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Florida State football preview: More defensive line discussion

Tomahawk Nation is previewing the Florida State Seminoles 2014 season with a series of roundtable responses. Our authors chimed in on questions that piqued their interest.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

How much 3-man fronts can we expect this year vs. 4-man fronts?

Onebarrelrum: Who will the coaching staff trust more? Defensive ends or the linebackers? If this was a question asked in the spring, it would be a no brainer. Eligwe was going to step into that Christian Jones DE/LB spot. With his injury, I think you will see some more true 4 man fronts, at least early. I don't think the coaches will figure out what works best, like last year, until the 3rd or 4th game.

Alan Mundy: FSU will play primarily 4 man fronts against spread teams and primarily 3 man fronts against 2 back attacks. Given that FSU faces many more spread teams, 4 man fronts will be predominant.

jmnpb996: It depends on the personnel. I still believe that FSU is more likely to add a third "big" DL to move from its nickel personnel to its "base" (in name only) personnel. You're more likely to see Nnadi added inside with NLS and Goldman while Edwards and Casher are on the outside than you are to see another LB added in.

In the ACC, you'll see primarily spread attacks, and 3 WR's will be more common than 2 TE's. Nickel will again be the base defense. The designation of 3-3-5 vs 4-2-5 in nickel doesn't mean a lot to me, personally, because the way you interchange the use of the personnel is what matters. FSU had looks last year in their 4 man front where Jones was a standup edge rusher in a 2 point stance on the line of scrimmage and the 3 point stance DL were aligned 5-1-3. Then they'd have the same personnel lined up in a 3 man front where the DL were aligned 5-0-5 and the rush LB was wide. The ability of these players to line up in these different spots makes this defense extremely versatile. That said, Alan's thoughts that we will play more 4 man fronts out of nickel fronts is accurate. It seems that's what Saban teams do - though FSU did use quite a bit of 3 man nickel fronts vs Clemson last year.

Your big base will likely play more 3 man fronts vs heavier personnel teams, as Alan said. This offers them the opportunity to use these big bodies to occupy multiple gaps. With larger linebackers this year, particularly Northrup/Levenberry replacing Telvin Smith, this makes a lot of sense with this personnel. What's amazing about the potential of this "jumbo" front vs heavier personnel offenses is what it allows not the ILBs to do, but the OLBs - Edwards and Casher will often be matched up with TEs or FBs, and would be better matchups against pulling linemen than some of their lighter teammates.

Bud: Since linebacker is not the strength it was expected to be exiting spring, and since Florida State plays six spread teams in its first seven games, I expect it to defend primarily out of the 4-2-5 for a lot of the year. I also expect the team to practice more 3-down looks beginning in October, to prepare for the greater number of pro-style teams in the back half of the schedule, and even then, it's not that much.

2014 will be a breakout year for DL ....?

ricobert1: Chris Casher. In limited snaps last year (well, a lot, since FSU's starters' feet were propped up by third quarter's end in most games), Casher flashed with 5 TFL (2 sacks), and a scoop-and-score sack/forced fumble/fumble recovery. At 6'4 260 lbs., he appears to have the size to anchor even in a 4-man front against the run. Plus, most lines will be shading their blocking towards MEJr./NLS/Goldman on run plays, giving Casher cut-back lane responsibility and opportunities to catch backs quickly. If he emerges like I think he can, FSU has the best starting defensive end tandem in CFB.

Phenomenoles: I like Goldman as the breakout candidate. He is probably the most physically gifted interior DL on the roster. Last year, it was pretty clear that he was still learning the nuances of the position and at times you could tell he wasn't completely comfortable in the scheme. But towards the end of the year he really came on. His raw power and size is pretty amazing to watch as he takes on double teams. This year he turns the corner after a year in the system and establishes himself as one of the premiere interior DLineman in the country.

Florida State season preview

Kyle Griffis: If Mario Edwards Jr. continues his upward progression from the end of last season, he could develop into one of the best DE's in the country.

