FSU adds two quality portal pieces to the defense

As the Seminoles gear up for the 2024 season, they had a few positions to shore up following spring camp. Despite all the hype about the 2024 spring portal session, it hasn’t been as fruitful as many predicted. However, that’s not going to stop Mike Norvell from finding some quality pieces to add to this roster.

Florida State added a pair of transfers to the defensive side of the ball this week. One at a position of need and the other a name that most Seminole fans will recognize. I like what both bring to the table, so let’s look at the newest Noles.

Omarion "Duke" Cooper

First up is Omarian “Duke” Cooper, a name most Nole fans remember. Duke Cooper had a strong freshman campaign playing his way into a starting role by the season’s end. He finished the season with an impressive 73.9 PFF grade and only allowed a 31.3% completion percentage on 16 targets. However, Cooper regressed in year two and saw his playing time diminish later in the season. He finished 2022 with a below-average PFF grade of 54.7 and allowed a dismal 89.5% completion percentage on 19 targets.

Cooper then hit the portal and followed a few other former Noles to Colorado, which didn’t really pan out for any of them. He started 8 games for the Buffs and doubled his snaps of experience while in Boulder. It was an ok year for Cooper with an improved PFF grade of 64.0 and a 65.2% completion percentage allowed on 46 targets. It’s worth noting that he played on one of the worst defenses in college football at Colorado.

For the first time in the portal era, a player who left FSU has come back. It just sums up the crazy times we’re seeing in college football… Nonetheless, I like the addition of Cooper. He’s an experienced player who is familiar with the defense and we’ve seen him play at a high level in the past. It’s also worth noting that Cooper never played for current defensive backs coach Patrick Surtain.

Not that former DB coach Marcus Woodson wasn’t a good coach, but we saw guys like Renardo Green and Jarrion Jones have breakout seasons in one of the best pass defenses in the country. With Greedy Vance transferring out, I like the addition of another experienced DB. It’s no secret that FSU is loaded at the position, but there’s not much experience behind the starters. Give Cooper an offseason to work with Surtain and I suspect he’ll trend back to the player we saw him be in 2021.

Cam Riley

Florida State added a big pickup at a position of need by landing Auburn transfer Cam Riley. The 6-foot-5, 242-pound linebacker brings size and experience to a room that needed it. Some will argue that he’s not a high-end player, but what I like about Riley is that he gives you a higher floor than what you would have without him. There is not much guesswork for a guy who has played almost 1,000 snaps of college football in the SEC.

We had mentioned on our podcast before that FSU doesn’t necessarily need a game-changer at linebacker (although it would be nice). A veteran guy with game experience can certainly get the job done, and that’s what Riley brings to the table. He finished 2023 with an above-average PFF grade of 66.6 and has 120 career tackles, 98 of which came in the past two seasons. With his size, Riley was expected to contribute at the Edge position this upcoming season at Auburn. That also means he brings some versatility in how the defensive staff can use him.

One thing that stands out on the stat sheet is his missed tackle percentage which has been under 10% for the past three seasons. Riley earned a stellar 85.1 tackling grade from PFF in 2023.

After spring camp wrapped up, there was a consensus that FSU needed help at the linebacker position. Besides DJ Lundy there isn’t much experience on the roster. While you don’t have to be experienced to be good, a lack of experience creates the unknown. Blake Nicholson was the only linebacker on the roster besides DJ Lundy who has played more than 100 snaps (101). Riley gives a guy you can line up next to DJ Lundy in game one vs Georgia Tech without the unknown being a factor. FSU has also done a great job developing transfers who didn’t flourish at their previous school into all-conference caliber players. So, I wouldn’t be too quick to define who he is until we see how the staff in Tallahassee develops him. Riley was committed to NC State for a brief period before flipping to the Seminoles.

Final Thoughts

Florida State had a smothering, physical defense last season that was a big part of their success, especially late in the season when they carried the Seminoles through the final 2 games before the bowl. It’s looking like FSU has the potential to have another good defense in 2024, and these two additions will help ensure that.

They did miss out on the Division 2 defensive tackle transfer who was recently on campus, so these may not be the last names we see emerge. However, FSU added experience and addressed a position of need. They also did a nice job keeping the players they already have on the roster. Even in a slow portal session Mike Norvell and company have found some nice additions to help shore up the roster. Until next time, thanks for reading, and Go Noles!!

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