One segment group that has impressed in the preseason has been the defensive backs, which arguably is the deepest group on Florida State’s roster in the 2021 season. FSU has a large group of veterans, including transfers, as well as young players who are developing.
“There’s going to be some young guys that are going to help us this year,” defensive backs coach Marcus Woodson said on Tuesday. “One thing we got to continue to do is have a consistent mindset with the way we show up day in and day out. Once we do that, we’re pretty damn good. But just that consistent mindset, day in and day out is one thing that we must establish.”
Woodson said grad transfer Meiko Dotson is not only healthy but has developed as a leader in the position group. Dotson, Jarvis Brownlee and Travis Jay are among the potential starters at corner. Injuries limited Dotson to just three games and nine tackles, but he isn’t far removed from recording nine interceptions in 2019 at FAU.
“Meiko is someone that is a pro,” Woodson said. “His presence in the room is really really good. He leads with his actions. Now let’s become more vocal.”
Brownlee played in eight games (including four starts) and had 26 tackles. Woodson praised Brownlee for his development and work ethic as he goes into year 3 but is just a redshirt freshman.
“He’s a consistent corner,” Woodson said. “When we hit this practice field, he shows up each and every day and he practices with the sense of urgency and with the mindset that I wish we had day in and day out at each position in the room. The main thing with Jarvis is leadership.”
Jay’s versatility has been valuable for the Seminoles, allowing the coaches to play him at corner or safety as well as on special teams.
“He’s grown up a lot,” Woodson said. “He’s had a really good camp thus far, we have him playing multiple positions because of his versatility. And I like where he’s at right now from a down-to-down standpoint. He just has to continue to develop mental toughness, that’s my message to him right now. And once he does that, he has all-conference potential.”
Akeem Dent has also found a home at safety after battling through inconsistency at corner in 2020.
“We made a decision to put him back at safety,” Woodson said of Dent’s position his freshman season. “I’ve been really impressed with the progress that he has made at free safety. He has done a really good job in terms of making open-field tackles. The physicality side was one thing that I challenged him with coming in to camp and he has responded to that.”
FSU has an abundance of talent in the secondary, including transfers like Jammie Robinson, Brandon Moore and Jarques McClellion. The Seminoles could also feature more nickel looks in 2021 as they face teams with pass-oriented offenses. Robinson and true freshman Kevin Knowles are among the options to play nickel.
Among the positives: The running game was viewed as a strength going into the season and that viewpoint has been reinforced during the practices open to the media. Jashaun Corbin runs with a purpose and through initial contact, moving his legs and either falling forward or breaking through the line of scrimmage. Lawrance Toafili took a lick over the middle from Shyheim Brown in a goal-line drill but held on to the ball. Defensive players at all three levels had interceptions late in the day in 11-on-11 drills. Defensive coordinator Adam Fuller has pushed for turnovers and promotes “Mission Takeaway” on social media, and Tuesday was reflective of the group’s awareness of forcing turnovers. It’s also becoming clear Jarrett Jackson is part of the mix as part of a four-man rotation at defensive tackle.
Areas of improvement: Shotgun snaps continue to be a sore spot throughout camp. While the takeaways were a real positive for the defense, it’s not a good thing from the offense’s viewpoint. One of the unfortunate instances came when a pass bounced off Ontaria Wilson’s hands and into Jarvis Brownlee’s hands.
Longtime FSU defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews observed practice and often spoke with coach Mike Norvell.