TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – The way Mario Edwards Jr. moves on a football field seems to conflict with the basic principles of physics. The 6-3 Florida State defensive lineman weighs 300 pounds, is very nimble and truly light on his feet.
The 20-year-old can do standing backflips wearing 20-plus pounds of pads.
With his size and athletic ability, he worked to become the No. 1 overall recruit in the nation and a third-team All-ACC selection as a sophomore, but something has been missing: Every-down domination.
Edwards will play every position along the line, sometimes standing up on the outside and even dropping into pass coverage.
“I just took this year serious,” Edwards said. “I feel good. I’m more explosive, and I’m strong.
“This year, they really want to do mismatches with me. The worst player on the line, that’s who they’ll put me against.”
Bucky Brooks, NFL Media analyst and former scout for the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers, said it’s important for players like Edwards to show that they can be consistently dominant.
“The guys that are blue chippers, the guys who go on to have multiple Pro Bowls, guys who are impact players that change franchises have that ability,” Brooks said. “I need to see Mario Edwards Jr. show people that he wants to be a dominant player by putting it on tape, doing it against everybody, small competition, big competition, whatever. Really dominating the guy that’s across form him.”
Edwards has shown flashes of domination in his first two years.
The best game of his career was a six-tackle, including three for loss, one-sack effort in the national championship game. He showcased his athleticism in the first quarter, firing through the offensive line, chasing Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall out of the pocket and then doubling-back to get the sack. He got to Marshall again in the fourth quarter, running down the quarterback while isolated one-on-one on a read-option.
Coaches recently stopped the tape during a film session to show Edwards chasing down speedy back Mario Pender from the opposite side of the field.
Edwards has regularly weighed around 300 pounds but reshaped his body during the offseason. He firmed up and can run with players 100 pounds lighter. He squats 600 pounds and bench presses 450 pounds.
Florida State has GPS equipment to track their speed, and Edwards has improved from 17.5 miles per hour last season to 18.8.
The new goal is to increase the sack numbers. Edwards only has five in 23 games, but part of that had to do with his responsibilities within the scheme. Edwards didn’t regularly have the go-get-the-quarterback green light. Edwards also acknowledged there were lapses in effort, and he hadn’t mastered the playbook. He believes six or seven sacks were left on the field.
Edwards wants double-digit sacks in 2014.
Though Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said sacks aren’t the only indicator of Edwards’ impact.
“Sacks don’t equate to greatness,” Fisher said. “You watch that film, that guy’s a heck of a football player. You watch when the draft comes around, where he’s at. … He didn’t get sacks, but we had the lowest scoring defense in the country last year.
“That guy there is as athletic and as dominant as any of the ends we’ve had. … He’s as strong physically and naturally as powerful as anybody I’ve been around.”
Fisher has seen his share of NFL-caliber linemen.
The Seminoles had four defensive linemen drafted in the 2013 NFL draft, including Bjoern Werner (No. 24 overall) and Cornellius Carradine (No. 40). FSU defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan was the No. 48 pick in 2014. And LSU regularly sent defensive linemen to the NFL when Fisher was the offensive coordinator in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“As far as guys that can dance around like that,” Brooks said, “guys that are athletic, guys that can play upright off the ground, has the ability to move and do some things that you want to see in these exotic schemes where you can put your D-line on the move … he can do all those things.”
Now, the goal is do it consistently.
Defensive coordinator Charles Kelly said the two have had extensive conversations on the subject. Everyone knows that’s the last piece of the puzzle for someone unnaturally blessed with that type of natural strength and fluidity.
Edwards reminisced about intimidating opponents before high school games when he would finish pregame stretches with a backflip and watch the jaws drop open.
Fisher wants to see similar reactions on a consistent basis from Edwards’ opponents – but at the end of four quarters.