Bud Elliott: I'm not confident in Nile Lawrence-Stample breaking out, as I think the hope is that he can just be good after the shoulder injury and complications. Mario Edwards, Jr. was already a breakout player in my book, and Eddie Goldman was already pretty good as well, so the last remaining one has to be Chris Casher. Casher has started the least amount of games, and he'll be counted on to be Florida State's best pass rusher among the defensive linemen.

Onebarrelrum: Before fall camp, I really wanted to be able to say Derrick MItchell. He's got great size, athletic, 4th year guy, but can't stay healthy. And there's nothing coming out of fall camp that I've seen to indicate he'll have a major part on defense. Don't think he's ever been the same player after his back injury. He played sparingly last year and never stood out. So I'll pick another unlikely candidate and say Derrick Nnadi. He won't start, but he'll work his way into meaningful snaps and set himself up as a starter next year.

DA-2: Derrick Nnandi. The opportunity is there. He just needs to seize the day. What is very encouraging to me is the amount of strength he has for his age. Similar to Timmy his true fresh year, I believe that Nnandi can put in some significant snaps to help lessen the burden on Goldman and NLS. Regardless, I'm really hoping one of the breakout players comes at the NT position.

Alan Mundy: I'll agree with the Casher pick. He seems to be holding down the jack/buck position, which is traditionally a playmaking position in this defense and given the talent of the other candidates, he must be playing very well to do so.

FSU: Really tough choice. Edwards ‘numbers' will increase if he's healthy, simply because he begins the season in better shape and with a better attitude about moving throughout the line. However, I'll say Casher will be more of a breakout because national media knows less about him and Edwards will garner a lions share of the attention by Defensive Coordinators because he will be the one player on the DL that it will be difficult to fool or block consistently one on one.

Talk about Demarcus Walker.

Walker is a 6'3, 277-pound sophomore defensive end.

The media guide says ... Started three games (Pitt, BCU and BC) and played in 12 as a true freshman defensive end...made his first career start at Pitt on Sept. 2...had three stops against Bethune-Cookman...set a new career high with four tackles against NC State...posted three tackles against Syracuse...recorded two tackles, both for a loss and included a sack (both career highs), against Idaho…finished rookie campaign with 18 tackles, including 2.0 tackles for loss and a sack, and also totaled three quarterback hurries.

ricobert1: He's an unknown commodity to me. His weight distribution is interesting, as he seems to carry much of his 270 lbs. in his lower half. You would think he could anchor well and back MEJr. up, but he's still learning the position and the speed of the college game. He's a former 5*, so he could flash at anytime. This would be a good year for it.

DKfromVA: Hand on the ground, or edge guy? I think he needs to have his hand on the ground. Who else plays behind Edwards? Plus, FSU has a bunch of quality edge guys and even versatility within that position group, ranging from Casher to Matthew Thomas. Regardless, Walker will need to be good in 2014, and I think he will be.

Bud: I think Walker is pretty clearly going to be needed to play a few hundred snaps, and that's even if Mario Edwards Jr. and Chris Casher remain perfectly healthy. Though Walker isn't listed as the top backup at both positions, he pretty clearly is from what I understand, in a lot of sets. He can put his hand on the ground but also play standing up even at 270+ pounds, though I do think he is better with his hand on the ground. FSU could do a lot worse than Walker for a third defensive end.

Onebarrlerum: He was rushed into playing time too quickly last year to me. Not that he wasn't physically ready, but he didn't seemed prepared for the college game. He had a lot of learning to do. He started the first few games. The coaches were trying to make 4 man fronts work and he got the nod. We know what happened after that. Hopefully, with a full year and quite a bit of snaps, he's acclimated and can put his excellent physical size to good use in meaningful snaps.

DA-2: He needs to put his hand in the ground and anchor that DE position.He's got the size, he has a year under his belt. It's hard for a lot of true freshman along the DL. This year he'll come back with a vengence to live up to his 5* hype. I think he'll make for a great third DE in the rotation.

