FSU Football defensive tackle evaluation heading into summer
football Edit

Rating the Room: DTs should be strong anchor for FSU defense in 2022

With the spring semester having come to a close and the Florida State football team preparing for the start of summer workouts, it's time to take stock of each position on the Seminoles' offense and defense.

What are the position strengths and weaknesses? How is the depth? Is additional help needed through the transfer portal?

We'll answer each of those questions and more, continuing today with the defensive tackles. And don't miss the earlier previews: Running Back | Quarterback | Tight ends | Offensive line | Wide Receiver | Defensive end |

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FSU football coach Mike Norvell playfully races defensive tackle Robert Cooper before the spring game.===[=
FSU football coach Mike Norvell playfully races defensive tackle Robert Cooper before the spring game.===[= (Melina Myers/USAToday Sports Images)

Projected Depth Chart

While neither would have been projected to be an early pick in the 2022 draft, there was legitimate concern that one or both of Florida State's starting defensive tackles could make the jump to the NFL following last season.

But once redshirt senior Robert Cooper and redshirt junior Fabien Lovett decided to return again this fall, the heart of the Seminoles' defense was immediately fortified. And with several veterans and talented underclassmen coming up behind them, this is one of the deepest positions on the FSU football team.

FSU will have at least a five-player rotation in the middle of the defensive line this fall, and there will be a few other young players pushing for playing time as well.

The Top Two: Robert Cooper and Fabien Lovett

There won't be many, if any, defensive tackles in the country this season with as much experience as Cooper. The Georgia product has already played in 44 games, and he has been a starter since the 2019 season.

While he is perhaps best known for his great size -- Cooper is listed at 6-foot-2 and 335 pounds after losing a good deal of weight in recent years -- he also is very productive for an interior lineman. Cooper recorded 39 tackles last season and 40 in 2019; like everyone else, his numbers were much lower during the COVID-shortened 2020 season.

Cooper is not only a very good run-stuffer, but he is deceptively quick and can rush the passer as well.

Lovett, who started his career at Mississippi State before transferring to FSU in 2020, really began to blossom last fall. At 6-4 and 306 pounds, and with an impressive combination of strength and quickness, he is a very good complement to Cooper.

The Next Three: Malcolm Ray, Jarrett Jackson, Joshua Farmer

Though neither one had produced much in the past, Ray and Jackson both emerged as important contributors to the defensive line rotation in 2021.

Ray played at least 30 snaps in six of his last eight games and finished with 24 tackles; his 5.5 tackles for loss actually was tops on the team at that position. The Miami native is not a massive force at 6-2 and 280 pounds, but he is extremely athletic and even started two games midway through last season.

Jackson (6-6, 297) is gifted physically, but the biggest question he has had to answer is if he can be a consistent force from play to play. The former Louisville transfer appeared to make strides in that area during the spring, but if that doesn't continue, he will be pushed by the redshirt freshman Farmer.

Farmer (6-3, 299) played in four games last fall but was able to maintain his redshirt; he is considered one of the more talented young players on the roster and should be a real contributor this fall.

Others in the mix: Shambre Jackson, Daniel Lyons, Bishop Thomas

While Jackson is entering his second year at FSU, he is still making the transition from high school defensive end and might be another year away from becoming a factor on Saturdays. He was listed at 6-3 and 263 pounds this spring.

While it's unlikely to expect much from freshman defensive tackles, Lyons and Thomas both showed a lot of potential as early enrollees this spring. Lyons (6-4, 283) is the more likely of the two to make an early impact, but Thomas (6-2, 291) flashed a lot in drills as well.

Outlook for 2022

Even in an era of spread formations and wide-open passing games, it's important for defenses to be strong up the middle, and this group should do just that for Florida State. Especially with an improved linebacking corps and All-ACC level safeties behind them.

And with defensive coordinator Adam Fuller sometimes employing a three-man front in passing situations, look for defensive ends Dennis Briggs Jr. and Jared Verse to line up inside as well.

Needs this offseason

While you can never have enough quality linemen, it's unlikely that the Seminoles will pursue a defensive tackle in the transfer portal. There are too many other positions of greater need, and the Seminoles don't have much scholarship space available with the 85-player limit. The focus here will be continuing to build for the future with recruits for the 2023 and '24 classes.

Grade entering the summer

B: Above average in the ACC

There are expected to be some excellent defensive lines in the ACC this season, and Florida State will be in that conversation. Cooper and Lovett give the Seminoles two great pieces to start with, but what will determine the overall success of this unit will be the continued development of Ray, Jackson, Farmer and the rest. If they can prove there will be little drop-off when they enter the game, FSU's coaches will be able to keep the starters fresh for the fourth quater.

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