FSU Football Spring Defensive Tackle Preview: ‘Noles Plan To Reload Instead Of Rebuild

The Seminoles are losing Braden Fiske and Fabien Lovett but are still loaded with talent along the interior.

Florida State’s stout defensive line was one of the strengths of a standout defense in 2023. Led by Braden Fiske, Joshua Farmer, and Fabien Lovett, the interior was as strong as it has been since head coach Mike Norvell arrived in Tallahassee. Injuries beat up the group throughout the season but they played their best football during the final stretch against Florida and Louisville.

The Seminoles begin the spring with just five scholarship defensive tackles after losing five members of the room over the offseason. Fiske and Lovett graduated but Dennis Briggs, Malcolm Ray, and Ayobami Tifase all chose to transfer. That means the number of available defensive linemen is somewhat dwindling as #Tribe24 signees, Jamorie Flagg and D’Nas White, won’t enroll until the summer.

The good news is that rising star Joshua Farmer is back in the fold alongside running mate Darrell Jackson. The pair are expected to play a pivotal role in the ultimate success of the room once the season arrives. Redshirt sophomore Daniel Lyons and redshirt freshman KJ Sampson have shown promising flashes. The hope is that they’ll be able to take a swift step in their respective developments. The lone spring newcomer is Colorado State transfer Grady Kelly, who has plenty of experience in the Mountain West.

Fiske made a huge impact during his only year at Florida State. He led the defensive tackles in total tackles (43), tackles for loss (9), and sacks (6) while putting forth a performance in the ACC Championship that arguably earned him MVP honors. Lovett was with the Seminoles during the beginning steps of the rebuild, making an impact on the field and in the locker room as the program rose back into a national power. He’ll certainly be missed in more ways than one by the Seminoles.

Briggs and Ray were two other veterans who were amongst the defensive line rotation over the last few years. Tifase was a development player who flashed in practice but hadn’t yet carried that over into gamedays. His loss somewhat puts the room behind on numbers because Jarrett Jackson, Antavious Woody, and Bishop Thomas have all departed from the program in about a 15-month period.

Redshirt junior Joshua Farmer, redshirt junior Darrell Jackson, redshirt sophomore Daniel Lyons, and redshirt freshman KJ Sampson

Florida State returns 56 total tackles (36.4%), 7.5 tackles for loss (30%), five sacks (37%), and one forced fumble (100%) from its defensive tackles that suited up during the 2023 season. The majority of that production came from Farmer but it’s also skewed since Jackson couldn’t play in more than one game.

Kelly joins the Seminoles after three years at Colorado State. He was named a Freshman All-American by College Football News in 2022 and is coming off a season where he totaled 35 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks while starting all 12 games and earning 536 defensive snaps for the Rams. He may not be Fiske but Kelly has some of the same qualities in that he’s constantly hustling and doesn’t give up in between the whistle.

There will certainly be a step up in competition at Florida State and Kelly will have to battle for a significant role. He’s the smallest scholarship defensive tackle on the roster at 6-foot-4, 285-pounds but comes in with a chip on his shoulder. It sounds like he’s impressed in the offseason program and he looked to be in good shape during the open Tour of Duty workout.

Farmer has grown each year at Florida State since signing with the hometown program in 2021. He’s coming off a season where he earned Second-Team All-ACC honors after recording 32 tackles, seven tackles for loss, five sacks, one forced fumble, and two pass deflections. He was also named the program’s most-improved player on defense. Farmer set a new career-high of five tackles twice last year, both coming in big road wins over Clemson (1.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks) and Florida (0.5 TFLs, 0.5 sacks).

It’ll be up to the Farmer and defensive tackles coach Odell Haggins to keep him growing in the right direction. There’s still another level to his game that he can reach and it begins this spring. Farmer had his season ended early due to hand surgery but is fully healthy as he elevates to the alpha dog of the room.

Jackson was limited to just one appearance in his first year with the Seminoles due to some NCAA hoopla which was promptly resolved following the season. Funny how that works but that’s a conversation for another day. In the end, the denial of Jackson’s waiver might’ve been what is keeping him with the program for another year so there is a bright side depending on how you look at the situation.

The former Miami and Maryland transfer looks to be in the best shape of his life entering an important stretch of his career. He was a standout performer during the Tour of Duty and moves extremely well for being listed at 334 pounds. It’s really all about realizing the type of dominant force he can be while becoming more consistent from down to down.

Farmer and Jackson will ultimately determine how far the interior defensive line carries the Seminoles’ defense in 2024. If they don’t live up to the level that’s expected, it could mean trouble with the current depth issue in the room. That’s why the players behind them must show legitimate flashes in March and April.

Lyons spent his first two seasons developing while playing a small role in a room that was stacked with experience, talent, and numbers. He started in the Orange Bowl and tied his career-high of four tackles while going toe-to-toe with Georgia. Lyons has ample athleticism and is thought highly of within the program. We’ll see if he’s at the point of his growth where he can take on a sizable role.

Sampson is coming off his first year in Tallahassee. This was an important offseason for him as it’s worth noting that he didn’t enroll until last summer. That means the last few months marked his first chance to experience the Tour of Duty and the extra time on the field during the spring is also extremely valuable. The former blue-chip recruit is 6-foot-4, 303 pounds with boatloads of potential.

Kelly will probably have some hurdles to grapple with early on as he acclimates to the competition at Florida State and the level of expectations within the program. He grew in each of his three seasons at Colorado State and there still may be some upside for the coaching staff to tap into.

This is a position where the Seminoles could explore their options in the portal following the spring. As it stands, the room is an injury or two away from being extremely thin.

Gideon Canice

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