2017 Spring Preview: Linebackers

The linebacker position has often been labeled as the “Defense Against the Dark Arts” group on Florida State’s roster.

In the Harry Potter series, Hogwarts could not keep a Defense Against the Dark Arts professor for more than one year and the school was often searching for a replacement. At Florida State, they cannot seem to keep linebackers both on the field and on campus. Due to transfers, suspensions and injuries, linebacker has often been tabbed as the weakest position group on the roster. But with a plethora of young talent on the roster, could this be in line to change?

The good news is that Florida State returns every contributor from linebacker. At the WILL position, Matthew Thomas (redshirt senior) returns for one final run in the garnet and gold. Thomas struggled at times last year, often showing poor effort, but turned it around and looked phenomenal in the Orange Bowl versus Michigan. A former five-star recruit, Thomas’ career in Tallahassee has been well chronicled. Between suspensions and injuries, he has not seen the field much. But he returns as an unquestioned starter at linebacker and a centerpiece of FSU’s defense.

At the MIKE position, the Seminoles welcome back Ro’Derrick Hoskins (redshirt senior). Hoskins has been a major contributor for the better part of two seasons now and has quite a few snaps under his belt. He’s not the most athletic player on the roster, but he is fundamentally sound and is a thumper in the run game. Hoskins will have some competition this offseason, but there is no doubt that he would start for a majority of teams around the country.

The main competition for Hoskins this offseason will be Dontavious Jackson (sophomore), who impressed as a freshman in limited duties. A blue-chip recruit, Jackson is an athletic linebacker at 6-2, 249-pounds. He is also very instinctive, as seen from his fourth-down stop in the North Carolina game where he side-stepped a blocker and made a tackle on the running back. If he can continue to learn the playbook and be the “quarterback of the defense” from the MIKE position, there is no doubt that Jackson will see the field this year.

A player who has quietly been a major contributor throughout his career is Jacob Pugh (senior). He doesn’t play either of the “traditional” linebacker roles at MIKE or WILL, but instead is the sole option at the SAM position. Think of SAM like the STAR position but with a bigger body in their for run downs. Pugh has progressively gotten better throughout his time in Tallahassee, both as a pass rusher and coverage player. This year, he may be called upon to play more snaps along the defensive line as well.

Florida State has plenty of options as backups for those primary starters listed above. At the WILL position, look for Josh Brown (sophomore) and Emmett Rice (sophomore) to compete for the primary backup role. Meanwhile, early enrollee Adonis Thomas (redshirt sophomore) will be the next man up behind Hoskins and Jackson at MIKE.

It remains to be seen if either Delvin Purifoy (redshirt junior) or Sh’Mar Kilby-Lane (redshirt sophomore) will contribute this season. Purifoy has not been the same player after suffering a gruesome ankle injury as a true freshman that forced him to redshirt. Meanwhile, Kilby-Lane sat out last year due to academic ineligibility and is also dealing with a turf toe.

Joining the Seminoles this summer will be a pair of talented players in Leonard Warner (freshman) and DeCalon Brooks (freshman). Warner was one of Florida State’s biggest coups on National Signing Day, committing to them over Stanford and Georgia. Brooks is the son of Florida State legend Derrick Brooks and a player that could also play defensive back as well.

In short, there is a lot to be excited about at linebacker. Thomas and Hoskins return as starters, with Jackson ready to challenge for major playing time as well. When paired with Pugh, that gives Florida State a bunch of talented depth at the position. With Thomas, Hoskins and Pugh moving on after this season, this spring will also give us our first look at what the future could hold as well.

Dakota Moyer
Florida State student and writer for NoleGameday.

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