Nov. 28, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The situations are separated by 11 games, but for the second time this season Florida State is faced with the task of replacing an elite defensive end -- the type of pass rusher that will soon be collecting an NFL pay check.
When Cornellius Carradine went down with a collegiate career-ending torn ACL in FSU's 37-26 loss to Florida last Saturday, the focus quickly shifted from sadness over the loss of a star player to that on finding his replacement.
But unlike after the season opener in September when it was Carradine, a talented senior backup, waiting in the wings to step in for the injured-for-the-year Brandon Jenkins, this time the replacements aren't nearly as proven. Without Carradine, the onus is now on a pair of youngsters to contribute more than they ever had before.
"We pray for [Carradine] as an organization but that's why we recruit good players," junior safety Lamarcus Joyner said. "Hopefully Giorgio Newberry or the young guy, Mario Edwards, Jr., can step in to help this team. We really miss Tank and what he did for this season but we have to keep going."
FSU coach Jimbo Fisher is hoping to see the two young players -- Newberry is a redshirt freshman and Edwards is a true freshman -- take advantage of the opportunity of increased repetitions this week at practice. Edwards was a consensus five-star recruit and one of the nation's top high school prospects last year and Newberry for a standout four-star the season before.
Along with reserve senior defensive end Toshmon Stevens, Newberry and Edwards face a tall task against Georgia Tech's triple-option offense should they earn the snaps in this weekend's ACC Championship Game. The Yellow Jackets' potent rushing attack can make even the most disciplined and veteran-savvy players forget their assignments.
Edwards enters the title game with seven tackles, 1 1/2 tackles for loss and 1 1/2 sacks in nine games. Newberry has played in 11 games and has 13 tackles and a forced fumble to his credit while Stevens has played in all 12 games -- primarily in an ace special teams role -- and has 12 stops and two fumble recoveries.
"[Edwards has] gotten much better," Fisher said. "He's done a nice job. I thought Mario has really progressed. He's got to continue to grow and get better. He's got to have a big week this week. Those guys the more they've got in there, the better they've been; the more constant they've been. And they've made mistakes. They'll lose contain here and there and make a mistake but that's part of it."
There most assuredly will be ups and downs along the way as Edwards and Newberry deal with the complexities of facing the Yellow Jackets and then whomever it is they will match up with in the bowl game.
But the glass-half-full approach -- and the silver lining in the Carradine loss -- is that both Newberry and Edwards will be getting on-the-job training in the last month of the season that they wouldn't have received otherwise. When Jenkins declared earlier this month that he would forgo a medical redshirt senior year and enter the 2013 NFL Draft, there was always going to be an open defensive end job that would be up for grabs by one of the two youngsters.
There's also a possibility that star Bjoern Werner chooses to declare a year early for the draft after FSU's bowl game. The experience to be gained by both Newberry and Edwards against Georgia Tech and the bowl opponent could be all the more valuable if there are two starting jobs at the bookends of the 'Noles' defensive line available.
"I would have rather wanted until the spring," Fisher said with a laugh, referencing the accession up the depth chart by the two green defensive ends. "You know when Brandon went down, we said, 'well can Tank really do it?' We thought he could. I mean, you never know. That's how heroes are made is when guys get an opportunity they take advantage of it and step up.
"They are quite capable. I think they'll be quite disciplined in the things they do and how they do it and I think they'll do fine."