The FIU receiving corps added some much needed depth in the off-season with the Panthers latest signing class. Going into the 2015 season FIU quarterback Alex McGough should have more targets to throw to among the receivers plus a talented returning tight ends group.
With receiver Glenn Coleman (23 catches, 468 yards, 3 TDs in 2014) graduated, the leading Panthers receiver that returns for 2015 is sophomore Dennis Turner (above left), who tallied just 11 catches for 89 yards last season. Defenses primarily concerned themselves with tight end Jonnu Smith (above right, 61 catches, 710 yards, 8 TDs) and Coleman when it came to FIU's passing game last season.
What FIU lacks in experience at receiver this coming season, the Panthers make up for it in promise. Clinton Taylor is the lone senior receiver and Juwan Caesar is the lone junior receiver. Every other receiver is either a sophomore or a freshman. Taylor came on at the end of last season. At 6-5, Caesar can be a major asset for FIU if he can stay healthy. Caesar has missed time with injuries since coming to FIU.
"Clinton's a smart player and he's more confident," FIU receivers coach Kort Shankweiler said. "Juwan gives us great size but we need him to stay healthy."
Freshman Anthony Jones showed in the spring with his moves and knack for getting open what made him such a sought after recruit. Jones with Turner provide FIU with some downfield threats.
"Dennis is more comfortable in the offense with this now being his second year here," Shankweiler said. "He knows what's expected of him. He's learned the scheme and the speed of the game has slowed down for him a bit."
Sophomore Thomas Owens gives FIU a physical, big body receiver that can make plays over the middle or downfield. Spring sensation Shawn Abrams could also make it difficult for defenses with his 6-4 frame. Abrams opened eyes last spring by basically catching every ball thrown his way. Abrams has tacked on a much-needed 10-plus pounds since the spring, weighing now between 170-175 pounds.
"T.O. (Owens) probably has the best hands on the team," Shankweiler said. "He continues to learn the little things. His situation is similar to Dennis Turner's where he is more comfortable and confident. We knew Shawn Abrams had the ability. He just lacks experience."
With the lack of experience among the receivers it would not be far-fetched to see an incoming freshman or sophomore get playing time. FIU has some talented pass catchers in new players such as freshmen Austin Maloney and Mark Hutchinson and sophomore Julian Williams.
The Panthers need their receiving corps to produce more than last season to help draw the defensive attention away from Smith who was FIU's offensive MVP last season. Whether it's in the slot, out wide, in the backfield, or on the offensive line, Smith's ability to line up at different positions makes it tough for opposing defenses.
"Jonnu causes major headaches for defenses game planning," FIU tight ends coach Jason Brooks said. "At the same time Jonnu helps create opportunities for everyone else on offense."
And that's where FIU's receiving corps has to take advantage as well as the other tight ends. Like Smith, tight end Ya'Keem Griner is a receiver playing tight end. Griner can run and is athletic enough to also line up at various spots.
"I think Ya'Keem is bigger and more athletic than when I coached defense," said Brooks, who coached the FIU secondary the last two seasons. "He seems to be more physical and poised for a breakout type year."
Akil Dan-Fodio made plays when he got the chance last season and he is athletic enough to allow FIU to use a three tight-end set if the Panthers chose to. Freshman tight end Mac Carey will battle for snaps with returnees Ricky Fernandez and Jonathan Pavlov. At times during his prep career Carey played tackle on the offensive line at Tallahassee Leon. Carey can block well but he also has good hands to catch the ball.