TALLAHASSEE – Mario Edwards’ first season at Tallahassee started with disappointment and ended with excitement.
The disappointment? Edwards arrived at Florida State at 315 pounds – a good number for a gap-eating defensive tackle, but way too much for an agile, pass-rushing defensive end.
The excitement? Making his first start in the ACC championship game and another in the Orange Bowl, helping the Seminoles win both games.
Edwards was considered by many analysts to be the nation’s No. 1 recruit in the class of 2012 or at least the top defensive player. But that was February. It didn’t guarantee him very much in August, especially behind a group of veteran pass rushers like Brandon Jenkins, Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine.
“Anybody that comes in No. 1 is going to want to play, but then to be told that you need to sit back, learn the system, get your weight down, it hurt at the time but it was nobody’s fault but myself,” Edwards said.
Told that he would redshirt in August, just weeks before the season began, Edwards understood, but was frustrated. But he began to slim down gradually.
In the first half of Florida State’s season-opening win over Murray State, Jenkins went down with a foot injury and was lost for the year. Off came Edwards’ redshirt.
Playing time came slowly, but he worked his way into the rotation at end to give Werner and Carradine a breather. Edwards had his first career sack in a Nov. 17 win at Maryland. A week later, Carradine was injured in a loss to Florida that closed the regular season.
Edwards was immediately elevated again — the five-star recruit that was staring down the prospect of a redshirt would now start against Georgia Tech with an ACC title on the line.
He delivered seven tackles against the Yellow Jackets, helping Florida State to a 21-15 win and a conference title. In the 31-10 win over Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl, Edwards had three tackles and knocked down a pass at the line of scrimmage.
Edwards learned his lessons the hard way in 2012. He wasn’t prepared from the start. His weight was far beyond ideal. And he needed to put in more work in the weight room.
Once 315 pounds, Edwards is now 290 pounds and says that he’d love to shed 10 more. And while it was just two starts, Edwards feels he can use that experience to boost him as he progresses into his sophomore season.
“It was a little roller coaster,” Edwards said. “… You got a chance to get in there and see what it’s like. Now this year is nothing new to me. I understand how the game goes.”
Edwards is preparing for a new defensive scheme in 2013, too. New defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is installing a defense that is similar to his Alabama roots (Pruitt won back-to-back national titles as the Crimson Tide’s defensive backs coach before moving to Tallahassee).
So Edwards has watched plenty of Alabama film from the past few seasons, and he likes what he sees. New defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri also likes what he sees in Edwards. He’d like to see a little less weight, something that he feels will help him realize his true abilities.
“We’ve got to get him into better shape,” Sunseri said. “I know it and everybody else knows it. He’s going to be good. He has a lot of talent.”
FSU short on healthy backs
A banged-and-bruised spring will conclude for Florida State on Saturday with very few — and possibly just one — healthy running backs.
Coach Jimbo Fisher said after Wednesday’s practice that running back James Wilder will not play in Saturday’s Garnet and Gold game.
“He has bruised ribs – might have a crack in one of them,” Fisher said. “It’s been bothering him ever since last year. I think it’s just been aggravated again.”
Wilder was just coming off a scrimmage on Monday in which he said it was the most physical that he’s had at FSU. He had 635 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns in 2012.
Fisher said that Devonta Freeman has a high-ankle sprain and that it “doesn’t make sense to put him out there.” Freeman had 660 rushing yards and eight TDs last season.
And Mario Pender was “banged in the head,” Fisher said. He said Pender’s status is questionable for Saturday.
If all three are missing on Saturday, that would mean that Chad Abram (a fullback) will be the only scholarship running back to play. FSU has a handful of walk-ons on the roster, but the game will clearly be affected by the lack of healthy rushers and blockers to protect the quarterback.
“We’ll play with whatever we got,” Fisher said.
What Florida State has is a three-way quarterback competition. Many eyes will be on the quarterback anyway on Saturday. And now, with little to no healthy rushers, Florida State fans may just see quarterbacks Clint Trickett, Jameis Winston and Jacob Coker air it out.