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Closer look: Defensive backs

In the coming weeks, the Osceola staff will take a look at each Florida State position group. Next up: Defensive backs.

2021 stats: Jammie Robinson (85 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, four interceptions, two forced fumbles), Jarvis Brownlee (51 tackles, two interceptions), Akeem Dent (44 tackles, one interception), Sidney Williams (32 tackles), Jarques McClellion (29 tackles), Kevin Knowles II (26 tackles), Jarrian Jones (22 tackles), Travis Jay (17 tackles, two interceptions), Omarion Cooper (16 tackles), Renardo Green (14 tackles), Brendan Gant (13 tackles), Meiko Dotson (12 tackles), Shyheim Brown (three tackles), Caleb Blake (two tackles).

2022 projected defensive backs: Robinson, Brownlee, Dent, Williams, McClellion, Knowles, Jones, Jay, Cooper, Green, Gant, Brown and Blake. Demorie Tate and Hunter Washington both played in one game in 2021. FSU added signees Sam McCall and Azareyeh Thomas.

Departures: Dotson has seen his eligibility expire.

State of the DB room: Deep and improving but some question marks. Robinson was FSU’s most effective defensive back, making stops over the middle and erasing big plays as he earned first-team All-ACC recognition. (On Thursday afternoon, Robinson formally announced on Twitter that he was returning.) He started the season as the nickel corner but eventually moved to strong safety to finish. The emergence of Knowles was one of the reasons the coaching staff was able to make a position switch with Robinson. Knowles often took on the challenge of defending one of the opponent’s top receivers, for example UNC’s Josh Downs, and the freshman held his own. Brownlee had his moments, with 10 tackles vs. Miami and an interception return for a touchdown against UMass, but also was in coverage on the final play against Jacksonville State. He is probably the best cornerback FSU has when it comes to playing against the run where, he is very physical, but he must continue to improve his coverage skills. Dent started eight games, including the final six, and showed good timing on third-down blitzes but needs to be more consistent. He seems to have found a home at free safety but does have the versatility to play cornerback. McClellion was solid in his role as a backup at free safety. Jarrian Jones had an interception of UNC’s Sam Howell near the end zone, but also was inconsistent. The battle between Jones and Cooper at cornerback will be very interesting this spring. Jay is as athletic as any player on the roster, but he made perhaps his biggest impact on a kickoff return and not as a corner (although he too battled injuries in 2021). He hasn’t quite lived up to the hype that surrounded him coming out of high school and his development this spring is vital as it pertains to the depth in the secondary. Green moved up the depth chart at corner as last season unfolded and was sharing reps with Jay as the backup to Brownlee. Cooper showed glimpses of what he can offer, making his first start vs. Miami (recording four pass breakups and an interception) but also showed his emotions and in throwing a punch at Florida. Williams was impressive when healthy and looks to have bright future ahead of him. Gant entered the season as a starter at strong safety but was eventually replaced by Robinson. Williams eventually became the primary backup to Robinson as the season got deeper with Gant getting very few if any snaps. There is plenty to be excited about with young players in the group, from Cooper to Shyheim Brown to Sidney Williams and others. Demorie Tate and Hunter Washington made their FSU debuts against UMass and it will be interesting to see how they develop this spring.

The new guys: Five-star Sam McCall and four-star Azareyeh Thomas. McCall was viewed as one of the top players in the state, by some services as an athlete and by others as a safety. He played offense and defense at Lake Gibson, recording four interceptions as well as making 52 receptions for 903 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior. Thomas picked FSU on Dec. 15 and gave the Seminoles a prospect viewed as the best in the panhandle. He had two interceptions and also ran for 421 yards (averaging 8.6 yards per carry) as well as caught 33 passes for 438 yards as a senior (along with 17 total touchdowns).

Shopping in the transfer portal: FSU landed Greedy Vance (Louisville), who could bring an added option as a nickel cornerback. Vance will only be redshirt sophomore, but he started 10 games for the Cardinals in 2021 and will likely compete for a starting job this spring. From a pure numbers standpoint, it’s hard to see FSU adding another defensive back via the portal.

Final thoughts: FSU had 14 interceptions, including at least one in each of the final eight games (the Seminoles had eight in nine games in 2020). While the defense often had its struggles, Adam Fuller emphasized the need to deliver with takeaways and the Seminoles often did to help stop drives and turn momentum. Robinson’s return was expected but obviously he brings stability and leadership for next season. The group is deep and has embraced the need to force turnovers but corners must improve in one-on-one coverage. If this position group continues to improve in the spring and fall camp, as it did last season, it could be the deepest position group on the team when factoring in all four spots.

Closer look

Quarterbacks

Running backs

Wide receivers

Tight ends

Offensive line

Defensive ends

Defensive tackles

Linebackers