In the coming weeks, the Osceola staff will take a look at each Florida State position group. Next up: linebackers.
2021 stats: Kalen DeLoach (69 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 2 QBH), DJ Lundy (68 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR), Amari Gainer (59 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF), Stephen Dix Jr. (14 tackles, 1 PBU), Cortez Andrews (6 tackles, 1 PBU), DeCalon Brooks (4 tackles),
2022 projected linebackers: DeLoach, Gainer, Lundy, Dix, Andrews, Jadarius Green-McKnight, Jordan Eubanks, signee Omar Graham, Jr. and Tatum Bethune, who was added through the transfer portal (via UCF) on Tuesday night. FSU also has walk-ons in Andrews, Chase Oliver, Jack O’Keeffe and Emile Aime.
Departures: Emmett Rice and DeCalon Brooks have graduated. Jaleel McRae and Jayion McCluster have entered the transfer portal. McRae has landed at Florida Atlantic.
State of the LB room: This room was in need of a significant upgrade in talent, experience and depth and the addition of Bethune helps big time in all three areas. DeLoach and Lundy started in FSU’s 4-2-5 package with Gainer being inserted as backup when utilizing that scheme and as a starter when they lineup with three linebackers in the game. All three players improved as the season went along. The good news? All three haven’t played their best football yet and either has Bethune for that matter. The bad news? There isn’t much competition behind them to push for playing time in the spring. It is vital that Dix, Green-McKnight and Eubanks develop into dependable backups if this position group stays as presently constructed going into the 2022 season.
The new guys: The addition of Bethune was huge for the 2022 defense. He brings experience, athleticism, leadership and versatility to the position. He is also familiar with co-defensive coordinator Randy Shannon, who coached Bethune in his first two seasons with the Knights. Bethune led UCF in tackles this past season and played both as an inside the box and outside the box linebacker during his three years in Orlando. FSU likely has added a player who will be a starter coming out of spring and at the very least someone who will figure into a three-man rotation when FSU lines up in their 4-2-5 front or in a four-man rotation when they choose to play out of a 4-3 front. Graham, Jr. was the only high school linebacker signed in January. He had 102 tackles this past season for Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Stranahan. He was used mostly off the edge in high school and will have some work to do technically and fundamentally in playing either the SAM or WILL linebacker spot at the major college level. Graham Jr. enrolled early, which may help in getting him prepared to compete for a backup role in 2022.
Shopping in the transfer portal: FSU had to land Bethune and did but, given the lack of proven depth at linebacker, it would not surprise to see the staff turn to the portal one more time to bring an experienced player who at the very least can be a backup that can play 15-20 snaps a game.
Final thoughts: The coaching staff has to feel better about this position group after landing Bethune, which now gives them four starting-caliber players heading into 2022. They also have to feel good knowing that there is potential for every single player at the position to continue to get better with it being a relatively young group. It is critical that one or more of the group of players outside of DeLoach, Gainer, Lundy and Bethune develop into dependable backups who can play 15-20 snaps per game if needed, especially if they are done making additions at linebacker.