Spring game: Five things to watch for on defense

Haylee Blitch/NoleGameday

Florida State’s defense has spent the better part of the spring trying to grasp Harlon Barnett’s new scheme. The new defensive coordinator, who comes to Tallahassee after 10 seasons at Michigan State, is expected to field a more aggressive unit that plays more man-coverage on the outside rather than zone.

Players such as Demarcus Christmas, Marvin Wilson, Joshua Kaindoh, Dontavious Jackson, Levonta Taylor, Stanford Samuels III, and Hamsah Nasirildeen return at a bevy of positions across the defense. Newcomers Jaiden Woodbey and Amari Gainer are also making their voices heard early in their careers. They represent just a few of the potential impact players on this unit.

We’ll get our first look at it on Saturday under the lights in Doak Campbell Stadium. Here are five things to watch on the defensive side of the ball during the spring game.

1. Changing the scheme

As mentioned above, Barnett is basically scrapping the previous regimes scheme and implementing his own. The Seminoles will likely revert back to a 4-3 defense after playing a 4-2-5 under Charles Kelly.

That means FSU will go back to packages that require three linebackers to be manning the middle, rather than having one line up at the Buck/defensive end position. It should allow the players to be more physical with a variety of creative blitz packages. The coverage will focus more on man-to-man than the zone looks that were routinely picked apart by the opposition.

2. Defensive tackles aiming to replace Derrick Nnadi

Gone is three-year starter Derrick Nnadi, enter the field. Marvin Wilson was expected to be the top candidate to replace the NFL bound Nnadi. However, the rising sophomore suffered a torn MCL and was ruled out for the remainder of the spring.

That opens the door for veterans like Fred Jones, Arthur Williams, and Cedric Wood to earn the open spot with impressive performances in Wilson’s absence. Younger players like Ja’Len Parks and Cory Durden also now have more opportunities for snaps on Saturday. The main thing to watch for will be how this unit performs against the offensive line after losing two of their better players. 

3. Where’s Joshua Kaindoh?

After Josh Sweat and Jalen Wilkerson (shockingly) decided to declare early for the draft, many expected rising sophomore Joshua Kaindoh to take over on the outside opposite of Brian Burns. However, he’s been a rare participant in practice this spring.

Kaindoh didn’t suffer a listed injury during the season so something must have happened during the offseason program. He’s been spotted with the players rehabbing from injury but nothing has really come out about his absence.

It’ll be an interesting situation to monitor his status. Look for Janarius Robinson, Tre Lawson, and Wally Aime to get the majority of his snaps on Saturday.

4. Reintegrating the linebackers

FSU’s linebackers have been flying a little under the radar this spring and it makes sense after losing three seniors to the NFL. Now, with a new scheme at hand, this unit will have to adjust accordingly.

Luckily, the `Noles have plenty of experience at the spot. Dontavius Jackson, Emmett Rice, and Adonis Thomas were all familiar faces in the rotation last season. DeCalon Brooks and Leonard Warner have also flashed their talents this spring.

One of the interesting things to watch for will be how this group adjusts to the new blitz packages. Jackson and Brooks could develop into a pass-rushing force.

5. DBU

The Seminoles have had one of the most talented secondaries in the country over the last couple of seasons. Players such as Jalen Ramsey, Derwin James, Tarvarus McFadden, Marquez White have all come through Tallahassee since 2014.

The unit has also been a massive let down under the leadership of Charles Kelly. They’ve routinely seemed confused against some formations and were picked apart in the passing game multiple times over the past four seasons. It’s simply been disappointing.

Now, rising young stars like Levonta Taylor, SSIII, Hamsah Nasirildeen, and Jaiden Woodbey will get to develop under the leadership of Barnett, who’s put multiple players into the NFL. The `Noles still have players like Asante Samuel Jr, AJ Lytton, and Isaiah Bolden who will enroll over the summer.

The sky’s the limit for these defensive backs, now it’s just time to see them put it all together on the field.

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