The Florida State defense doesn’t have a lot of unanswered questions entering the 2023 season.
The Seminoles return seven of their top nine tacklers from a year ago, and nine of their top 12. They also are bringing back five of the six players who recorded at least three sacks in 2022 — Jared Verse, Patrick Payton, Tatum Bethune, Kalen DeLoach and Dennis Briggs Jr.
On top of that, the Seminoles also brought in some very high-profile transfers to fill out the two-deep. On the defensive front, there are tackles Darrell Jackson (Miami) and Braden Fiske (Western Michigan), along with end Gilber Edmond (South Carolina).
In the defensive secondary, there is All-ACC cornerback Fentrell Cypress, who transferred in from Virginia this past January. And the Seminoles also are looking to add a proven veteran at safety, with the top candidate likely being former UAB star Jaylen Key, who is visiting Florida State this weekend.
But even with all of that experience on the Florida State defensive unit, there are a number of younger players who also could make a major impact in 2023. And defensive coordinator Adam Fuller was asked about those lesser-known Seminoles by host Mark Packer this week during an interview with ACC PM on the ACC Network.
Fuller, who is entering his fourth season with Florida State, didn’t hesitate to rattle off the names of several potential young contributors — guys that he believes could burst into the limelight the way defensive end Patrick Payton did this past fall.
“He really came on the scene last year and had a really good year,” Fuller said of the Miami native Payton, who racked up five sacks and earned ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. “But I think we have a number of those types of players — both athletic ability and mindset.”
It was perhaps no surprise that the first player Fuller mentioned was redshirt sophomore safety Shyheim Brown. During his first season of college game action last fall, Brown finished ninth on the team with 36 tackles and also had a game-clinching blocked extra point in the win over LSU.
Fuller said Brown made several “impactful plays” in 2022, but the defensive coordinator expects much more out of him now that first-team All-ACC safety Jammie Robinson has moved on to the NFL.
“This year, with Jammie graduating, I think he’ll get put in a couple more situations,” Fuller said. “I think he’s got a lot of football in him, and he’s got the skill set to have multi-usage in our defense.”
The next underclassman Fuller focused on was redshirt freshman Omar Graham Jr., who is expected to be the second linebacker off the bench this season. Florida State returns senior starters Bethune and DeLoach, as well as redshirt junior DJ Lundy, but Graham should be next in line for major reps.
“He’s probably grown as much as anybody the last year,” Fuller said of Graham, who recorded eight tackles while playing in just three games during his first year on campus.
The final three Seminoles Fuller discussed were players who saw a great deal of playing time in 2022 but could blossom into higher-profile roles this fall.
Defensive tackle Joshua Farmer, who recorded 15 tackles with six tackles for loss as a redshirt freshman, will almost certainly be featured prominently in the two-deep rotation this season.
“By the end of the year and through spring practice, you really saw him start to come on,” Fuller said, noting that Farmer’s inexperience showed at times early last season. “Excited about his growth.”
Sophomore cornerback Azareye’h Thomas, who was a four-star signee in Florida State’s Class of 2022, skipped right past a redshirt year and played about 350 snaps last season, according to Fuller. And the defensive coordinator said Thomas has only begun to display how much potential he truly has.
“He’s somebody I think has a really, really big ceiling,” Fuller said. “He’s a great kid. He’s a great worker. Really good ball production.”
And the final under-the-radar player Fuller discussed was former Louisville defensive back Greedy Vance. After transferring to Florida State last offseason, Vance was a top backup to starting nickelback Kevin Knowles II and actually started splitting reps pretty evenly with Knowles in the second half of the season.
With Knowles sidelined by injury in the spring, Vance moved into a starting role and performed exceptionally well, which is something Fuller expects to see more of in 2023.
“He was playing his best football as the season grew late, and his spring was tremendous,” the Florida State defensive coordinator said. “He’s as connected in coverage as anybody we have.”
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