Notes: Experience builds confidence for FSU’s defense

Dressed in a salmon-colored suit and sleek basketball shoes, Jammie Robinson was intent on getting a message across.

“We’re bringing the ‘dog’ back,” Florida State Security said. “Everybody loves Florida State when we win, so that’s what we have to do.”

This dog refers to mentality, motivation and the desire to be great. It’s something that not only comes with personality, of which Robinson has a lot, but also with experience. That’s why Florida State’s defense is confident it will make it through.

“It was difficult at the start from 0-4. But we got closer as a team, we knew we had to change some things and this year we’re not looking and looking for players to bring in,” Robinson said. “We are loaded in each group and they are in competition, nobody is complacent.”

That experience can make all the difference, but the Seminoles also added a few things to strengthen the team. Focus and consistency will be what FSU is driven to improve. The second half of the season, the defense turned into a solid unit, finishing in the top 50 of the most advanced metric categories. This gave the offseason momentum for the group, which is committed to taking it to another level.

“We work hard, like we work very hard (in practice),” defensive tackle Fabien Lovett said. “We have a lot of expectations of ourselves. We are ready to show the world.

Talent and depth have increased for Florida State on the defensive side of the ball. They’ve had plenty of young players, brimming with potential, who take a few years to develop, with some showing glimpses last season.

“You have to put it all together. We are all capable of making games, now we have to go out there and do it when the lights are on in the game,” Robinson said. “I am confident in the changes we have made. I may be gassed, but lock yourself in when you’re tired and it gets hard.

New additions ready to strengthen the defense

The transfer portal has been very kind to Mike Norvell in his tenure at Florida State. Jermaine Johnson and Keir Thomas were two of college football’s most impressive newcomers last season. Johnson became a first-round pick, while Thomas has a real shot at making the NFL roster this season. It’s something that Norvell has potentially struck gold again this season.

“Not just with frontline talent and experience – we have depth now,” Norvell said of the upgrades. “Linebackers have that core, and then we add Tatum Bethune, who we think is going to be a special player.”

Bethune, a transfer from UCF, particularly caught the attention of players and coaching staff. Bethune had nearly 200 tackles and 13.5 tackles for loss during his career with the Knights. The linebacker recorded 108 tackles in 2021. He made an immediate impression as soon as he set foot in Tallahassee.

“He’s a baseball player, you could see that when he got here,” Robinson said. “He’s someone we needed and he wants to be great.”

The Seminoles also added defensive end Jared Verse, who has also impressed during his time at FSU so far. The quick first step and blasting off the line are his trademarks.

“Jared Verse has that dog in him. He’s got that engine and he’s going 100 miles an hour every game,” Robinson said. “You will not block it one-on-one. He’s going to play games.

Verse had 14.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss in two seasons at the FCS school in Albany. FSU is counting on him to be one of the guys to help fill the void in Johnson, who won the 2021 ACC Defensive Player of the Year award.

The defense should be much improved under coordinator Adam Fuller in 2022. The Seminoles have the right combo of experience and talent to expect a big jump this season.

“They grew from the experience they had. They had better communication, attention to detail,” Norvell said. “Understanding covers and fits and all the things that take time. You’ve seen guys who really emerged.

Lovett plays with extra motivation

Fabien Lovett has gradually become one of Florida State’s most influential defensive plays. The power and athleticism were evident from day one after his transfer from Mississippi State in 2020. He had a strong 2021 season, racking up 28 tackles and two sacks, prompting many to wonder if he would opt for the NFL Draft. Lovett returned for several reasons.

The tackle now has a baby boy who is around 18 months old. Lovett said it changed his outlook on life for him.

“He’s getting big, really big,” Lovett said with a laugh. “That’s the point of taking care of my little man. It’s not about me, it’s about him. Everything is for him.

He also promised his mother that he would give her a diploma, becoming the first in his family to graduate. The NIL agreements were also a major boost for Lovett and his family.

Lovett had 28 tackles, 4.5 for losses and two sacks last season, but he’s ready to take his game to another level. He added about seven pounds of muscle, which he says is all muscle and no fat. Lovett is confident this will only enhance his abilities in the trenches.

“I got stronger, that should help,” he said smiling. “It will make it harder to move, I’m already hard to move.”

The tackle noted that he changed his diet, making sure to eat more efficiently throughout the day and choosing the right foods to meet his growth and energy needs.

Lovett mentioned at the ACC kickoff that the depth of the line has grown to the point where now he can feel confident fighting more guys, not just proven names like Robert Cooper. His leadership will be counted on as the Seminoles head into battle this season.

“It’s been a great year for the team, this program and for all of us in general,” he said. “I want to be a better leader; this is the turnaround year we worked hard for.

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