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McLendon emerging as dependable DE option

Jared Verse has understandably received plenty of attention, which is well earned, this spring. But defensive end Derrick McLendon has developed through the years into a prospect the coaching staff can look to for the coming season. McLendon had 16 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2021, the Seminoles’ returning leader.

“Derrick’s put in work,” FSU defensive coordinator Adam Fuller said after Saturday’s scrimmage. “There’s no substitute. You could sit up there and think that you’re going to have a great year. But at the end of the day, if you haven’t put in the right amount of work, and you haven’t checked those boxes, you can say it but you don’t really believe it. He’s actually put it in. He was a young defensive lineman when we got here, and he never had an offseason. The COVID time, just never had a full time with (strength and conditioning) coach (Josh) Storms in that group. 

“He’s always had ability, but he would fall down, he would not finish the move. His mind knew what to do. His heart knew what to do. But physically he wasn’t developed enough yet. Last year he got to a point where he was being able to defend himself, he was being able to play with strength and leverage. And now he’s even bigger and stronger than he was. He’s got a natural leverage to him when he rushes the passer.”

McLendon points to his work on the field and in the weight room as a source of provide. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound McLendon exudes confidence and appreciates how Storms has invested time in him for the long haul.

“Coach Storms has truly been a miracle worker,” McLendon said. “You guys see my body of work that I’m playing this spring. Coach Storms has been that guy three years. He knows my body.”

Said FSU coach Mike Norvell: “The development of Derrick McLendon has been remarkable. You’ve seen what he’s done with his body and the productivity of what he’s doing.”

FSU loses two of its most significant pieces from 2021 in a pair of defensive ends, Jermaine Johnson and Keir Thomas. It’s unfair to expect the high-end production of a Johnson, who was the ACC’s defensive player of the year, but there also isn’t panic about who is coming back on the defensive front. Part of that is the arrival of Jared Verse, who has impressed with his athleticism and energy, but the Seminoles also have McLendon, Dennis Briggs and Patrick Payton as options at end. And the interior is also deep with the return of Fabien Lovett and Robert Cooper as well as Jarrett Jackson and Joshua Farmer, each of which has taken a step forward this spring.

There is clearly an emphasis in college football of pursuing high-end pass-rush talent, and FSU did just that in its recruitment of Verse. But there is also no replacing the long-term development of players at every position. McLendon is a great example.

“We want to recruit ones that are instant-impact players,” McLendon said. “And that’s our aim. But we can’t give up on development. He’s a pure reason why.”