Florida State expected departures in the front and back end of its defense, but the Seminoles received news earlier this week the depth at linebacker will also take a hit.
Sophomore E.J. Levenberry has left Tallahassee, Florida, and intends to transfer from Florida State, his father, Eric, told ESPN.com on Tuesday.
Coupled with the midseason dismissal of Ukeme Eligwe, the Seminoles are down to seven scholarship linebackers, a unit that had its bouts with consistency all season. Reggie Northrup, who battled Levenberry for a starting spot through fall camp, and Terrance Smith are returning for their senior seasons, but there is not much experience beyond those two.
The Seminoles do have a number of talented younger players at linebacker, and the group will need to step up as a whole to fill out the starting lineup and provide production throughout the linebacker rotation. Redshirt freshman Matthew Thomas is a former five-star player, although he has battled injuries and off-field issues through his first two seasons. From the 2014 class, third-ranked inside linebacker Kain Daub and top-six outside linebackers Jacob Pugh and Delvin Purifoy should have roles in 2015. Ro'Derrick Hoskins has not seen the field much his first two seasons, but he was highly regarded coming out of high school, too.
Daub could be the beneficiary and slide into a second-string role for the Seminoles at middle linebacker. The Jacksonville, Florida, native was an early enrollee, and the 6-foot-4, 243-pound Daub could earn the role of primary backup to Northrup, who also hails from Jacksonville.
Florida State was not as athletic at linebacker this past season, especially with a sprained knee limiting Smith the second half of the season. The expectation was the unit would struggle to match the 2013 production considering mainstays Telvin Smith and Christian Jones were lost to the NFL. Florida State’s young core of linebackers could provide some of that same athleticism this coming season.
The loss of Levenberry still could sting Florida State, especially as the sophomores and freshmen continue gaining experience. As a freshman, Levenberry racked up 39 tackles, but he played sparingly as a sophomore. Few matched Levenberry’s work ethic, and the second-year player had reshaped his body to withstand the expected pounding at middle linebacker. He gained 20 pounds between the end of spring practice and start of fall camp last year. Eric, Levenberry’s father, said his son felt there was a better chance he would see the field elsewhere.
“He loved Florida State, loved Jimbo Fisher, loved Tallahassee, loved the fans,” Eric said. “… We just didn’t see a future for him under the current defensive regime.”
When former defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt left for Georgia, Fisher promoted Charles Kelly to coordinator and hired Bill Miller to replace Kelly as the linebackers coach.
“Sometimes a system might not be for a kid,” Eric said. “He’s going to be an asset. He’s not going to test positive for drugs or make a program look bad. We hope a college coach can recognize that and recognize his talent.”