was crucial to Florida State’s defensive efforts last season was Ermon Lane (senior). After seeing limited playing time at wide receiver, the former five-star recruit switched to safety and saw a bunch of playing time with injuries ravaging the position. Although he is still raw, Lane showed a lot of promise at the position and made several great plays throughout the course of the season. At 6-3, 209-pounds, he has great range and a willingness to get dirty and make the tough tackles. With James locked in at one safety position, look for Marshall and Lane to be moved around a lot in different packages.

Florida State has great depth at the safety position as well. A.J. Westbrook (junior) stepped into the free safety role when James went down with injury. He struggled initially, but made noticeable improvements as the season wore on. He will be a valuable depth player, especially with several starts under his belt. Nate Andrews (redshirt senior) is the only remaining contributor from Florida State’s 2013 national championship squad. He has battled through injuries throughout his career and returns for a fifth season in the secondary. Westbrook, Andrews and Calvin Brewton (junior) will be much-needed depth at the safety position.

As always, the Seminoles have recruited the secondary positions very well. They already have blue-chip players in cornerback Stanford Samuels III (freshman) and safety Cyrus Fagan (freshman) already enrolled on campus. Samuels is a player that will challenge for the field cornerback job, while Fagan could see some playing time at safety in rotational packages. Joining them this summer will be safety Hamsah Nasirildeen (freshman) and cornerback Ontaria Wilson (freshman).

After a disappointing 2016 campaign, look for Florida State’s secondary to rebound. The return of Derwin James is huge for this position unit and they have great depth across the board. Despite losing Marquez White to the draft, they have players like Becker, Meyers, and Taylor who will battle all offseason for the job. This year’s secondary might challenge the 2013 group for the best secondary in Jimbo Fisher’s tenure at Florida State.

Dakota Moyer

Florida State student and writer for NoleGameday.

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