In the world of injuries, pain is good.
Pain means a sprain or a bruise, something manageable with a quick recovery. What's bad is numbness. Numbness means broken bones, torn ligaments, part of the body shutting down because the damage is too severe to process.
Jaccobi McDaniel and Chris Casher are both well aware of that sensation. Among the shuffle of new faces in a new defense, both have come back from season-ending injuries to carve out roles on FSU's stacked defensive line.
McDaniel can still remember lying on the field against Duke in 2011 and feeling the numbness in his ankle. When he looked to see the damage, he saw his foot hanging at a bizarre angle.
"I grabbed my thigh," McDaniel said. "It was just a reaction. I looked down and saw my ankle like this (he cocked his wrist) and I just put my head back down."
McDaniel's injury, a broken angle and fibula, sidelined him for the final six games of 2011 and forced him to redshirt the 2012 season as well. He's only now getting back into playing shape, and plays and practices with so much tape on his ankle that it looks like a club.
"He's just now getting back into playing," head coach Jimbo Fisher said. "Yeah he's healthy, but you've got to get out there and knock the cobwebs off."
Casher, for his part, has only just started to see the field at Florida State after two years on the sidelines. He spent his senior year of high school sidelined after transferring, then took a redshirt season in 2012 after a freak knee injury flared up in pregame warmups against Clemson. Saturday's game against Bethune-Cookman was the first time Casher's seen significant in-game snaps since 2010.
"It felt good," Casher said. "The next day I was pretty sore, but yeah, I was playing football again. I'm not used to being sore on a Sunday again."
Both Casher and McDaniel came to Tallahassee as high-powered recruits. McDaniel was a five-star prospect, the top-rated defensive tackle in the class of 2009 and an Under Armor All-American. He was a fixture in the starting rotation at defensive tackle for his first two seasons before his injury in his junior year.
McDaniel also remembers watching the Under Armor All-American game in 2011 and seeing a young Chris Casher tearing it up on the field. Casher was also a highly touted recruit, one of the top 25 players in the nation in 2011 despite not playing a down as a senior.
Both went through their own difficult and lengthy recovery time - Fisher compared that process to a marathon in its never-ending grind. McDaniel said he did everything in his power to never be alone. He made sure his roommate, a close friend or a family member was around all the time to keep the depression of not playing from sinking in. Casher said he accepted early on that he wasn't going to be the athletic freak he was early in his career and internalized the recovery.
"You've just got to know who you are and what you're capable of," Casher said. "Me being hurt I knew I wasn't going to walk on the field and be the same Chris I was. It's just not possible. So I just took it little bit at a time."
But so far, both players have been able to see the field. Both are in crowded spots on the depth chart. But McDaniel has seen somewhat regular snaps at defensive tackle and has proved himself a powerful run blocker as a spot fullback in FSU's jumbo sets. Casher's first extended playing time on Saturday against Bethune-Cookman couldn't have gone better: he finished second on the team with 10 tackles, two of them for loss. His performance was good enough to earn him defensive player of the game honors from the FSU coaching staff.
Casher said he can see the difference between his play now and his old self. Instead of relying only on athleticism, he said he used his two years off to improve his technique.
"When I first got here, I was just an athletic pass-rush type of guy," Casher said. "Now I'm more technique. You look at film of me then and now I'm a totally different guy."
McDaniel said he's tried to maintain a positive outlook despite limited work each game - he said he didn't mind working his way back up the depth chart. He's already got nine tackles this season.
"If my job is to play 10 plays, I'm going to try to make 6 of those plays," McDaniel said. "Make 7-10, 9-10, 10-10. I know it's not possible but I'm going to do everything to the best of my abilities to be productive while I'm out there."
He's also noticed Casher fight his way back into the lineup and taken some heart from seeing that. He said the two will definitely watch some film of their new selves in Boston - through a fortunate coincidence, they're road roomates.
"I was like man, Chris Casher is something special," McDaniel said. "I guess when we go to Boston, me and Chris can watch film together. That's a good thing. I'm very happy for him."
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