The break neck speed of its players, the aggressiveness and the flawless execution of its scheme, yes, those are all traits that the FIU offense looks to show this season. However, those were the traits the Panthers defense exhibited early Friday morning as FIU opened spring practice (right). By the way, you can follow practice updates on Twitter: @PetePelegrin.
With 10 of 11 starters back from last season, the FIU defense picked up Friday morning where it left off in 2011. The Panthers D made several plays during team drills and got after the quarterbacks with plenty of pressure and some sacks (tag sacks, since the Panthers won't be in pads until Sunday). Although it was the first day of spring ball, the 14th-nationally ranked scoring defense from a year ago made a solid first impression.
"Going against our defense every day in practice is going to make our offense that much better," FIU quarterback Jake Medlock said. "Wow, those guys can get after you and really cause some trouble."
As you remember from last season the Panthers D comes at the quarterback from everywhere. Defensive back Jose Cheeseborough (right) recorded a sack as did defensive lineman Tourek Williams. Linebacker Winston Fraser was all over the field. Safety Chuck Grace, good to see him back from a knee injury, had an interception. Demarkus Perkins batted away a pass. Safety Justin Halley used all 6-2 of his frame to go way up and knock down a pass.
The Panthers defense finished 30th in the nation in total defense, 15th in sacks and 22nd against the run last season. With this experienced and very talented unit, the FIU offense has a challenge each practice.
The Panthers offense displayed its new NBA fast break-pace consistently hustling between each play. Again this was just the first day of spring practice where the players were in shorts and shells, but the offense showed some promise.
First of all, there is nothing wrong with Medlock's arm. After injuring his shoulder in the penultimate game last season against ULM, Medlock (left) was throwing fastballs Friday. Despite there being no contact, Jake smartly ran out of bounds on a couple of scrambles instead going forward against the defender.
As for those Medlock fastballs that might draw interest from FIU baseball coach Turtle Thomas, Wayne Times said it best. After a 55-yard laser touchdown pass to Jacob Younger, Times yelled . . . "Wooooooooooooo--weeeeeeeeeeeeee" in reaction to the mustard Medlock had on the pass.
E.J. Hilliard showed good touch and a good arm on his throws. During the recruiting period there were some media reports out there that Hilliard was not big enough to play quarterback. Watching Hilliard today, I will tell you he has good size at 6-1 and has an accurate arm. He will benefit from the FIU weight room.
What you'll probably hear a lot this season is who is going to replace T.Y. Hilton? While T.Y. is in a class by himself, there is plenty of receiving talent on the team. It's just a matter of those pass catchers producing. Times and Younger have shown they can catch the ball during their time at FIU. Times made an acrobatic catch in traffic that he juggled a couple of times before hauling it in. Now is the opportunity for others to prove themselves.
One receiver that made me do a double-take Friday was sophomore Dominique Rhymes, who apparently made the FIU weight room his second home this off-season. I'm not sure if you could tell by this photo on the right, but Rhymes has filled out on his 6-3 frame from last season. He is definitely bigger than his 205-pound playing weight from last season.
Willis Wright is back running without any issue after the knee injury he sustained late last season. Glenn Coleman made a nice grab over the middle, not as tough as his shoestring catch against ULM last season. James Louis has got good size and speed. Watching Louis run routes and catch passes Friday showed me why he was so highly-recruited out of high school.
FIU has some good depth at running back. Single-season FIU rushing record holder Kedrick Rhodes looks a little bigger, but still showed his video game moves running the ball. Jeremiah Harden is healthy and stronger.
Darian Mallary broke through with a 30-yard run. If Shane Coleman gets any kind of opening, defenses will not catch him. Daquan Hargrett looks like Darriet Perry's younger brother with his tree trunk legs. At 6-0, 210 pounds, Lamarq Caldwell is the biggest freshman running back in FIU's 10-year history. It will be interesting to see when Caldwell runs the ball against the vaunted FIU defense later this spring.