The term "replacement player" in football conjures up images of bumbling and stumbling guys that are poor imitations of the real thing.
But at Florida State, replacement players for two standouts -- defensive end Brandon Jenkins, lost to injury, and cornerback/kick returner Greg Reid, dismissed from the team -- have more than proven their worth. Through the first three games of the season, the Noles have used three players to plug those holes -- defensive end Tank Carradine, cornerback Nick Waisome and punt returner Rashad Greene -- and gotten fantastic results.
Nobody is quite saying Brandon Jenkins who? Or Greg Reid who? But these three players have made what appears to be a seamless transition into their starting roles. Of course, the biggest test comes Saturday when No. 4 Florida State hosts No. 10 Clemson. Carradine and Waisome have never started a game against an offense filled with this many playmakers.
But at least they have notched the first starts of their careers going into this one, something that Carradine says has been hugely important for him. Carradine played behind Bjoern Werner last season but going into 2012, coach Jimbo Fisher labeled Werner, Jenkins and Carradine his 1A, 1B and 1C defensive ends, respectively. When Jenkins was lost for the season with a foot injury sustained in the season opener, it was time for Carradine to move into the starting lineup.
Not exactly the easiest transition, but Carradine says he is now fully acclimated to his new role.
"Being a starter and coming off the bench is totally different," Carradine said in a phone interview this week. "When you're a starter, the team expects more out of you and you come across plays you wouldn’t come across if you weren't a starter. You come across certain situations by having more playing time. It’s much better starting because you get to see the first snaps of the ball, what keys this person is going to take, and feeling of this person you are up against right off the bat."
Carradine was one of the ACC players of the week following his performance against Wake Forest, in which he had a career-high 2 1/2 sacks. He and Werner are the top two sack leaders in the ACC -- Werner has 6.5 total sacks, Carradine has 3.5. Carradine also ranks No. 3 in the league in tackles for loss, with 4.5. And he also leads the FSU defense with 12 total tackles.
His play has even drawn an "I told you so," from Werner, who has repeatedly said the Noles would be fine without Jenkins.
"I’m feeling very comfortable," Carradine said. "I think it was a shock to me at first because I wasn’t expecting it, but I feel comfortable now that I’m out there playing, having a chance to start a game and be out there, I have the feeling of being a starter. Playing last year a lot, it also helped me prepare as well."
Waisome mostly played on special teams as a true freshman in 2011, and ended the year with one tackle. But he got his opportunity to start after Reid was kicked off the team this summer. Waisome won a summer competition with true freshman Ronald Darby and has done a nice job in the secondary.
With only three career starts under his belt, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Waisome now faces the biggest challenge of his young career, in trying to defend Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins and all the other talented Clemson receivers.
What has he learned in his three starts that will help him going into this game?
"Probably just staying with the play, finishing the play all the way to the end," Waisome said. "When you get to the end of the route, when you figure out the receiver is done with the route, you can ease off a little bit sometimes. I feel like you have to stay on them because sometimes those quarterbacks scramble out -- with Tajh Boyd being such a great quarterback, we've got to stay on our receivers and play the play out."
As for Greene, he took over punt return duties from Reid and is leading the ACC with a 19.6-yard punt return average and two punt returns for touchdowns. Marcus Murphy of Missouri is the only other player in the nation with two punt returns for touchdowns so far in the season.
Fisher was quick to point out that he is really pleased with the way his team has responded, and believes they are much more confident this year than they were going into their game against Clemson a year ago.
"I think I've got some young guys that have really developed, some older guys that have really changed who they are and what they've done and really grown, like you want guys to grow and mature as they do in college," Fisher said.
We'll know more about them after Saturday.