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Position by position: Fuller reflects on improved depth, development

Florida State defensive coordinator Adam Fuller met with the media on Thursday to reflect on the Seminoles’ spring practices. Below is a position by position look back at some defensive players as well as thoughts from Fuller.

Defensive linemen

FSU’s front four is deep and experienced. When Fabien Lovett and Robert Cooper announced their intention to return in 2022, it strengthened the Seminoles’ ability to defend the run this fall — and will make the still-developing ends better as well as the linebackers, too.

“We’ll be significantly better inside,” Fuller said. “There’s no question about that because everybody’s back and everybody’s better. That’s going to happen.”

The transfer portal prospect who garnered the most attention this winter was Jared Verse, who left Albany after one calendar year (spring and fall season) on the field in 2021. His athleticism is undeniable and Verse’s progress was evident from practice 1 to 15.

“He’s been really consistent with effort,” Fuller said. “He’s been really consistent with his physicality, his want to and his energy level. We do have to clean up some things technique-wise so that he can maximize all the tools that he has. He’s super aggressive. He’s as fast if not faster than any defensive lineman I have coached from a speed standpoint. But we do have to clean up some of his line of scrimmage technique and how he’s playing, but with his personality and his attitude that’s what I’m excited most about here over those next three months. He’s a competitive person and I’m excited to coach somebody like that because when you tell them that these are the things that need to get better, they want to hear that.”

The coaching staff has also been patient with the development of Derrick McLendon, who is beginning year 4 at FSU. “Derrick McLendon is one of the most improved players we have on defense,” Fuller said. “We saw that. He’s just stronger, he’s more developed, his understanding is there, his physicality.”

Fuller and the coaching staff have also slid Dennis Briggs to defensive end, although they plan to use him similarly to Keir Thomas — who often was an edge rusher but moved inside on passing downs. “I thought Dennis Briggs was playing really good football until he went down (in) that Louisville,” Fuller said. “But to add him to that mix up there, I think him and Keir (Thomas) have a lot of similarities, just in how they play.”

FSU is also loaded with young defensive linemen. Fuller gave a quick snapshot of a number of them, from Patrick Payton to Byron Turner Jr., George Wilson, Dante Anderson and Aaron Hester.

“Pat’s probably the furthest along right now,” Fuller said. “He’s playing with good anticipation. His body’s caught up with his development. He’s a smart player. I think he’s really doing a good job. Byron missed all season last year. This was really brand new for him. This was really his first time since the first practice in August that he’s really getting into a stance and trying to execute, but I did see a lot of things out of him that we’re excited about. George Wilson had the furthest to go from a development standpoint. I thought his finish to spring really will carry some momentum into the summer. Dante Anderson definitely shined for us. He’s still young and a lot of things that he’s trying to get accomplished from a technique standpoint. But he belongs here. And then Aaron Hester, he showed some really good things in some one-on-ones, with some pass rush. He’s not the longest player but he does have quickness, he’s physical. He’s smart. We just got to get him playing with a little bit more technique with his length, with his hands just so he can get off blocks better. He was getting covered up a little bit there in the spring but I think it’s a good group.”

Linebackers

Tatum Bethune looked very comfortable in FSU’s defensive scheme, one coached in part by his old position coach at UCF in Randy Shannon. Bethune anticipates plays well and looks to be a starter. “Tatum is definitely going to have an impact on this defense next fall, somebody we’re really excited about,” Fuller said.

The linebacker group has transformed through the years and hard lessons learned while playing early in their careers should help. “From Kalen DeLoach to Stephen Dix to Amari Gainer to DJ Lundy, three years ago they were all playing and now they still play and they’ve gotten better,” Fuller said. “And so we’re seeing net growth from that group. That’s been really exciting. Kalen DeLoach has probably come the furthest, Amari is getting better. DJ Lundy showed significant improvement. And I thought Stephen Dix really had, probably the last three to four practices, started to play a lot faster.”

Defensive backs

The defensive backfield seemed to take turns producing takeaways. We saw that early enrollees Sam McCall and Arareye’h Thomas can contribute and will fight for 50-50 balls.  Omarion Cooper is also building on his playing time as a true freshman last fall. There were also some veterans who are in line for starting jobs, notably Renardo Green at corner after seeing playing time at safety earlier in his career.

“That’s where he’s gonna play and that’s where he’s gonna stay,” Fuller said. “That’s a good position for him. It’s a pretty natural position for him. He’s one of the most physical corners that we have in our program. Moves his feet, stays square, really good with his hands. … His engagement is really strong and he wants to be really good.”

Fuller also praised Akeem Dent, who had his best spring and has revitalized his career at safety. Dent played primarily at safety in high school and is flourishing in a similar role now at FSU.

“I think we saw Akeem (Dent) play his best football he has here at Florida State in the last four or five weeks,” Fuller said.

Watch the full video of Fuller here: