Florida State’s spring practice starts Wednesday and concludes with the annual spring game April 9 in Orlando.
The Seminoles are coming off their fourth consecutive 10 win season (10-3) in what many labeled a rebuilding year. The expectations are even higher for Jimbo Fisher’s squad in 2016 with 16 returning starters, including the entire offense.
We will break down each position until the team hits the practice field. Today, we take a look at the linebackers.
Projected starters: R-JR Ro’Derrick Hoskins, R-JR Matthew Thomas.
Key backups: SO Sh’mar Kilby-Lane, R-JR Tyrell Lyons, JR Jacob Pugh, R-SO Devin Purifoy, FR Josh Brown.
What to watch for: This group has the most to overcome after losing starters Reggie Northrup and Terrance Smith and being decimated the last two years by injury, transfers and dismissals. FSU has handled the dwindling numbers by using two true linebackers in a defense in which the buck and star are more hybrid positions. Hoskins was an unsung hero last season. Even Fisher admitted his development was crucial with Northrup starting slow while recovering from off-season surgery and Smith missing several games with an ankle injury. This year the spotlight will be on Thomas, who has yet to live up to his five-star billing and likely has one last chance to prove he is not a bust. Thomas was ineligible for the entire 2015 season after missing the first six games in 2014 because of a suspension. … Kilby-Lane played in all but two games last season as a true freshman. … FSU restocked the position this year by signing four linebackers: early enrollee Josh Brown, along with Dontavious Jackson, Keion Joyner and Emmitt Rice.
In conclusion: Thomas could be the difference, not only at linebacker, but the difference between a very good and a great defense. Thomas was ranked the No. 6 overall prospect in the country according to ESPN coming out of Booker T. Washington High in Miami in 2013 but his career has been derailed by injuries and suspensions. Still, he was good enough to start three games his second season. If Thomas reaches his potential the position will be in good hands with him and Hoskins. Look for at least two of the true freshmen to get a chance to crack the rotation.