- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- When Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner came to the United States, he did so with one expectation: “My expectation was to show America that Germans can play football,” he said. “I hope I did.”
As Florida State prepares to face Northern Illinois in the Discover Orange Bowl, it does so with one of the best defensive lines in the country, a deep group that has maintained its elite play in spite of injuries to NFL-caliber starting defensive ends Brandon Jenkins and Tank Carradine. Even those within the NIU program have conceded that the Seminoles will have an advantage in speed and have said this will be the best defense they have faced all season. The speed off the edge has been a tremendous advantage for the Seminoles all season, and Werner’s presence alone will again be a key factor as FSU faces one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Jordan Lynch.
“Jordan is a great player, and we want to give him as much time as possible to make plays because if you give him enough time, he is going to make plays,” said NIU offensive lineman Jared Volk. “It is really important to us to make sure that he has plenty of time to do those things. We want to make sure that he stays safe and healthy, but I think that’s the same thing as every other game; it’s not going to change for us. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, which is protect him and make sure that he gets off the field safe.”
At 6-foot-4, 255 pounds, Werner is sculpted like a machine, and he has a blunt, no-nonsense personality that reflects his style of play. Of Werner’s 40 tackles this season, 18.0 are tackles for loss, including 13.0 sacks. He has seven pass breakups and five quarterback hurries. He had 3.5 sacks against Florida. Those numbers are even more impressive considering the Berlin native played just two years of high school football in the United States.
Now? His picture looms large on the side of the team buses traveling around South Florida this week.
“When we drive through Hollywood with police escorts and my face on the bus, it’s pretty funny,” he said with a chuckle. “Good publicity.”
There has been no shortage of ink on Werner, and his accomplishments continue to grow. Werner is tied for seventh in the nation in sacks per game and is tied for second in the nation for solo sacks with 11. He’s one of just four defensive linemen in the NCAA to have seven or more pass breakups. Peter Boulware is the only other player in FSU history to record more sacks (34) in his first three seasons than Werner.
“You have certain players that you can give them a certain amount of information but they can only apply so much, so you have to be careful on who and what you give to certain players,” said defensive ends coach D.J. Eliot, who is also FSU’s acting defensive coordinator for the Orange Bowl. “But Bjoern is one of those players that he can take in anything you give him. And he can apply it in the game. So he never ceases to amaze me on how much he can improve, and he's done that his whole career. Brandon Jenkins was the same way, and Tank Carradine has played well for me, as well, as well as other defensive ends. But Bjoern is one of those guys that's a student of the game and continues to improve.”
Werner said he could never have imagined being where he is now.
“No,” he said. “This is just a different world. This is everything I could dream right now, all this hype and not just about me individually. I’m so happy that we’re in the Orange Bowl. This was my goal, to be on the big stage, that’s why I came to Florida State. I’m so happy that we are here. Hopefully we can leave this thing with a win.”
2dDavid M. Hale