FIU will be one-third of the way through spring football after Thursday's practice. Through the first several practices this spring here are some of the early impressions I have gotten from the Panthers. You may have read some impressions on Twitter: @PetePelegrin.
The team donned the pads for the first time last Sunday morning. The FIU offense is going to benefit greatly from going against the Panthers defense each day in practice. The physical nature and speed of the FIU D might be as good, if not the best the FIU offense sees this coming season. Besides the usual defensive playmakers, such as Tourek Williams, Isame Faciane, Winston Fraser, Jordan Hunt and Jonathan Cyprien standing out thus far, some of the younger defensive Panthers have played well.
Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Lars Koht has had a strong start to the spring. Sunday during a mini-scrimmage, Koht returned a fumble 24 yards for a touchdown, batted down a pass and recorded a tackle for loss. Sophomore Giovani Francois (above left) had a couple of sacks in team drills this morning. Fadol Brown got in the backfield to make a tackle.
Greg Hickman looks quicker this spring. He has made a couple of moves on the offensive line that got him into the backfield. Jason Fitch appears healthy. He got a tackle in the backfield. Safety Chuck Grace has picked off a pair of passes thus far in team drills.
Switching over to the offense, I've noticed in practices why quarterback E.J. Hilliard was the Dade County Player of the Year last season at Northwestern High. Hilliard (right) has a quick release and a strong arm. Yes, he will have to put on some beef in the FIU weight room and the speed of the game might be a bit too fast right now, but he can play quarterback. Hilliard is shifty running the ball and knows how to make defenders miss. Still, what has stood out for me has been Hilliard's arm. He threw a dart 32 yards downfield that Willis Wright made a nice catch in traffic. Hilliard can also make the tough throws to the sidelines.
Wright is running without any issue coming off the knee injury that kept him out of the Beef O'Brady's Bowl. James Louis has made some good catches as has the dependable Jacob Younger. Sophomore Dominique Rhymes has not only filled out his 6-3 frame, but continues to develop on the field. Rhymes caught a tough sideline pass and dragged one foot for a 19-yard completion from Jake Medlock.
Coming off that shoulder injury against ULM last season, Medlock continues to make all the throws and sometimes with too much mustard. Medlock was firing some fastballs on medium routes. The speed of the passes caught some receivers by surprise. This morning Medlock placed a perfect 31-yard line drive into Jeremiah Harden's hands down the sideline. Later he found Rhymes on that 19-yard sideline pass.
The Panthers are expected to scrimmage for the first time Friday. Unfortunately, all practices are closed until the spring game, but I'll have the highlights of the scrimmage here.
*Thanks Richard Lewis photo (Francois)