Florida State has the national championship trophy, but there are questions that will have to be answered for the Seminoles to make another title run. Fresh faces are sure to grace the spring depth chart, and a returning starter needs to answer the bell in 2014.
Spotlight: Mario Edwards Jr.
2013 summary: In his first full season as the starter, Edwards registered 28 tackles, including 9.5 for loss. A hand injury cost him two games and left him in a cast for others, but Edwards still managed 3.5 sacks. He played one of his best games of the season in the VIZIO BCS National Championship, making three tackles behind the line of scrimmage and notching a sack against Auburn.
The skinny: That's a truly fitting headline for Edwards, who tipped the scales at 300 pounds in 2012 when he landed in Tallahassee, Fla., as the No. 1 high school recruit. Following a freshman season that nearly ended that August with a redshirt, Edwards dropped 30 pounds and was listed at 6-foot-3 and 277 pounds before the start of his sophomore season in 2013. He broke into the starting lineup and was dominant at times, especially in the national championship game, helping to contain Auburn’s explosive rushing attack.
Edwards had the help of defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan last season, though. This spring, Jernigan is preparing for NFL draft, and Edwards will be looked upon to lead a defensive line that is routinely considered among the best in the country. His maturation will be a talking point this spring as the Seminoles hope to generate more of a pass rush from their defensive linemen, especially as the defensive backfield replaces two new starters and copes with the loss of Lamarcus Joyner. The Seminoles’ secondary talent is among the country’s best, but a mediocre pass rush could put too much pressure on the back end of the defense.
Assignments will not be limited to just getting after the quarterback, though. Edwards is solidly built and will be asked to take on blockers if and when new defensive coordinator Charles Kelly mixes in three-down-linemen sets.
It would be unfair to put the success of the defensive line on just Edwards’ shoulders, considering ESPN 300 recruits make up nearly the entire unit, but being recognized as the No. 1 high school player nationally inherently brings about a few unfair expectations. Naturally, there will be a lot of eyes fixated on Edwards when spring practice kicks off March 19. If Edwards lives up to the billing of a five-star recruit and takes on added leadership responsibilities, the defensive line should fall into place, which would go a long way toward masking any growing pains elsewhere on defense.