Thinning defense wearing down

Published October 7, 2006

Coach Bobby Bowden knows what could be a potential magic bullet for his struggling team.

"You've got too many good (defensive) guys out and you're playing with guys you probably planned on redshirting," he said Friday afternoon. "And they're playing in very significant roles. If I had a wish, it'd be they could get healthy again."

Doesn't seem likely.

Nose guard Paul Griffin, safety Anthony Houllis and linebacker Marcus Ball have season-ending left knee injuries. Linebacker Derek Nicholson injured his right knee Thursday at North Carolina State, and while the school hasn't released anything definitive and probably won't until an MRI exam, it is feared that he's out for the year.

Linebacker Jae Thaxton is still recovering from a concussion and missed the last 10 games of 2005 after a concussion. Another nose guard, Emmanuel Dunbar, is out with a back injury and isn't likely to return this year. Cornerback Tony Carter sprained his left knee Sept. 23 against Rice and is expected to miss next weekend's game at Duke.

With a revamped lineup and a number of starters forced to stay on the field, the Seminoles (3-2, 1-2 ACC) couldn't hold a 10-point second-half lead Thursday and lost 24-20.

"It's hard for me to think our defense would have given up two scores if they would have been healthy," Bowden said.

FSU's defensive trademark has been to use depth to keep everyone fresh so it can win the fourth quarter. So the team will look for ways to shore up the depleted ranks, especially at linebacker.

Sophomore Toddrick Verdell, who has bounced between safety and linebacker, sophomore Rodney Gallon, freshmen Dekoda Watson and Recardo Wright and maybe even senior Jeremy Franklin (Chamberlain) could see more action. Freshman Marcus Sims played there in high school, but came to FSU with the assurance he could be a running back and has seen some time there. "I don't even want to say it; he'd go nuts on me," Bowden said of a possible move with Sims.

He did say his starting, healthy linebackers might have been trying to do too much to compensate for those missing and it cost them at times. N.C. State busted some runs up the middle in the second half to help set up its two touchdowns.

"Several times, it looked like one of our linebackers was trying to help somebody else," Bowden said. "You can't do that. Can't do it. You have to take care of your job. But that's what happens when you start getting people hurt."

So what can they do to offset the injuries?

"It puts more burden on the team, whether it's kicking, whether it's offense; it puts a burden more on other areas of your team," he said.

That means the offense needs to find more consistency and potency. Same for special teams. That's a must for the Seminoles to avoid continued struggles.

NORMAL GROWING PAINS: Bowden noticed that sophomore quarterback Drew Weatherford held the ball quite a while at times, but that's not that strange.

"That's usually the way it goes when you're learning something and trying to accomplish something," he said. "It doesn't go up all the way. Sometimes it flattens out, then you get it conquered and start back up again.

"He could be on a slight plateau right now."

But Bowden emphatically said he's not considering any change a la Brad Johnson and Casey Weldon.