August 3, 2019 - by
Practice Report: New-Look Pass Rush And New Looks On Defense

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Somewhere in the middle of the 1970s-inspired playlist for Florida State’s Saturday-morning practice – between “Love Train” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” – an FSU support staffer looked over at the speakers projecting across the Dunlap Practice Fields, smiled and said, “We’ve got that funky stuff going on today, brother.”

The tunes might have suggested a more relaxed vibe for Day 2 of fall camp, but the action on the field played to a faster beat as FSU’s offense and defense both took turns making plays across a wide variety of position and team drills.

The pace and intensity figures to pick up again on Sunday, when the Seminoles don shoulder pads for the first time and start hitting. Or, as coach Willie Taggart prefers, “thudding.”

Either way, it’s unlikely to be easy like Sunday morning.

New-look pass rush … in more ways than one: Joshua Kaindoh and Janarius Robinson are interested in creating pressure. Not so much feeling it themselves.

Florida State’s entire defense bears the burden of mitigating the loss of Brian Burns, who racked up 10 sacks and another 5.5 tackles for loss last season before becoming a first-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in April.

But, as the Seminoles’ most experienced pass-rushers, Kaindoh and Robinson are bound to be a key part of that effort.

It’s a big job, but the two both played it cool when asked about making up for Burns’ production.

“We all came to Florida State for a reason,” said Robinson, a Panama City native with 27 tackles and three tackles for loss in 2018. “We’re all ballplayers, so I don’t think it will be too much of a difference.”

Added Kaindoh, who had three sacks a year ago: “We’ve just got to handle our business.”

The “we” in question may be a bigger group than previously thought.

While the Seminoles are a little lacking in experience at defensive end (six of eight are either freshmen or redshirt freshmen), coordinator Harlon Barnett has mitigated that by sometimes using a 3-4-style front.

That means that Kaindoh and Robinson, as well as a group of converted linebackers that includes Josh Brown, Leonard Warner III, Amari Gainer and Adonis Thomas, are playing the outside linebacker role. Sometimes they’ll rush the passer, sometimes they’ll drop back into coverage.

The new look comes with adjustments – both Kaindoh and Robinson will be asked to stand up off the line of scrimmage at times, for example – but it also comes with some advantages, too.

“It gives you a little time to get on the O-tackle and get him out in space,” Robinson said. “You can make different moves on him, get that running start on the tackle.”

So far, each seems to be taking to his new responsibilities. Kaindoh even made one of Saturday’s best defensive highlights when he dropped into pass coverage and tracked down a deflected pass for a leaping interception.

“Out there moving around, it’s fun,” Kaindoh said. “A big dude moving around.”

No matter the method or approach, the end goal is the same as it ever was: Get into the backfield and make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks.

Florida State’s veteran defensive ends are excited to make that happen. Far more so than simply talking about it.

“You’ll see on the field,” Kaindoh said. “All this is (just) talking unless we go out there and actually handle our business.”

Nasirildeen, Lars-Woodbey back where they started: Taggart confirmed Saturday that junior Hamsah Nasirildeen is back at safety and that sophomore Jaiden Lars-Woodbey is back in the linebacker/safety hybrid position after swapping places in the spring.

The goal, Taggart said, is to get the best combination of 11 defenders onto the field, and to put those 11 in the best position to succeed.

“We tried it, looked at it, evaluated it,” Taggart said.

And then, apparently, decided against it.

So, for now at least, Nasirildeen and Lars-Woodbey are each playing the positions they played last season.

Taggart also reminded that Lars-Woodbey’s switch was more or less in name only, given that the California native missed spring camp while recovering from an injury.

Extra highlights: FSU’s second-year receivers continue to draw rave reviews from their coaches and teammates. Warren Thompson, Tre’Shaun Harrison, Jordan Young and Keyshawn Helton also seemed to have good practices, with Thompson’s deep, off-balance touchdown grab counting as one of the top highlights early in the day. “I see you, Tampa!” offensive coordinator Kendal Briles shouted. (Thompson is a native of Seffner, Fla.) … Levonta Taylor might make for a very impressive safety. The former outside cornerback is one of the most physically impressive players on the team, but he doesn’t seem to have lost any speed. On more than one occasion, he diagnosed a quick pass into the flats, surged down from his spot in the defensive backfield and met the ballcarrier near the line of scrimmage. … FSU devoted some time to punts and punt coverage on Saturday, with Helton and D.J. Matthews both getting the first cracks at returner duties. … Freshmen Akeem Dent and Raymond Woodie III both grabbed interceptions, with Woodie’s coming after an acrobatic dive for a deflected ball.

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