FSU’s struggles on defense in 2020 are well documented and head coach Mike Norvell and defensive coordinator Adam Fuller are tasked with improving the unit’s ability to slow down opposing offenses. One way they are looking to shore up that side of the ball based off the Seminoles’ second day of spring drills is utilizing a base 4-2-5 alignment. It is something that Fuller wanted to use more as last season went along after implementing it successfully in an upset win over a top-10 North Carolina this past season but was unable to do so as much for a number of reasons (including the lack of availability of players due to injuries, coronavirus or contact tracing).
Norvell and Fuller acknowledged after Thursday’s practice that is something they will continue to work on throughout the spring in addition to Fuller’s base 4-3 scheme.
Adding a fifth defensive back as part of one of its base defense allows Fuller to play with more speed on the field and match up better in space against today’s spread, run-pass option offenses. Part of the reason could be outright lack of numbers at the linebacker position but it could also be to take full advantage of the additions to FSU’s roster in the secondary, like South Carolina transfer safety Jammie Robinson (who was used in a similar role as a nickel-corner or walk down safety by the Gamecocks).
“We are looking at a variety of things, and we will throughout the spring,” Norvell said after today’s practice. “Being able to add speed and being able to add versatility in what we can do. Guys that we’ve been able to bring in have been a good fit, as well as we will still be able to jump into a variety of personnel packages. We need to be faster, we need to be able to create more plays on that side of the ball. You see a guy like Amari Gainer has played a lot on the edge, and seeing his speed inside the box with some of the plays that he made, he really flashed. Even though we were just in T-shirts today, it is good to see those guys flashing across the field. Being able to add that speed is something that I think is going to help us.”
Fuller also sees some advantages to getting an extra defensive back on the field.
“We tried to do it from the Carolina game and then it was based on availability at times,” Fuller said after FSU’s second day of spring practice. “It just wasn’t always going to be the perfect fit with what you had. So I think typically you want to be able to match some skills and then it allows you to get a guy like Amari more matched up on tight ends and in blitz positions. And then it allows you, anytime you can put that fifth DB on the field, it allows you to be a little bit more multiple coverage-wise. It allows a little more flexibility in what you can do, you’d be more aggressive in how you play because you feel like you can match up with people skill-wise. So I think it’s definitely part of what we try to do in the middle of last year, towards the end of the year a little bit more when we have guys back, but definitely something that I think is important in this conference.”
Fuller also talked about what his top takeaways are about his defense after two days on the field.
“I think it was just the independent groups, like I think our defensive line has got a good understanding of what we are trying to ask them to do right now,” Fuller said of his unit’s maturation process. “The volume of reps has been good. With Odell (defensive tackles coach Odell Haggins) and JP (defensive ends coach John Papuchis), I’ve seen some steps in the right way as far as the energy level that group has played with.”
He also likes what he has seen from both his veteran and underclassmen linebackers.
“I think that linebacker group is just going to be just another year better right now with just seeing the emergence of Amari getting comfortable in that role, Emmett (Rice), Stephen (Dix), D.J. Lundy and Jaleel McRae, Kalen DeLoach. Just the reps they are getting,” Fuller said. “It already feels like one year better. The virtual off-season stuff has really helped them.”
Another one of his challenges this spring is to figure out how to best utilize a secondary that big on numbers and potential but a group that must be more effective in the fall.
“In the secondary, it’s a bunch of pieces that we’re putting together right now,” continued Fuller. “We’re trying to simplify it for these corners, just so we can get that technique down really good. I think some of these newcomers have brought some good skill set to us. It’s just making sure that we’re playing the ball in the right way. So I think I’ve seen some growth as far as collectively with the group right now. It’s got to continue.”
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