TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — When DeMarcus Walker became the first Florida State player since 2012 to post double-digit sacks, many thought he would leave early for the NFL draft.
Instead, Walker has returned for his senior season and anchors what could be a talented defense for the fourth-ranked Seminoles.
The 6-foot-3, 280-pound defensive end is also trying to become only the second player in school history to record 10 or more sacks in consecutive seasons. Peter Boulware had 10 in 1995 and then set a single-season school record with 19 the following year.
"I don’t worry about the numbers," Walker said. "All I can do is give it my best."
Walker started three games as a freshman but said everything didn’t start to finally click until midway through his sophomore year. By then, he was finally able to adjust from knowing the playbook to more naturally reading and reacting to plays.
After having only two sacks his first two seasons, Walker said it wasn’t until his junior season when he was able to "master the playbook and going out to make plays." Besides the 10.5 sacks, Walker had 15.5 tackles for loss, five passes defensed, four forced fumbles and an interception.
Another reason for his breakthrough was working with defensive line coach Brad Lawing, who joined the staff last year.
During preseason practices, Walker has been seeing plenty of double teams and chipping. He figures to see plenty more on Sept. 5 when the Seminoles open the season in Orlando against No. 11 Mississippi.
Walker sees the double teams as a sign of respect, but said he has learned to laugh about it because that should free up others to get to the quarterback. Besides Walker, Florida State returns defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi and defensive end Josh Sweat. There’s also sophomore defensive back Derwin James, who can drop into the box and play as a down lineman in certain pass rushing situations.
"It’s a good compliment, but you can’t let it get to your head," Walker said of the double teams. "Just because you’re going to get chipped doesn’t mean that you don’t start rushing. I still have to get to the quarterback and create pressure."
To get ready for more double teams, Walker has studied more NFL tapes to pick up on techniques used by Houston’s J.J. Watt, Philadelphia’s Fletcher Cox, Oakland’s Khalil Mack and Kansas City’s Justin Houston.
NFL scouts consider Walker a very good defender at stopping the run because of his upper-body strength, but there are still some doubts about whether he can be a consistent pass rusher. He doesn’t have great athleticism, but many scouts think Walker’s handwork is strong and that his strength helps him shed blocks on the edge.
As one of the few players remaining from the 2013 squad that won a national championship, Walker has tried to become a more vocal leader on the defense. Defensive coordinator Charles Kelly said he wanted Walker to become more assertive, which he has done.
"He’s doing everything he can do to help the team when it comes to things like pass rush, focus on the playbook," Nnadi said. "Anytime someone needs help, he’s there to help that person out. He will go out of his way to help someone out."
Walker also isn’t lacking for confidence when it comes to expressing the potential of this season’s defense. He met Darnell Dockett, who played 10 seasons with Arizona after the Cardinals selected him in the third round of the draft out of Florida State, at a summer camp and told him that the 2013 unit was the best defense that Florida State ever had. Walker said Dockett got into a debate with him, citing some of the school’s talented defenses during the 1980s and 1990s.
When asked if this defense could be better, Walker didn’t hesitate.
"In my opinion, yes, but that’s my opinion," he said. "We just have to have the attitude, effort and attention to details like that team had. We’re progressing. We still have a lot more for improvement, but the way it is going along we can do it."