Fall Camp 2017: Linebacker now a strength for `Noles

Florida State has had a depth issue at linebacker over the last couple of seasons. In 2014, The Seminoles had players such as Mathew Thomas, E.J. Levenberry (later transferred), Ukeme Eligwe (dismissed), Delvin Purifoy, and Terrance Smith miss time at linebacker. Predictably, the defense had one of their worst seasons under Jimbo Fisher. The `Noles dealt with off the field issues and injuries again at linebacker in 2015. Thomas missed the entire season after being ruled ineligible, but he was also recovering from a shoulder injury. Tyrell Lyons tore his ACL and later decided to transfer. Purifoy missed the season again. The `Noles also lost Kain Dub (four-star LB) and Eligwe prior to the season to transfer and dismissal.

This team has been thin on linebacker depth but the switch to the 4-2-5 defense has helped with the shortage of ‘backers. FSU usually only plays two linebackers at a time, Middle (Mike) linebacker and weak-side (Will) linebacker. Occasionally, the `Noles will play a strong-side (Sam) linebacker who plays up at the line of scrimmage in place of the defensive end. Rising senior Jacob Pugh thrived in the Sam role for the `Noles during the spring and has that job locked down as the team enters Fall Camp.

The Seminoles depth at linebacker is as good as it has been since the National Championship season in 2013. FSU returns senior starters Mathew Thomas (Will) and Ro’Derrick Hoskins (Mike). They both were inconsistent during the early parts of the season but stepped up their play as the year progressed. Thomas has finally turned himself into a contributor after many thought he wouldn’t amount to anything as a `Nole. He led FSU with 77 tackles in his first season as a starter. Thomas had his best game in garnet and gold during the Orange Bowl win against Michigan, he finished the contest with a career-high 15 tackles. He missed the spring game but is primed for a breakout senior season.

Hoskins has made 19 starts for Florida State over the last two seasons. He started every game at middle linebacker in 2016. Hoskins would go on to finish the year with a career-high 53 tackles and 2.5 sacks. He too had a career game against Michigan in the Orange Bowl. Hoskins finished the win with a career-high 8 tackles. Thomas and Hoskins have the starting jobs locked up heading into Fall Camp but they have plenty of young talent behind them that is hungry for playing time.

The depth behind the senior group of Thomas, Hoskins, and Pugh is a bevy of young, but experienced, players. The Seminoles have a redshirt junior in Purifoy, but it is still unknown how much he’ll be able to contribute due to injury. After that, the `Noles boast four sophomores in Dontavious Jackson, Adonis Thomas, Emmett Rice, and Josh Brown. FSU has also two incoming freshman linebackers in Leonard Warner and DeCalon Brooks.

Jackson saw the most playing time as a reserve last season and made a start in place of Thomas against Wake Forest. He finished his freshman season with 20 tackles and showed off vast potential. Jackson recently posted a photo to Twitter showing him at 228 pounds, this is notable because he was listed at 249 pounds last season. With the excess weight off, Jackson could show off more in 2017. Look out for him to push for a starting job if Thomas or Hoskins underperform.

Rice and Brown both saw time as reserves in 2016 as well, though they did not see as much time on the field as Jackson. Both mainly contributed on special teams. Watch out for these guys to start contributing at outside linebacker in 2017. They aren’t ready to start, but they can be key reserves who can step up if needed.

Adonis Thomas joins the `Noles as redshirt sophomore from Northwest Mississippi Community College. He spent his freshman season at Alabama before deciding to transfer to Northwest Mississippi CC. Thomas finished his only season at NMCC with 73 tackles, 6 sacks, and an interception. He already has adequate experience at the collegiate level and played well for FSU during the Spring. Thomas should see time at inside linebacker behind Hoskins and Jackson.

Florida State has two freshman linebackers in Warner and Brooks who are redshirt candidates. Warner was a composite four-star recruit in high school who chose the `Noles over Georgia and Stanford. He was ranked as the No. 17 player in the country by the 247 Composite Rankings and finished his senior season with 125 tackles. If he plays, Warner should see most of his time on special teams due to a number of linebackers ahead of him on the depth chart. He does come in with a college-ready body at 6’4” 230 lbs. Brooks is a small statured player who could wind up at defensive back later in his college career. He currently is 5’11” 195 lbs. Brooks was a rangy, athletic player in high school and much of that predicts to translate to the college level. He’ll probably need a season or two to fill out his frame before becoming a contributor. Brooks is the son of FSU legend Derrick Brooks.

The Seminoles linebacking corps is in its best shape since 2013. FSU has talented depth behind starters who are predicted to blossom as seniors. Thomas, Hoskins, and Pugh are all in the position to have career years in 2017. Jackson, Rice, Brown, and Thomas are all experienced enough to contribute despite only being sophomores. It’s getting hard to find a weak point in the `Noles defensive unit.

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