FSU's Werner ready for Orange Bowl challenge

FSU's Werner ready for Orange Bowl challenge

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) Bjoern Werner is rare.

The Florida State star defensive end is a married college student, already going on three years of wedded bliss. He's a German-born All-American. He ended the regular season with 13 sacks, second-most in the nation.

To think his story started in Berlin, thanks to a long-lost friend named Mirko and some ``weird guys'' at his school who were tossing a football around.

``And I played Madden,'' he said, referring to the popular video game.

He might be in next year's version of Madden, at this rate. Werner and the Seminoles face Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl on Tuesday night, and it's widely believed that this will be his last college game. He knows whether or not he'll soon be declaring a year early for the NFL draft, saying Saturday that he and his wife have made their decision.

That is, unless the decision gets revisited.

``If her mind changes,'' Werner said, ``mine might change, too.''

Florida State's opponents for next season surely won't mind if Werner decides to head to the NFL soon after his rapid rise. His introduction to the game was basically flag football in his native country after he got too big to keep playing ``futbol.'' Werner decided to give this game a shot after seeing some schoolmates throwing a ball instead of kicking one.

He's lost touch with them all.

So they might not even know how they helped him begin a journey that seems pointed toward NFL riches.

``This is everything I could dream right now, all this hype and not just about me individually,'' Werner said. ``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.''

If they do - and the Seminoles are two-touchdown favorites - it would be Florida State's first 12-win season since 1999.

Werner is a huge reason for that success.

The Seminoles allow an average of 15.1 points, sixth-best in the nation. At 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds, he has more sacks this season than he had in his first two years of college combined - and did so while facing a steady stream of double-teams that typically didn't do enough to slow him down.

``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 Florida State defensive coach D.J. Eliot, who is joining Kentucky's staff after the bowl. ``But Bjoern is one of those players that he can take in anything you give him. You know what I mean? 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.''

Which, frankly, didn't start all that long ago.

Werner started playing flag football in his native Berlin, then went to prep school in Salisbury, Conn., after realizing he had tons of natural skill. When colleges came recruiting, they took a look at his size and told him he'd be better suited at defensive tackle or offensive line or tight end. Werner didn't like any of those options.

Florida State coaches saw him play basketball, noted his athleticism and said he could play defensive end.

Smart move.

``It's fun catching the ball,'' Werner said. ``But you can't let loose like that.''

When he lets loose Tuesday, he'll likely have Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch in mind.

Lynch entered the weekend 38th nationally in yards passing this season and third nationally in yards rushing - his total of 1,771 in that department being 500 more than any other quarterback in the country.

Chances are, if they meet during the Orange Bowl, it'll be at high speed.

``The guy has a motor,'' Lynch said. ``That's the biggest thing that stands out. He never takes a play off. He's always going at it. Sometimes he'll get cut-blocked. He'll get right back up and make a tackle. It's pretty impressive. He'll run sideline to sideline and chase guys down. He's probably one of the most complete football players we'll play against.''

Werner said he would wait a few days after the Orange Bowl to announce his decision about next season, though it would count as a massive surprise - especially since the Seminoles will have a new defensive coordinator in 2013 - if he stuck around.

He has big plans to help the American version of football grow in Germany, eventually. He thought it was funny that his likeness adorned some buses that were decorated in Florida State colors and roaming the roads of South Florida in recent days to promote the bowl game. And even though some say he's a top-five draft pick, Werner would rather tell you about what he still has to work on than what his strengths are.

``I worked hard,'' Werner said. ``It paid off.''

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John Wall goes through full practice for first time since left knee surgery

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John Wall goes through full practice for first time since left knee surgery

John Wall crossed one of the biggest hurdles of his months-long recovery from arthroscopic left knee surgery on Saturday by participating in his first full practice.

That means Wall went through 5-on-5 scrimmages with teammates that included contact. He is free of restrictions.

Now it is only a matter of days before Wall is ready to return to game action.

"John did everything, he did an entire practice which was great," head coach Scott Brooks said. "I thought he did a great job offensively and defensively."


Wall, who last played on Jan. 25 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, has missed the Wizards' last 24 games. He has been absent for 35 of their 72 total games this season.

In the months he has been out, Wall has slowly worked his way to this point. He still has to get a few more practices under his belt before the Wizards can outline a target date for his return.

