Florida State’s defensive front has often been a bright spot despite the 0-3 start. Landing defensive ends Jermaine Johnson and Keir Thomas via the transfer portal has helped considerably as far as production and leadership.
“Definitely a lot of energy, energy guy,” Derrick McLendon said of what Johnson brings to the Seminoles on game days.
Johnson has been able to pressure the passer, leading the ACC with 5.0 sacks, which leads the FBS, and 6.5 tackles for loss (tied for second in the FBS). What Johnson has done is not just give the Seminoles their best pass rush threat since Brian Burns in 2018 but bring an edge to the defensive front.
“He plays a lot and he plays really hard,” defensive coordinator Adam Fuller said. “He loves football. I think that shows up on the practice field and it’s showing up in production. What it’s done is it has created, not just by him but up front, Derrick McLendon with good production on Saturday, Keir Thomas played his best game. I think Fabien (Lovett) is playing by far his best football since he’s been here. There are some other guys too. He’s created an expectation for himself, which has helped some of the others create higher expectations for themselves too.”
As hard as it it to fathom, FSU had just nine sacks in nine games in 2020. The Seminoles already have 12 sacks in three games this fall.
On Wednesday, Johnson lamented some poor tackling by the defense — he cited approximately 20 in the loss at Wake — but also said he remains focused on what the team can do to improve against Louisville on Saturday (3:30 p.m. on ESPN2).
“I’m a big team guy,” Johnson said. “Just do what I can to be available to everybody on the team. I’ve been trying my best to be as available and encouraging as I can this week in practice. I know team starts off 0-3, a lot of guys would like to, like coach (Mike) Norvell said after practice, talk and point fingers. But us as a whole team we do a good job of being thumb pointers, not finger pointers. Hold ourselves accountable and look at what we can do better and apply it to the next week.”
The challenge this week is considerable with Louisville dual-threat quarterback Malik Cunningham, who has thrown for 734 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions as well as 42 carries for 207 yards and six rushing touchdowns.
“Quarterback is insanely dynamic,” Johnson said. “He can run like a receiver and still throw as good as any quarterback.”
Mike Norvell has, like prior coaches at FSU, used GPS data to measure effort and energy exerted at practice. He began Wednesday’s post-practice comments by reflecting on what the Seminoles showed on Tuesday on the field.
“Looking back at the numbers yesterday, just from the workload and the intensity of what guys brought throughout practice, really good numbers,” Norvell said. “One of the top numbers we’ve had throughout the course of a practice. The work is there. We have to make sure the details are continuing to improve.”
McKenzie Milton was more accurate on Wednesday than Tuesday. Chubba Purdy also took a good number of reps.
FSU coaches cross trained along the offensive line, with Norvell saying they were able to get Lloyd Willis some work with the first- and second-team offense. “You’re seeing confidence in him,” Norvell said. “You see the growth throughout the work.”
Tackle Robert Scott and center Maurice Smith were also able to practice on Wednesday.
“They got a little bit more work today,” Norvell said. “It’s trending in the right way. Obviously we still got some more days to see how their bodies respond.”