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And Then There Was One, Florida State Now Without Two Elite DE's

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It's tough to know what to take seriously during summer camp and the start of fall. Players and coaches talk everyone one up and with a limited body of work to evaluate and the compliments flying like they're going out of style, you start to take everything with a grain of salt.

One thing that definitely wasn't camp-speak heading into the season though was what Florida State had on it's defensive line.

"It's not only me and Brandon [Jenkins], it's me, Tank Carradine and Brandon," Bjoern Werner told me in August.

"Tank's playing on a level that's just amazing, for him to be called a backup is just crazy because he's as good as me and Brandon. All three of us know that and it's going to a three-way sack [race]."

Sadly that was never to be, but not because it was untrue. Rather after notching just one sack in the team's first game against Murray State Jenkins suffered a season-ending Lisfranc fracture and never played another down.

At that point Florida State had lost arguably its most nationally recognizable player, it's best draft prospect and a defensive leader at a crucial position.

In stepped Tank Carradine.

Carradine proved this year that Florida State really wasn't lying about having three elite ends, three first-round caliber defensive ends. It lost one this season, and another just stepped right in for him. There are NFL teams that can't say they have three first-rounders in their defensive line rotation.

Unfortunately, Seminoles fans never got to see what would have been a truly wicked rotation with three top-shelf ends cycling in fresh and terrorizing opposing passers. Jenkins' early exit sent that ship sailing after week one.

Instead Florida State fans were treated to arguably the best tandem of ends in the country. They combined for 24 sacks in 12 game. Carradine stepped up to the tune of a team-leading 80 tackles, 13 TFL and 11 sacks. A truly elite year that sent him on a mercurial rise up draft boards and had NFL scouts and TV draft gurus alike buzzing.

SG1L4913 (2)That is until late in Saturday night's game when Tank Carradine tore his ACL.

Now the Seminoles have lost two first-round caliber defensive ends this year. There might be two or three teams in the whole country who wouldn't trade their right arm for the duo FSU has standing on crutches on the sideline for the next two games. 

And frankly, Florida State can probably absorb this most recent blow too because they still have arguably the best defensive end in the country leading their defense.

You want to know who the real heart and soul of that Seminole defense is? It's Bjoern Werner. 

He's the guy who stood up after the NC State game and told his teammates not to check out on the season. Who kept on them to stay invested. He's the guy who got after his teammates when Florida State trailed Clemson at haltfime and needed a spark to come back in the second half. 

Last night he stood up at halftime in the Florida State locker room and rallied the team again. And much like he's done all season he backed his words with his actions on the field. He followed up two first-half sacks with a a sack and a half, plus a huge fumble recovery that helped the Seminoles briefly take the lead in the third quarter.

Unfortunately it wasn't enough. Florida had 30 minutes of possession time at the start of the 4th quarter and the Gators ran away with the game late.

"We lost a lot on technique, coaches always talk about 'just play your technique and the run defense will be there.'" said Werner. "A lot of people at criticial times lost their technique and tried to do too much and that's how you allow big runs.

"You feel every game when you play every snap at 100 percent it doesn’t matter if they have 10 more minutes of possession. Everyone was fighting hard and this is when you need young guys to step up too, especially where you’re this late in the season and in the fourth quarter."

This season Werner has 39 tackles, 18 TFL and a nation-leading 13 sacks. Nobody has been more disruptive than Florida State's Berlin-born junior this year, he is the leader of his defense.

And that's going to be especially big over Florida State's final stretch.

Next weekend in Charlotte without their leading tackler and his battery-mate, Werner will likely draw even more attention against Georgia Tech's option-style offense. And with younger guys like Giorgio Newberry and Mario Edwards Jr. pressed into more service, Florida State needs Werner's leadership more than ever.

"Next week we have the ACC Championship and I can’t wait to play that," said Werner. "I’m moving on right now. I can’t wait to play Georgia Tech and have a great game there and hopefully come out on top.”

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