INDIANAPOLIS – Not long after Florida State suffered its first loss last season, it faced adversity again.
On the first drive after a 17-16 setback to North Carolina State, the FSU defense allowed Boston College to march 68 yards to the one-yard line.
While a possible 31st straight bowl game appearance was not in doubt, the quality of the post-season site was, and the pride of competition mattered.
Florida State ball…99-yard drive…touchdown…51-7 victory.
Head coach Jimbo Fisher had a front-row seat to that moment and others by Werner. Over three seasons, he saw Werner play almost as a one-man gang.
More than one-third (35) of his 99 career tackles came behind the scrimmage line, the ninth-best total in a rich school tradition.
Playing at defensive end, Werner tracked down quarterbacks 23.5 times for sacks. He produced the second-highest sack total in school history for the first three career seasons, and he did it by playing the style needed by his coaches.
“I think he has a very high motor, a nine or 10,” said Fisher. “People in the draft got on him, ‘You didn’t chase the ball. You didn’t do this at times.’ People got on him about that. It was how he was coached to do it.
“He was taught to play reverses, play cutbacks. A lot of times with our defense, we were half a gap or gap short up front, so the cutbacks he had to play more than chase wildly.”
While Fisher noted Werner’s sack total placed only behind Peter Boulware and came in a program that has had, “big-time names, guys who were first-round draft picks and significant players in the NFL,” there was something else he found more impressive.
“The thing that is the most amazing stat to me isn’t his sacks, he led the ACC in pass breakups,” said Fisher. “He had the most deflected passes in the ACC over all the guys in the secondary and everywhere. That’s for a defensive end who’s only 6-4. He’s not a 6-6 guy.
“His instincts (were), ‘I’m not going to get there, I’ll stop, get in a lane, bat a ball.’ To me, that is an amazing stat to me. It shows how naturally the game comes to him and how instinctive he is.”
Werner had 17 career passes broken up, eight in each of his last two seasons. While some defenders may be intent on one area of the game, Fisher equates Werner’s sack/batted ball production to a Triple Crown baseball performance, or to a double-double in basketball.
“Exactly, ‘I’m not getting a sack, but I’m going to knock the ball down,’ ” said Fisher. “Some guys that are pass-rush guys, it’s, ‘What do I have to do to sack a quarterback?’ (Then) run by him and (it’s), ‘I don’t care.’ This guy is, ‘What do I have to do to help my team win? Do I play the run (which he’s tremendously good at)? Can I sack him or just bat the ball down and win the play?’ ”
With 18 tackles for losses and 13 sacks to go with eight break ups last year, Werner was the ACC Defensive Player-of-the-Year and a unanimous All-America first-team pick.
Every coach likes production, and what Werner accomplished in college caught the eye of Chuck Pagano, a long-time defensive strategist.
“Just look at Peter’s track record, look his career and all he did there,” said Pagano. “Florida State has had great, great pass rushers there year-in and year-out. It (Werner’s numbers) says a bunch. It speaks volumes to his work ethic. Not only his God-given ability, his talent, but he’s put it to use.
“He’s still relatively new to the game. He’s got a high ceiling.”
From Germany to Connecticut to Florida to Indianapolis, Werner has hummed along with precision.
Fisher thought early on that Werner’s talent was “Sunday” talent. Now that Werner is in the NFL, Fisher sees no end to the effort.
“There’s no doubt about that,” said Fisher. “I think there’s a great inner confidence in him, mentally and physically. He’s a guy who truly doesn’t get too high or low. He carries himself with confidence, not arrogance.
“He will play as hard as you want him to play, I promise you. I think he’s a player who if he stays healthy will play a long time in the NFL. I really do.”