FSU Spring Focus: Linebacker Preview

Logan Stanford/Icon Sportswire

This is another installment of NoleGameday’s spring practice focus on the Florida State football team. The Seminoles are set to kick off their spring practice slate on Monday, March 4 at 9 a.m., culminating with the annual Garnet & Gold game at 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 6. We’ll be breaking down each position on offense and defense while also highlighting the special teams unit leading up to the first day of practice. This piece will focus on the linebackers.

Previous spring practice focuses:

– Quarterbacks

– Running Backs

– Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

– Offensive Line

– Defensive Backs

– Special Teams

The ‘Noles had several issues last year on the defensive side of the ball. Consistently giving up 200-yard rushing games, 21+ points to inferior competition, and at times looking completely spent on the sideline. This spring marks another opportunity to change the narrative surrounding the defense.

The linebacker corps was one of the units that needed the most upgrades on the entire roster, and the staff mostly succeeded in adding bluechip talent.

Now let’s delve into the roster and see which linebackers- old and new, that we should keep a close eye on this spring.

Impact Returnees

Dontavius Jackson

The most experienced returning ‘backer comes back as the leader of this unit. Now a senior, Jackson has had highs and lows throughout his career but finally put together an entire season as a junior. He was a bright spot for the linebackers and showed potential to be an All-ACC player. He’s a good run stuffer and getting more adept n coverage, while demonstrating good sideline to sideline ability. The Texas native is hoping to build on last season and bring FSU to a Top-25 defense once again.

Leonard Warner

The Georgia native was considered a coup when he signed with FSU over Stanford and it’s now time for him to show why. He’s solidly built with good speed for the position. He’s been exposed in coverage especially with the new scheme and needs to show progress in this area during the spring. Him along with other defenders seemed to slow to react last year, hopefully with another year in the system it will be more instinctual once the bullets start flying in the fall.

Hamsah Nasirildeen

The former safety has found a new home in this scheme at star linebacker, the safety/linebacker hybrid that Jaiden Woodbey played last year. The fans noticed that they seemed to be at the wrong spots last year- as did the coaching staff. Hamsah brings a prototypical build and mentality to the position. He has the fluidity to cover a back or tight end on one down and crashing the line of scrimmage on the other. Once he gets his assignments down in this new position I expect him to flourish and improve throughout the season.

Xavier Peters

The explosive prospect from Ohio is ready to bust on to the scene. After redshirting last year Peters is ready to take the next step in his development and earn more playing time. Due to the scheme you will see Peters stand up and have his hand in the dirt this season. He is at his best coming off the edge and attacking the quarterback. But he can also cover and move in space so expect the staff to take advantage. Peters is a major wild card this season and has the potential to be a household name during his time in Tallahassee.

Impact Players Coming off Injury

Emmett Rice

The South Florida native is now in prime position to earn a starting spot in his junior year. After suffering an ACL tear in a bowl game his freshman season, Rice is back in form. His play against Boston College last season can attest to this fact as he was seemingly all over the field. Rice is a sideline to sideline ‘backer who has a penchant for the hard hit- just what this defense needs. He’s an electric presence on the field and he’s pushing for a starting position this spring.

Amari Gainer

The hometown kid had an excellent start to his career after enrolling early. He was progressing quickly and was right in the mix for a starting spot heading into the fall. Then on the first day of fall practice, he fractured his foot-effectively ending his freshman season. Now he’s fully healthy and ready to push the upperclassmen for playing time. Look for him to be featured off the edge and in off coverage, the areas he excelled at in highschool.

Players with more to Prove

Josh Brown, Adonis Thomas, and DeCalon Brooks are players that need to show more this year. Brown and Thomas were both highly touted out of high school and have done virtually nothing on the college level, this is their last opportunity to show they belong on this level. Brooks is the son of FSU great Derrick Brooks and plays with the mentality of his father but unfortunately he wasn’t blessed with his physical ability. He’s too slow to cover the modern tight end and too small to run fill at this point. Being a redshirt sophomore, he has plenty of potential but he needs to bulk up before he can make a significant impact.


Jaleel McRae

McRae has been through a lot in his football career thus far. He’s had to come back from not one, but two ACL tears in the past four years. This played a big part in him transferring to IMG Academy- where he would get the best rehabilitation he could find at the high school level. IMG nursed him to health and he had a great senior year on the field and continued to look great at the Under Armour game. McRae is a natural leader and stayed committed to FSU throughout the turmoil of a 5-7 season.

Now that he’s on campus he has flashed in pass coverage which is a major plus in this scheme. Combine this with his sideline to sideline ability and you have a young player who will push the upperclassmen to the brink during the spring. Keep a close eye on McRae- I have a feeling he will make plenty of noise this season.

Spring Outlook

The linebacker position was in constant flux last year and never really settled down. With another year in the system coach Raymond Woodie should have the talent on hand to cause a big leap in on field production. With players coming back from injury and switching positions this Spring will be critical in establishing a pecking order heading into the summer. This position has a ton of potential and the time is now for that potential to become production.

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