TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Since his first day at Florida State, Derrick Nnadi has always been, as offensive lineman Alec Eberle put it, “strong as an ox.”
At 6-foot-1, 312 pounds, the junior defensive tackle strikes an imposing figure at the line of scrimmage.
Now with two seasons on his ledger, Nnadi is combining his brawn with his brains in an effort take his game up a notch.
“Two years ago, he didn’t know the defense as well,” said Eberle, who regularly lines up across from Nnadi in practice. “Now he’s studying the film, he’s studying his playbook and he’s getting so ahead to where he’s not just relying on his strength and his pure ability to beat the offensive linemen, he’s really using technique and using smarts to get by.”
Nnadi could tell a difference in his game from the moment he stepped on to the practice fields on Tuesday.
As a freshman, he said, it was as much as he could do to keep his head above water while learning the ins and outs of Florida State’s defensive playbook.
Things got better during Nnadi’s sophomore season, when he amassed 45 tackles (second-most among FSU’s returning defenders in 2016) and two sacks, but he still felt like he had more to learn.
A year later, as he enters his junior season, Nnadi knows exactly what he’s doing. And that, combined with his physical gifts, makes Nnadi a handful for offensive linemen.
“I feel more comfortable,” Nnadi said. “Honestly, I’m having fun out there. I’m having so much fun. Because I’ve been here so long, I’ve been really focused on my craft and I feel like we can really do something this year.”
Nnadi’s emergence comes at a good time, as FSU’s defensive tackles must contend with the loss of two seniors, including veteran leader Nile Lawrence-Stample.
Nnadi, who referred to Lawrence-Stample as a “big brother,” said he still texts with Lawrence-Stample, often just to see how he’s doing and other times to pick his brain for football advice.
As one of the more experienced players in FSU’s group of defensive tackles, Nnadi said he hopes to grow into a similar role for his younger teammates.
“It’s like if you’re in class,” Nnadi said. “If you know you’ve got good grades, someone’s going to ask you, ‘Hey, how’d you get this right? … What’d I do wrong here?’ You know what you’ve got to do. And you’ve just got to help others get to the same level as you.”
Fisher pushes for uniformity across college football
FSU coach Jimbo Fisher was asked Thursday for his thoughts about the Atlantic Coast Conference’s scheduling model, and whether he’d be in favor of playing nine league games. (ACC athletics directors had been expected to vote on the matter on Friday but have since decided to delay that vote, according to David Teel of the Newport News Daily Press)
Fisher said he prefers the current eight-game model, which allows FSU to play Florida each year while also participating in high-profile, non-conference games like this season’s opener against Mississippi.
More than that, though, Fisher is concerned at the differences in scheduling throughout college football’s “Power Five” conferences.
The ACC and Southeastern Conference play eight league games, while the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 all play nine. Furthermore, four of those conferences play championship games, while the Big 12 does not.
“We’re the only sport in America that doesn’t have the same set of rules for everybody that plays,” Fisher said. “I have never figured that out. I’m for uniformity across the board.”
Also on Fisher’s radar are potential changes that could either reduce or prohibit games against Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponents.
While those games are sometimes derided for having big talent discrepancies and lopsided final scores, Fisher noted that they also provide smaller schools with the resources needed to balance their budgets.
The Big Ten no longer allows its teams to schedule FCS opponents. Florida State will host Charleston Southern, which made the FCS playoff semifinals last season, on Sept. 10.
“If you don’t play an FCS (school) – How do they make their budget? Playing a big school,” Fisher said. “How do the Division IIs make their budget? Playing an FCS.”
Fisher, who played quarterback at Division II Salem College, believes the potential rules changes could have long term implications for the sport.
“I played Division II football, turned out pretty good,” he said. “And right now my school doesn’t play football anymore, you know why? Couldn’t afford to. What if those opportunities for kids go away?”
James nearing return, Phillips out with knee injury
Sophomore safety Derwin James took another step in his recovery from a foot injury Thursday, participating with the team in warmups before returning to his individual workouts during practice.
Fisher said James’ injury has healed, but that the training staff wants to be sure that the surrounding muscles are built back up before he returns to full-speed practices.
“We’re going to do a certain amount of training and simulate a practice and get him up there and make sure everything around (is good) before we let him hit,” Fisher said. “So it should be coming very, very quickly.”
Meanwhile, sophomore receiver Da’Vante Phillips is out indefinitely after injuring his knee while coming down with a catch.
Fisher said the injury is not as bad as initially feared, but did not put any timeframe on his return.
“He’s got a real bad bone bruise and a few ligaments on the outside of his knee,” Fisher said. “He went up on a catch and just came down stiff-legged. And he was having a real good day.”