When Florida State released its depth chart on Monday afternoon, there were two immediate realizations: Game week, finally, is here. And the Seminoles’ leading tackler from 2019, Hamsah Nasirildeen, is not yet ready to return to the field following knee surgery last November.
“Hamsah is going to be out for this week,” coach Mike Norvell said. “We feel like he’s doing a great job with his rehabilitation, he’s really, really close. Just not going to be available for this week, but we’re very hopeful for him to return in the extremely near future here moving forward.”
Versatility? Travis Jay is listed as an “or” — meaning he could be the No. 1 or No. 2 player and is in a tight battle — at a free safety (with Renardo Green) and buck/strong safety (with Jaiden Lars-Woodbey). Jay is also an option at kick returner or punt returner. The redshirt freshman has been praised throughout camp and FSU fans will get their first real look at Jay on Saturday.
“He is a natural ball catcher,” special teams coordinator John Papuchis said. “He just kind of has a knack whether it is in the punt return game or kickoff return game to really put himself in position in terms of judging the ball and its depth. He catches the ball really well with his hands. Obviously as a high school player he was super-talented with the ball in his hands. We just feel like as a team that if we can find ways to give him opportunities in the return game, that would be good for us.”
Jay has received a considerable amount of attention, in part because he’s from nearby Madison and also his talent. But Fuller also took time to praise Green.
“Whether it’s playing man coverage, zone coverage, tackling the football, becoming a blitzer, we’ve put him in a lot of different positions,” Fuller said. “Renardo has done a great job. He’s going to be on the football field a lot of Saturday. We have high expectations from him.”
Asante Samuel Jr. and Jarrian Jones are the starting corners. No big surprise as Samuel is one of the ACC’s top corners, while Jones transferred from Mississippi State.
“He’s done a nice job,” Fuller said of Jones. “He’s coachable. He’s made his one-on-one plays. We got to keep improving at some things that he knows of. But we’re happy with where he’s at right now.”
It will be interesting to see how much FAU transfer Meiko Dotson plays and if he is viewed as a nickel defensive back. Defensive coordinator Adam Fuller has stated the nickel could at times be a corner and at others a bigger safety. Backup corners Akeem Dent and Jarvis Brownlee could be young stars to build on for the future.
The depth at defensive tackle is impressive. Marvin Wilson and Robert Cooper will start. A 2019 starter, Cory Durden, is a backup to Wilson. And Fabien Lovett, who has experience from Mississippi State, is a backup to Cooper. At a position where teams value big, athletic bodies but also need depth, this isn’t a surprise but a welcome reminder that the Seminoles have an edge on the defensive interior. Fuller indicated FSU could rotate as many as six on the interior, including Malcolm Ray and Tru Thompson.
“To have the six guys we have, those four that you mentioned and you put Malcolm and Tru with that group, I think it gives us a solid depth up the middle that we have got to make sure shows up through all four quarters,” Fuller said.
Joshua Kaindoh was the star of preseason camp. Janarius Robinson should excel as a pass rusher now that FSU returns to the 4-3. Quashon Fuller is in position for playing time as Kaindoh’s backup while Josh Griffis or Deonte Williams will give Robinson a breather at the FOX/defensive end spot.
Emmett Rice and Leonard Warner are seniors and will start in two linebacker spots. Kalen DeLoach has impressed coaches this preseason and is given the “or” designation along with Amari Gainer. The level of talent and versatility at linebacker is the best it has been in recent years.
“The consistency that Kalen has done and the work he has put on over the last few months has helped him gain some reps,” Fuller said.
KICKERS / PUNTERS
Norvell is giving away little on special teams: Ryan Fitzgerald and Parker Grothaus have been involved in a close competition and he listed an “or” for both of them. Papuchis indicated coaches wouldn’t use a kicker for short field-goal attempts and another for longer field-goal attempts, so expect a decision to be made before Saturday’s opener. The same can be said with punters Alex Mastromanno and Tommy Martin, although it’s expected the freshman from Australia will earn the nod over the walk-on (Martin averaged just 39.2 yards per punt last season).
At kick return, Norvell lists Jay and Isaiah Bolden as well as Jashaun Corbin or La’Damian Webb. At punt return, he lists Jay, Samuel or Helton. This would be an appropriate reward for Bolden, who has moved from defensive back to receiver and gets a chance to have the ball in his hands. And coaches can also give Corbin or Webb a breather at times on special teams based on how many carries they have on offense.
“Well from a program philosophy standpoint, we are going to put the best guys out there to give us an opportunity,” Papuchis said. “But we are always going to be smart in how we allocate the reps. That is one of the reasons why you have ‘or’s listed, that is a sincere, kind of genuine approach to it.”
Below is the depth chart FSU released on defense and special teams: