A year ago the Florida State Seminoles boasted one of the best defenses in the country. That defense helped the Noles to their first BCS National Championship victory since 1999. Not much is expected to change in 2014, though they lost several key contributors to the NFL. But the Noles will need to find someone that can really anchor the trenches after losing Timmy Jernigan. That guy will be former five-star recruit and emerging junior defensive end Mario Edwards Jr.
Edwards Jr. didn’t live up to his hype and had a very poor freshman campaign. He came in overweight, out of shape and not ready to play at the college level. Because of those contributing factors he was expected to redshirt, but instead he was thrown into the fire thanks in large part to the season-ending injuries of ends Brandon Jenkins and Tank Carradine. That season he was the only true freshman to notch a start on the defense and finished the season with 17 tackles, two and a half tackles for loss and a sack and a half.
The following offseason he vowed to work his tail off and get into much better shape since he was going to be relied heavily upon as a featured end. He did just that by dropping over twenty pounds in weight, gaining endurance, becoming more explosive and quicker and still maintaining that physical edge.
By doing so, his sophomore season was much more productive as he helped man the trenches. Not only did he come of the edge in the new 3-4 scheme, but there were times (very few) where he would drop back into coverage or even slide over to defensive tackle. He finished the 2013 season with 28 tackles, nine and a half tackles for loss, three and a half sacks, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble returned for a touchdown. In the BCS National Championship game against Auburn he had a huge performance totaling 6 tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack.
His 2013 campaign helped him earn 2014 preseason All-ACC honors.
There is a very strong possibility that we will be seeing Edwards Jr. sliding over to tackle more often this season to switch up the look on defense. It will also allow him to draw some mismatches due to his new and improved quickness while still having the strength of most tackles. At 6-foot-3, 294 pounds, he is still very athletic and explosive. His ability to put pressure on the opposing quarterback and cause negative plays will only help solidify their stout defense.
A lot of weight will be put on his shoulders to play multiple roles on defense; however, he will be more than ready for the challenge. Not only do I think he will live up to his former five-star status and earn First Team All-ACC honors at the end of the season, but I won’t be surprised when his name is in consideration for the Lombardi Award.