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Notes: Experience builds confidence for FSU’s defense

Decked out in a salmon-colored suit and stylish basketball shoes, Jammie Robinson was intent on sending a message.

“We’re bringing the ‘dog’ back,” the Florida State safety said. “Everybody loves Florida State when we’re winning, so that’s we got to do.”

That dog refers to mentality, drive and desire to be great. It’s something that comes not only with personality, which Robinson has plenty of, but experience. That’s why the Florida State defense feels confident it will turn the corner.

“It was rough at first starting 0-4. But we became closer though as a team, we knew we had to change some things and this year we’re not looking and searching for players to bring in,” Robinson said. “We’re loaded in every group and they’re competing, nobody is complacent.”

That experience can make all the difference, but the Seminoles added some pieces to bolster the team as well. Focus and consistency will be what FSU is motivated to improve on. The second half of the season the defense molded into a solid unit, finishing in the top 50 of most advanced metric categories. It boosted the momentum into the offseason for the group, who vowed to take it to another level.

“We work hard, like we work really hard (in practice),” defensive tackle Fabien Lovett said. “We have a lot of expectations for ourselves. We’re ready to show the world.”

The talent and depth has increased for Florida State on the defensive side of the ball. They’ve had plenty of young players, brimming with potential, take a few years to develop, some showing glimpses last season.

“We have to put it all together. We’re all capable of making plays, we just have to now go and do it when the lights are on in the game,” Robinson said. “I’m confident in the changes we’ve made. I might be gassed, but lock in when you’re tired and it gets hard.”

New additions primed to bolster defense

The transfer portal has been very kind to Mike Norvell in his tenure at Florida State. Jermaine Johnson and Keir Thomas were two of college football’s most impressive newcomers last season. Johnson became a first-round pick, while Thomas has a real shot at making an NFL roster this season. It’s something Norvell has potentially struck gold in again this season.

“Not only with front line-talent and experience — we now have depth,” Norvell said of the improvements. “The linebackers have that core and then we add Tatum Bethune, who we think is going to be a special player.” 

Bethune, a transfer from UCF, has particularly caught the eye of the players and coaching staff. Bethune racked up nearly 200 tackles and 13.5 tackles for loss in his career with the Knights. The linebacker recorded 108 tackles in 2021. He made an immediate impression as soon as he stepped foot in Tallahassee.

“He’s a ballplayer, you could see that when he got here,” Robinson said. “He’s someone we needed and he wants to be great.”

The Seminoles also added defensive end Jared Verse, who has impressed as well in his time at FSU so far. The quick first step and explosion off the line are his trademarks.

“Jared Verse has that dog in him. He’s got that motor and he’s 100 miles per hour on every play,” Robinson said. “You won’t block him one-on-one. He’s going to make plays.”

Verse had 14.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss in two seasons at FCS school Albany. FSU is counting on him to be one of the guys that helps fill the void of Johnson, who won the ACC Defensive Player of the year award in 2021.

The defense should be much improved under coordinator Adam Fuller in 2022. The Seminoles have the right combo of experience and talent to expect a big jump this season.

“They grew through the experience they had. They communicated better, the attention to details,” Norvell said. “The understanding of coverages and fits and all the things that take time. You saw guys that really emerged.”

Lovett playing with added motivation

Fabien Lovett has gradually become one of Florida State’s most influential defensive pieces. The power and athleticism was evident from day one after he transferred from Mississippi State in 2020. He had a strong 2021 season, accumulating 28 tackles and two sacks, which prompted many to wonder if he would opt for the NFL Draft. Lovett came back for a few reasons.

The tackle now has a baby boy who is about 18 months old. Lovett said it’s changed perspective on life for him.

“He’s getting big, like real big,” Lovett said laughing. “It’s the goal to take care of my little man. It’s not about me anymore, it’s about him. Everything is for him.”

He also made a promise to his mother that he would hand her a degree, becoming the first in his family to graduate. NIL deals have also been a major boost to Lovett and his family.

Lovett had 28 tackles, 4.5 for loss, and two sacks last season, but he is primed to take his game to another level. He’s added around seven pounds of muscles, which he is adamant is all muscle and no fat. Lovett is confident it will only boost his abilities in the trenches.

“I’ve gotten stronger, it should help,” he said smiling. “It’ll make it harder to move, I’m already hard to move.”

The tackle noted he changed his diet, making sure to eat more efficiently throughout the day and choosing the right foods to meet his growth and energy needs.

Lovett mentioned at ACC Kickoff that the depth of the line has grown to where now he can feel confident going into battle with more guys, not just proven names like Robert Cooper. His leadership will be counted upon as the Seminoles head into battle this season.

“This is a big year for the team, this program and for all of us in general,” he said. “I want to be a better leader; this is the turnaround year we’ve worked hard for.”