The Seminoles ability to get a pass rush revolved around first-round pick Brian Burns last year. Burns racked up 10 sacks in ’18. The rest of the team had a tough time getting pressure without the aid of the blitz. With Burns off to the NFL, former five-star recruit Joshua Kaindoh will need to live up to his potential to help disrupt the passer.
The pass rush may not return much proven production but the run defense should be much improved with three highly touted defensive tackles returning. Tackle is once again one of the strongest position groups on the team under the tutelage of Odell Haggins. Marvin Wilson is stout against the run as well as having a knack for getting to the passer. Wilson is up for multiple awards after his breakout sophomore season in which he wrapped up 3 sacks and 42 tackles. Robert Cooper has lost 20 pounds but still is a run game stopper. Corey Durden played well on passing downs all season but had to take some lumps in the stopping the run. After defensive tackle only one of the defensive end positions (Kaindoh), middle linebacker and cornerback are positions with clear front-runners.
The starter at middle linebacker will be Dontavious Jackson, who is on the Dick Butkus award watch list. He had 75 tackles as a junior last year. Asante Samuel and Stanford Samuels will man the corners and Lavonta Taylor will come back from an injury to play slot. Kyle Meyers, AJ Lytton and Isaiah Bolden will provide some depth at corner as well.
As for the remaining five positions it is almost certain that Hamsah Nasirildeen, who led the team in tackles with 91 and Jaiden Lars-Woodbey will take up two spots. To make matters even more difficult to figure out, defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett will employ more 3-4 defensive looks this year. He is doing this to try to showcase the pass rushing talents of defensive tackles Marvin Wilson and Corey Durden and ease the transition from linebacker to pure defensive end for Leonard Warner.
Defensive ends/outside linebacker hybrids
Janarius Robinson will most likely man the other defensive end opposite of Kaindoh. Back up ends will include redshirt freshmen Dennis Briggs, Malcolm Lamar and Jamarcus Chatman. When Barnett wants to go 3-4, pass-rushing linebackers Leonard Warner, Adonis Thomas, Josh Brown and Amari Gainer will get some snaps too.
Outside linebacker/safety hybrids
Now that we’re done with the defensive ends/outside linebacker hybrids lets move on to the coverage linebackers/safeties. Nasirildeen and Lars-Woodbey are part of the group. Coming out of the spring it looked like Nasirildeen was moving to star linebacker and Lars-Woodbey would move back to his natural position of strong safety, but in the first few days of fall camp it looks like the two have switched back to what they played last year. Emmett Rice, DeCalon Brooks and freshman Jaleel McRae will compete for the starting position at Will linebacker.
Free safety was a sore spot on the defense last year and it was addressed in recruiting when Taggart brought in Akeem Dent, Brandon Gant and Travis Jay.
When the Seminoles kick off in Jacksonville I expect the starting 11 to look like this:
Marvin Wilson and Corey Durden at defensive tackle. Kaindoh and Robinson at defensive end. Jackson manning middle linebacker with Jaiden Lars-Woodbey at star linebacker and Emmett Rice at Will. Asante Samuel and Stanford Samuels playing corner. Nasirildeen at strong safety and freshmen Akeem Dent at free safety.
The Seminoles are bringing back kicker Ricky Agauyo and punter Logan Tyler but are breaking in a new long snapper. Tyler improved as his junior year went along and finished 36th in the country with 43.2 yards per punt. Agauyo was 7/11 on field-goal attempts in 2018 and if he does not improve incoming freshman Ryan Fitzpatrick will get a shot at the job.