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Florida State's D-line getting healthy at the right time

12/23/2014

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Coming into the season, the defensive line was highlighted as one position group Florida State couldn't stand to suffer any injuries. Of course, three defensive linemen went down in Week 2, and starter Nile Lawrence-Stample was ruled out for the season two weeks later.

Beset with injuries, the No. 3 Seminoles were forced to develop their depth. Three months later, while Florida State still isn't nearly as strong on the defensive line as it has been in years, the unit is in the best shape it has been all season.

Against Oregon's high-powered and uptempo offense, Florida State will need every able body ready to contribute.

"It's really important," defensive tackle Derrick Mitchell Jr. said of Florida State's depth along the line. "We're going to need a lot of guys to sub in when Oregon gives us the opportunity."

Derrick Nnadi is a reserve defensive tackle the coaching staff was high on throughout preseason camp. Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher praised the blue-chip recruit's performance all August, and Nnadi's teammates echoed those sentiments.

The 6-foot-2, 303-pound freshman rose to the occasion in Week 2 after three tackles went down in the first half against The Citadel, but Nnadi's playing time has been sporadic since then. He played in only seven of the Seminoles' 12 regular-season games, and Fisher said, like most freshmen, Nnadi had his good days and his bad days and had to work through mental and physical hurdles.

But, once again, Nnadi was called upon during desperate times. Starter Eddie Goldman, a potential first-round pick, was sidelined early against Georgia Tech in the ACC championship game, and Nnadi was tasked with helping slow down one of the country's best rushing offenses.

"He dominated in spurts," Mitchell said of Nnadi. "When you got a guy like Nnadi, who's mentally focused all week and does his job all week, it's easy once you get in."

The emergence of Nnadi was a necessity against Georgia Tech, but there won't be as much pressure on the first-year player in the Rose Bowl. Lawrence-Stample, who was initially ruled out for the remainder of the season after tearing a pectoral muscle in September, is practicing and expected to play against the Ducks.

"Nile's a heckuva player," Fisher said. "He was fixing to have a great year."

Adding Lawrence-Stample back into the fold gives the Seminoles many more options with their defensive line alignment, too. Star defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. often shifts to tackle because his 300-pound frame can handle playing on the interior. However, two of Edwards' greatest assets are his athleticism and quickness, and it's against spread offenses like Oregon that allows Florida State to best utilize Edwards' talent.

To get a sense of just how disruptive Edwards can be against uptempo and spread offenses, one only has to flip on the tape from last season's national title game. Edwards harassed speedster Nick Marshall much of the night and chased down the Auburn quarterback on a couple of occasions.

"Mario's going to play a big role," linebacker Terrance Smith said. "They're a very big spread team and like to get you out on the open and Mario is a very good open field player. For him to be able to make plays in space is going to big time."