Phenomenoles: I'm a fan of Walker. Big kid that works really hard and has bought into the program from the jump. I think he's your first guy off the bench at SDE. I think we'll need him to spell MEJr and it's a luxury that FSU didn't necessarily have last year. I expect big things from the guy.

How unique a player is Mario Edwards, Jr.?

The media guide says ... Seminoles starter at the right end and a key contributor to the nation’s third-ranked total defense (281.4 ypg) and No. 1 scoring defense (12.1 ppg)...the sophomore was named one of the top defensive linemen in the conference by both the coaches and the his second season in Tallahassee made 11 starts and appeared in 12 games, making 28 tackles…became a major force when it came to splash plays in 2013 with two fumble recoveries, a forced fumble, 9.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, an interception and a TD return...recovered a fumble and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown at Clemson...had a monster performance in the BCS National Championship Game, totaling a career-high 3.0 tackles for loss including a sack… had six tackles against Auburn…recorded 2.0 TFLs and 1.0 sacks on four total tackles against Miami...intercepted a pass and made two tackles, including 0.5 sacks, at Wake Forest...had three tackles and then-career-highs with 2.0 TFL, an eight-yard sack and a forced fumble at Florida...posted three tackles in the season opener at Pitt...finished with four tackles and 1.0 tackles for loss against Nevada...made one tackle – a 3-yard loss – and broke up a pass against Idaho.

DA-2: The most talented defensive lineman to come here in the last decade? I wouldn't go that far, but an argument could be made. His most impressive game was the national championship when he lined up against the best offensive tackle in this year's NFL draft. I really hope Florida State utilizes him in many ways this year. Inside. Outside. He's the kind of guy that can help mask weaknesses on your side, and exploit weaknesses on opposing team. His real strength is in what he lets others around him do. Florida State needs to get their money's worth, because he's getting top 10 money next year.

Onebarrlerum: He's a freak. There aren't many players in the country that can do what he does at his size. Set the edge, stretch plays to the sideline, cut off running lanes at almost 300 lbs. While I'm sure he would be valuable inside, I hope he gets to do work on the edge. There just aren't that many players that can deal with him and his size out in space.

Bud: He's really, really special, and in my opinion has lived up to his No. 1 overall ranking. He's a major impact starter in his second year, he played better against top-five pick Greg Robinson than anyone as the Auburn tackle went on his dominant stretch, and he continues to get better.

I think he is at his most unique and special when he is playing in a six- or seven-technique, outside the tackle. A player at 300+ pounds playing that far in space is incredible unique, but he is definitely bigger this year than he was last year. I took note of Jimbo Fisher's praise for Edwards in his opening press conference, and both Fisher and Edwards have said that he is more athletic and stronger than ever, despite not leaning out much, if at all. I have a suspicion that he'll be asked to play more snaps inside this year, not due to a lack of ability, but to help out the team.

Just how good is Edwards? Check out this Sports Illustrated article by Andy Staples.

"The question irritated Jimbo Fisher. The Florida State coach usually gives an answer and moves on, but one query during the program's media day session on Sunday rankled him. It was about defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. and his 3.5 sacks last season. Fisher's inquisitor seemed to imply Edwards was a disappointment last fall. Fisher couldn't let that stand."

No, sacks aren't the only stat that makes up a dominant defensive end.

FSU: Consider this about Edwards: Take out pace and garbage time and the only game last year Florida State truly struggled defensively versus an opponent was Boston College, a game in which Edwards did not play. Let that sink in for a moment.

Phenomenoles: MEJr is a first round talent. No one that big should move that fast. That's all that really needs to be said about that.

jmnpb996: Edwards is the most important player on this defense. His ability to move laterally, his power generation, his speed are all just at an absurd level for his size. He can play from 9 to 3 tech. He's a guy who can function as well as an OLB as he can as a DT. That's insane.