Florida State spring football preview: Linebacker depth still worrisome – Orlando Sentinel
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Florida State’s linebackers are again the source of much intrigue entering spring practice, and not necessarily for the best of reasons.
The Seminoles, for a second year in a row, have questions regarding the starters and overall depth at the position. But despite some concerns, there is reason for optimism. We continue our position-preview series for the spring by looking at the strengths and weaknesses of FSU’s linebackers.
Projected starters: Ro’Derrick Hoskins, Jr.; Matthew Thomas, Jr.
Notable backups: Sh’Mar Kilby-Lane, Soph.; Tyrell Lyons, Jr.; Josh Brown, Fr.; Delvin Purifoy, Soph.; Nate Andrews, Sr. (DB/LB role)
The Buzz: Linebacker again has the potential to be FSU’s most volatile position on defense. The Seminoles were thin at linebacker entering the 2015 season and managed to overcome a high-ankle sprain to starter Terrance Smith thanks to the emergence of Ro’Derrick Hoskins. Smith was playing exceptional football prior to his midseason injury and Hoskins filled in admirably to form a sound duo along with then senior Reggie Northrup. Both Northrup and Smith are gone, meaning the Seminoles must replace two multiyear starters. Hoskins has always had the physical tools to contribute, but an improved grasp of the playbook in 2015 enabled him to make an impact (52 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 2 PBU) and gave him something to build on entering this spring. But who gets starting reps next to Hoskins? …Matthew Thomas may not begin spring practice getting work with the starters, but he certainly has the talent to line up alongside Hoskins. Thomas’ career has been rather turbulent, but he has unlimited potential and can theoretically provide an upgrade at either linebacker spot if he’s able to stay on the field. …FSU appears to have more options behind its projected starters than it did entering last season, although depth is still shaky. Sh’Mar Kilby-Lane is a year older and was on the cusp of contributing as a freshman in 2015. An offseason in the weight room and extra time to learn the nuances of the game should serve him well, and it wouldn’t be a shock if he pushes for a starting role. Also keep an eye on Tyrell Lyons. He is just six months removed from tearing his ACL, but he will do some individual drills this spring. His physical progress this spring could determine whether he has a legitimate shot to be ready for the season opener in September. Lyons likely isn’t a starter, but his quickness makes him a possible sub-package player to use on passing downs. …Josh Brown is a true freshman who enrolled early and is already turning some heads during conditioning drills. …Nate Andrews is penciled in to start at safety, but he could move down and play linebacker at a very high level against spread teams.
What to Watch: Matthews’ progress is probably the position’s biggest storyline this spring, but the outcome is pretty cut and dry: If injuries and off-field incidents do not derail his season, Thomas should play a ton. Because of that, following the progression Josh Brown is more interesting. He comes to FSU as a very polished linebacker and has top-end physical traits (as seen in his performance in the U.S. Army All-American game). The Seminoles typically do not play first-year linebackers under coach Jimbo Fisher, but a strong showing in the spring could propel Brown into the discussion to start in 2016 or at least earn a spot in the rotation.