Several of you good people that attended the spring game and more recently were present at the season ticket holders event last week noticed that the FIU football team seems bigger and more physical. FIU football strength and conditioning coach Chad Smith agrees with your assessment but he also believes the Panthers are stronger mentally as well as they prepare for the 2014 season.
Smith joined me this morning to talk about the offseason training program. You can watch the video by clicking on the link above this post.
Smith pointed out that one of the noteworthy aspects of the offseason program was the attendance of the Panthers.
"The accountability, the discipline, the will to take change," Smith said. "Everybody showed up on time. In the nine-week program we have three weeks where it is voluntary and they showed up on their own where we had 80 percent of the team doing voluntary workouts. I could count on one hand the amount of times I had to yell at them to do stuff. The first summer it was every day where I was yelling at them but now they have that accountability."
I think it is no coincidence that some of the Panthers that are standing out in camp this month were some of the better performers in both the winter conditioning program and the summer one. CLICK HERE for a look at the winter performers.
Smith didn't have his notes with him when we spoke since it was right after practice but here are some of the players he thought took the next step in the summer.
"Overall a lot of guys got better," Smith said. "Dominique Rhymes has a phenomenal work ethic in the weight room always doing more. Jeremiah McKinnon, Richard Leonard, Randy Harvey. Jonnu Smith (below) is a freak of nature. Ya'keem Griner had an awesome summer. . .The o-line you look at Jordan Budwig, Delmar Taylor, David Delsoin really made a lot of strides. Defensively, Michael Wakefield and Wonderful Monds have a motor that you can't really coach."
I've written many of the names above in the daily practice blogs on here. Another is Jordan Guest, who has been running with the first team linebackers since camp began. Guest is still undersized at 210 pounds but Smith says Guest is dedicated in the weight room.
"Guest was kind of shown the ins and outs of what he had to do for his body last year," Smith said. "After the last game last year you could tell he was willing to put the effort in. He really bought in to the weight gain because we are really hard on them. It's a rough process but there was no fight in him as far as being negative. He kept going, gained his weight and got his strength, his explosiveness. I'm looking forward to watching him play."
One morning over the summer Smith brought in U.S. military special ops teams to train the Panthers. The Panthers performed several military exercises and learned lessons to apply this season and beyond.
"I wanted to show them what a real team is and in my humble opinion what better way than to have the U.S. military show our guys what a real team is made of," Smith said. "What I wanted them to get out of it was to be accountable for yourself and for your teammates. You have to work together to be successful. It's not a one-man thing, you need everybody to get the job done."
I asked Smith what will be some of the noticeable physical and/or mental differences you good people will see with the FIU team when you come out to a game this season.
"I think physically you will see a more durable team," Smith said. "In the summer you have to get them in shape but most importantly you have to get them to last. How we train them you want them to be a jack of all trades. You don't just want them to be fast and strong. You need endurance. We picked the mindset that we want our guys to last. I think you will see a team that can recover a lot faster, that can be a little more physical and even the speed in running to the ball and getting away. Mentally, I think you will see a team that is a lot closer and will fight adversity. When things get bad they've experienced a lot and that's kind of given them an edge to where they don't want to experience that anymore."
Some of the highlights of Tuesday's practice included a couple of interceptions. Leonard popped up a pass, juggled it and corraled the ball for the pick. Later, safety Justin Halley got in the backfield on a blitz, deflected a ball up in the air and Wakefield grabbed it for the interception.
Receiver Clinton Taylor made a nice catch on a pass thrown behind him. Richard Burrows laid out to make a one-handed catch down the sideline. Burrows might be one of the more improved receivers on the team. He's shown some secure hands both last spring and in camp this month.
Luke Medlock and Fred Porter had the longest completion of the day. Medlock connected with Porter on a 51-yard pass play.
Harvey continued his strong camp with a pass knocked down along the sideline. McKinnon deflected a possible touchdown pass in the end zone. Guest played good pass defense.
The Detroit Lions sent out two scouts this morning to FIU practice. Maybe they like what they see from Greg Hickman in Motown and realize that there is more under the radar talent at FIU.