FSU Football: Breaking down the interior D-Line depth for 2020

MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 06: Brian Burns #99 of the Florida State Seminoles causes a fumble by N'Kosi Perry #5 of the Miami Hurricanes in the first half at Hard Rock Stadium on October 6, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 06: Brian Burns #99 of the Florida State Seminoles causes a fumble by N'Kosi Perry #5 of the Miami Hurricanes in the first half at Hard Rock Stadium on October 6, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

With 2020 FSU football spring practice on the distant horizon, Chop Chat’s Sam Tschida takes a look at what fans should expect from FSU’s interior d-line in 2020.

One of the stronger position groups on the team, the defensive line has been a cornerstone for the FSU football program in recent years.

From athletic pass rushers like Brian Burns and Demarcus Walker to stout run stoppers like Derrick Nnadi and Marvin Wilson, the d-line has produced several dominant players in the past decade.

This past season, the d-line was one of the few consistent bright spots on a struggling defense. Marvin Wilson was putting together an All-American caliber season before succumbing to injury.

Robert Cooper continued to improve and showed flashes of becoming a truly dominant nose tackle.

Corey Durden continued a trend of steady improvement and became a pass-rushing force as a hybrid DE/DT. Tru Thompson had an impressive true freshman campaign.

There are a ton of positives to take away from the defensive line of 2019, and with all three starters returning, there is reason to be hopeful for 2020.

New defensive coordinator Adam Fuller runs a 4-3-hybrid scheme, a switch from the 3-4 that FSU ran this past season. This gives some of FSU’s more athletic defensive ends a slot at the ‘Edge’ position while putting the three interior d-linemen in similar positions.

With so much returning production on the d-line, here is what fans should expect from the interior.

Defensive Tackle

When Marvin Wilson announced his intentions to return to school in late December, it was a shock to  FSU football fans everywhere.

Wilson was a projected early-round NFL Draft pick, and it seemed unlikely the former five-star recruit would return. With a returning Wilson, head coach Mike Norvell has his centerpiece for what should be a good defense next season.

This past season, Wilson served as primarily a 3-technique defensive tackle and 4-technique defensive end in FSU’s 3-4 defense.

He provides instant production on the interior defensive line. So far during his career, Wilson has racked up 92 total tackles, 8.5 sacks, and 13.0 TFLs.

Wilson’s ability to play both nose tackle, three-technique (in between the guard and tackle) and a little bit of weakside defensive end make Wilson a favorite for the best player on FSU’s roster.

At the opposite defensive tackle position, Corey Durden returns for his fourth year in Tallahassee. Durden emerged as an impact player in 2018 while backing up Demarcus Christmas, and was named a full-time starter last year. He recorded 5.0 sacks along with 39 total tackles while mostly playing as a defensive end in the 3-4 scheme.

Durden has a burst rarely seen from an interior pass rusher, which makes him a dangerous interior defender. In the new 4-3 scheme, Durden will most likely slide back into a more traditional defensive tackle role as a 3-technique pass-rushing specialist, but should also receive reps at weakside defensive end. With two years of experience, Durden will provide quality reps, even if he ends up playing backup to Wilson.

Finally, nose tackle Robert Cooper returns after a breakout year in 2019. Cooper finished his first full season as a starter with 40 tackles and 5.0 TFLs, great numbers for a nose tackle. Cooper played almost exclusively as a one-technique (next to the center) this year, and while he was not always consistent, he seemed to get better every single game.

Cooper’s role in the new defensive scheme is uncertain; Fuller does not use a ‘true’ nose tackle every play but does run four-man fronts with a man almost head-up with the center frequently. Cooper will most likely rotate in between Durden and Wilson, and I would assume be paired with Wilson for 1st and 2nd down before being replaced by Durden on 3rd.

Behind those three are a whole host of unproven players. With the medical disqualification of Cedric Wood, there is not a whole lot of experience among the backups. Tru Thompson, a former three-star from Colquitt County, got a bit of playing time last season but was never truly impressive (although he has a lot of potential).

Redshirt sophomore Jamarcus Chatman, a former three-star, could receive reps on the interior d-line.

Malcolm Ray, an undersized defensive tackle from Miami, heads into his redshirt freshman season as someone looking to earn reps, but is still unproven and has not played in a game. Manny Rogers, a high three-star DT from Miami, could also provide depth, and is unlikely to redshirt.

Underclassmen like Quashon Fuller and Dennis Briggs Jr., both of whom are listed as defensive ends, could also receive reps in the interior.

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Bottom Line. Defensive tackle has three studs who should receive the majority of reps, but the rest of the guys behind them are unproven. Here’s to hoping Wilson, Cooper, and Durden stay healthy because if one of them gets hurt, there is no proven depth behind them.