By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Another day closer to spring football, Seminoles.com’s position-by-position preview of the 2015 Florida State football team continues with a look at the defensive line.
Defensive tackles coach: Odell Haggins (Florida State ’93, 22nd year at Florida State)
Defensive ends/outside linebackers coach: Brad Lawing (Lenoir-Rhyne ’79, first year at Florida State)
Who’s in: Chris Casher (6-4, 250; RS JR), Lorenzo Featherston (6-7, 220; SO), DeMarcus Walker (6-3, 277; JR), Rick Leonard (6-7, 268; SO), Josh Sweat (6-5, 240; FR), Georgio Newberry (6-6, 285; RS SR), Derrick Mitchell (6-4, 303; RS SR), Adam Torres (6-4, 288; RS FR), Derrick Nnadi (6-2, 303; SO), Justin Shanks (6-2, 322; RS JR), Demarcus Christmas (6-3, 302; SO), Fredrick Jones (6-2, 307; RS FR), Keith Bryant (6-2, 319; RS SO), Arthur Williams (6-5, 325; RS FR), Nile Lawrence-Stample (6-1, 314; RS SR), Jacob Pugh (6-4, 236; SO)
Who’s out: Mario Edwards Jr. (First-team All-ACC), Desmond Hollin (33 tackles, 4.0 TFLs), Eddie Goldman (First-team All-American)
See ya this summer: Darvin Taylor (6-2, 295; FR)
The buzz: In the last two seasons, Florida State has seen a steady line of All-America-caliber defensive linemen leave early for the NFL draft. It started in 2013, when pass rusher Bjoern Werner left and was selected in the first round by the Indianapolis Colts. (Senior Cornellius Carradine was selected in the second round that year.)
Tackle Timmy Jernigan followed in 2014, becoming the Baltimore Ravens’ second-round pick on the way to a promising rookie season.
And that trend will continue this year, as two of FSU’s most prominent defensive linemen from the 2014 season, Eddie Goldman and Mario Edwards Jr., are on their way to being high draft picks in a few weeks.
This type of attrition, while certainly a showcase for the program, can also lead to some challenges. FSU would’ve loved to have senior versions of all those players.
But the Seminoles have recruited defensive linemen at an outstanding level under coach Jimbo Fisher. Not only do they have lots of talent remaining on the roster, they also have a very large quantity.
That’s thanks in large part to the recruiting class of 2014, which signed seven defensive linemen (eight when including OLB/DE Jacob Pugh).
That group is entering its second year with the program and, along with a handful of remaining upperclassmen, should help stabilize FSU’s D-line while it adjusts to the absences of Edwards and Goldman.
The Seminoles enter fall camp with a pair of fifth-year seniors leading the way in the middle. Nile Lawrence-Stample is back after missing most of 2014 with a torn pectoral muscle. Coaches were pleased with his production before the injury, and he ended the year on a high note by making a surprise return against Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
And speaking of surprises, Derrick Mitchell was one of FSU’s most pleasant surprises a year ago. A fourth-year junior whose career had been obstructed by a variety of injuries, Mitchell emerged as one of the Seminoles’ steadiest defensive tackles and had by far the best season of his career.
Sophomore Derrick Nnadi will no doubt be a heavy factor in the defensive tackle rotation, and fellow sophomore Demarcus Christmas is in line for a push in his second year, too.
The situation at defensive end isn’t yet quite as clear. The Seminoles welcome in new coach Brad Lawing earlier this year, and with a new coach can come different sets of goals and expectations.
Chris Casher and DeMarcus Walker are the veterans among the group, and each will be leaned on more heavily than before as FSU looks to replace Edwards’ presence.
Sophomores Jacob Pugh and Lorenzo Featherston both return after promising freshman seasons, and if each can build on the explosiveness shown last year – see the NC State game as an example – they’ll push for extensive playing time.
Expect sophomore Rick Leonard to get in the mix as well. Fisher often raved about “Ricky” throughout the year despite Leonard only playing in four games.
Number of note: 17. After recording 17 sacks in 2014, the FSU D-line will look to help push that total back to mid-2010s levels, when FSU posted sack totals in the 30s and 40s.