John Papuchis knows he has one of the best defensive ends in the country under his tutelage.
Jared Verse is really good. And that was again evident this spring.
But the Florida State defensive ends coach clearly understands a position group is not made by just one player. There are plenty of other guys in that room. And they all need to maximize their potential if the Seminoles are going to have the kind of defense and success they hope to have in 2023.
“I did think, to a man, that the guys that were healthy enough to compete in the spring, every single one of them got better,” Papuchis said after spring practice concluded earlier this week. “And that is the objective, right? That’s the objective of our program on a daily basis is that continual improvement.
“And I did think that defensive ends group … made incremental progress.”
When the spring started, of course, Derrick McLendon was one of the guys in that room. But the veteran decided to transfer after three practices.
And now, a two-deep that featured two returning starters in McLendon and Verse to go along with ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year Patrick Payton and South Carolina transfer Gilber Edmond, well, it got a lot less experienced with McLendon’s decision.
As it stands, with Verse, Payton and Edmond, Papuchis has three defensive ends who have played meaningful football at this level. He knows that’s not enough.
“For me, in a perfect world, you want the five,” said Papuchis, who is entering his fourth season as Florida State’s defensive ends coach. “Really, because you’re going to have a two-deep rotation, but you want that fifth utility guy. Because you’re one play away. So, I never want it to be so thin that you’re at four and one thing happens and now you don’t have a full two-deep rotation.
“Having the fifth guy is critical, and we’re still in the process of determining who that’s going to be and letting that competition play out.”
Redshirt sophomore Byron Turner, Jr. seems to have carved out a chance to be one of the five defensive ends in the rotation. He had back-to-back sacks in the Garnet & Gold Showcase last weekend to culminate a nice end to his spring.
He’ll definitely have a shot to be on the two-deep for the Seminoles when the season begins against LSU in Orlando.
“I thought (the spring) was critical for him,” Papuchis said of Turner, who dealt with injuries during each of his first two seasons on campus. “For a variety of different reasons since he’s been here, he hasn’t had the sustained reps. Having that opportunity kind of present itself this spring and him taking advantage of it was critical.
“And I did think he did get better throughout the course of the spring. And I thought it showed up in the Showcase the other day. I thought he did a really nice job.”
As for the other four defensive ends on the roster, it sounds like Papuchis was most encouraged with what he saw from true freshman Lamont Green Jr., saying his toughness and competitiveness really shined through.
Obviously, as a teenager who should still be in high school, Green had his struggles at times against Florida State’s deep and experienced offensive line. But Papuchis said he thinks in two years there’s a good chance he and his pupil will laugh thinking about how far he’s come since his first spring as a Seminole.
He also said redshirt freshman Dante Anderson took a step in the right direction and that JUCO transfer Jaden Jones should be available to practice in the fall if he continues on track from the ACL injury he suffered before arriving at FSU. The Seminoles have another redshirt freshman in Aaron Hester.
So, there are a lot of players vying for that rotation. And perhaps someone not on the roster right now will be vying for one of those spots come August. The transfer portal is still open for players to enter until the end of the month.
Chances are pretty strong that nobody who enters will be as good as the Seminoles’ top defensive end, of course. And Papuchis said Verse is growing not only as a player but as a leader as well.
“I think it’s easy to see his progression on the field,” Papuchis said. “I thought he improved as a player this spring. But where I thought he made his most growth was in the meeting room. I think he has a much better understanding of the position, and I think when you do have that confidence that you understand, your willingness to help others and kind of be thrust into that role that is a leadership role, it just becomes part of what he’s trying to leave a legacy of here.
“Much like the guys that came before him.”
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