Wall was aggressive in testing his knee by attacking the basket, according to Brooks. Wall was moving around well and even lost a few pounds during his time off.

"He looks great and that's not easy with time off," Brooks said. "He will be back in no time."


The Wizards have gone 14-10 since Wall went down, an impressive mark especially considering how tough their schedule shook out. Most of those games came against teams with winning records either holding playoff spots or fighting for them.

The shine, though, is wearing off. They have lost two straight games and seven of their last 11. Their offense has stalled in recent defeats and it's become more and more clear they could use Wall's presence.

"He gives us that edge," Wall said. "When you have him on the floor, you get a lot of easy shots. John creates a lot of attention when he drives to the basket... I think [his teammates] have always appreciated it, but when you don't have him around you definitely miss it."

While the Wizards continue to wait for Wall to return to games, just having him in practices helps. Brooks explained how guarding a player of Wall's caliber, a five-time All-Star, raises the intensity level of their scrimmages. If his teammates do not bring their best effort, Wall can very easily expose them.


There is also something intangible about Wall's presence. The media sees it once the doors open at practice. He is talkative and energetic on the court.

Some of his teammates even described him as "loud."

"Sometimes I tell him that he's a little too loud," guard Bradley Beal said. "But that's the energy that we've missed."

"He brings the juice. He brings the energy level up," Brooks said. "You miss his spirit. You miss the way he interacts with guys. He's fiery and competitive. He gets after guys. He cheers guys on. I like that. I like guys that show emotion and passion on the court."

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Wizards display lack of urgency in loss to Nuggets and Scott Brooks is frustrated

Wizards display lack of urgency in loss to Nuggets and Scott Brooks is frustrated

Following their seventh loss in 11 games and another lackluster performance in key areas, Wizards head coach Scott Brooks reverted back to a critique that characterized many defeats months ago. He called into question the effort of his team, more specifically their urgency. How they could overlook the stakes at this point of the season and with so much on the line had escaped him.

Brooks wasn't pleased following Washington's 108-100 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Friday night. He didn't like their three-point defense, their inability to force turnovers and their lack of zip on offense. But overall, it was the apparent lack of realization that time is running out in the regular season and off-nights cannot be afforded.

"We have to play with more spirit [and] we have to take some pride in our home court," Brooks said. "We’re building our habits going into the playoffs and these are moments where we need to take advantage because it’s playoff implications in every game."


Pride is something Brooks has referenced after the Wizards' worst defeats since he took over. This one didn't qualify, as they only lost by eight points and had opportunities late to write a different ending. But they were playing a team fighting for their own playoff position in the opposite conference and for the most part did not match their intensity.

The Nuggets, to put it plainly, are among the worst defensive teams in basketball. They were missing their leading scorer, Gary Harris. And they tightened their rotation to just eight players.

Yet the Wizards only managed 100 points, six below their season average, and committed 17 turnovers. Aside from their 33-point third quarter, the Wizards' offense was effectively stalled. 

"We can’t have guys that are not going to participate with hard cuts and hard setups and good screens. We need everybody. It’s not one person, it’s all," Brooks said.


The Wizards only forced 10 turnovers on the Nuggets and only three in the first half. That held back their offense in the sense they had few opportunities for fastbreak buckets.

"That’s where we get most of our offense from anyways, getting stops, getting out in transition," forward Otto Porter said.

The Wizards have lost two straight games. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers and Pacers both won on Friday night.

The Wizards are sixth place in the East and just 1 1/2 games out of fourth, but there is a huge difference in those spots. Sixth could mean meeting the Cavs in the first round and they have won three straight since Kevin Love returned from injury.


The Cavaliers could quickly become the most dangerous team in the Eastern Conference. Their record is deceiving due to Love's injury and they still boast LeBron James, the best player on the planet. No one can control a playoff series quite like he can.

An argument could be made the Wizards would be better off moving down than up, as the seventh spot would match them up with the injury-riddled Boston Celtics. The Wizards are just 1 1/2 games ahead of the seventh-seed Miami Heat.

The Wizards, though, would prefer to move up and they still have a chance to get into fourth, which would mean home court advantage.

John Wall will return at some point, likely soon. In the short-term, Brooks would like to some urgency and for his team to get back to the trademark ball movement that allowed them to go 10-3 in their first 13 games when Wall went down.

"We can get it back, but it’s not going to come back. We have to go get it. It’s time to do it; it’s time," Brooks said.

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