Saturday will be the final practice of FIU football training camp before the team goes into game week practice mode for the season opener at Maryland on Aug. 31.
With camp just about complete, we’ve seen enough practices to get an idea of what to possibly expect in the 2013 season. Based on the past three weeks of camp and not taking into account how things play out when the lights come on Aug. 31, here are 10 things we’ve learned about the 2013 FIU football Panthers over the past three weeks:
1. The defensive line should be the strongest part of the 2013 Panthers. With senior pillars and NFL prospects Isame Faciane and Greg Hickman on the interior, FIU should make it tough for teams to run. Both Faciane and Hickman appear to be in the best shape they have been in during their four years at FIU and I think the continuous presence of NFL scouts at FIU practices has added extra incentive for the seniors to perform well this season. Johnathan Cyprien and T.Y. Hilton proved that even though FIU is not a BCS school, you can be a high NFL draft pick at FIU. At defensive end, Giovani Francois, Denzell Perine and Lars Koht have the speed to get to the quarterback.
2. Although 2012 leading rusher Kedrick Rhodes is no longer on the team, there is still talent in the offensive backfield. Lamarq Caldwell is running in an offense more suited to what he can do. At 220 pounds, Caldwell was out of place in the spread offense. In the pro-style that FIU now employs, Caldwell has displayed his rushing ability and shown he can be a reliable pass target out of the backfield. The speedy Shane Coleman with the tree trunk legs is a good change of pace back for Caldwell. I think freshmen Alfonso Randolph and Silas Spearman, and junior Talir Satterfield-Rowe can surprise if they are given room to run. Randolph has some nifty cut back abilities. Once linebacker-turned-fullback Jordan Gibbs gets acclimated to his new position, he will factor in the offensive plans with his size (235 pounds) and athleticism.
3. Of course the success of the offense this season will be predicated on the development of a brand new offensive line. If the backs don’t have running room and quarterback Jake Medlock is not given time to throw then there could be a lot of 3-and-outs. The offensive line won some battles against the seasoned defensive line in camp. It appears that going into the first game the starting O-line will consist of LT – David Delsoin, LG – Jordan Budwig, C – Donald Senat, RG – Jordan White and RT – Aaron Nielsen. Only Delsoin (No. 50 above) and Senat have started games for FIU. Delsoin has taken on the role of the vocal leader of not only the line but the overall offense often rallying the players with speeches during practice. One thing that should help the line on passing downs is that FIU quarterbacks are expected to get rid of the ball in 3 to 4 seconds in the pro-style offense.
4. Medlock is elated to be running the pro-style offense because he is so familiar with it and will not be asked to run as much as he did in the spread offense. Hopefully, that keeps Medlock healthy too. Medlock grew up around the pro-style offense with his father, Ricky, running a very similar system as the offensive coordinator at Jacksonville Fletcher High since 1997. Medlock will be under center the majority of the time and with such a young offense it will be good for the Panthers to huddle before plays. With the pro-style offense, Medlock will also get some extra blockers with FIU sometimes going to a double tight-end set or a two-back set in the backfield.
5. Besides the offensive line, special teams might be the other big question about the 2013 Panthers, as in will the special teams be, you know, special? FIU is working in a new kicker, punter and long snapper, which has led coach Ron Turner at times to say after practice that FIU might lead the NCAA in going for it on fourth down. Sergio Sroka is looking like he has won the kicking job as of the four freshman kickers only Austin Taylor is getting field goal attempts lately and that is after Sroka gets the majority of kicks. There have been days where Sroka will be perfect on field goals or hits 3 of 4, but then there are other days where kicks have been blocked or he misses more than he makes. Punter Chris Ayers seems to have beaten out freshman Karson Dietrich for punting job. Like Sroka, Ayers has had his good and bad days. Ayers will drill a 45-yard punt and then hit one off the side of his foot. FIU special teams coach Kevin Wolthausen has had the punters practice rugby-style kicks to get better rolls. If the punting game really struggles, Jake Medlock has punted before and has shown to have the best leg of any Panther in camp. Brandon Taylor and Sam Medlock, Jake’s brother, have been battling for the long snapper’s job. Taylor has gotten the majority of first team snaps. Over the last week tight end Zach Schaubhut has been the first team holder over Ayers. Schaubhut has holding experience and is a former quarterback at Air Force, which could come in handy if an attempt breaks down and he has to make a play with his feet or his arm.
6. The linebacker corps will be interesting to watch. There are raw physical skills on the unit but very little game experience. Luis Rosado, Patrick Jean, Michael Wakefield, Davison Colimon, Josh Glanton and Treyvon Williams are all underclassmen that can move. Markeith Russell and Derrick Jones are the lone seniors in the group. Wakefield, Rosado, Colimon, Glanton and Williams have had solid camps. Should Faciane and Hickman produce as expected up front there will be a lot of opportunities for tackles and tackles for loss to be had for the linebackers. Williams (above left) started taking first team reps at middle linebacker in today’s practice and has had a knack for making big plays over the last three weeks. Williams reminds me of a raw Keyonvis Bouie. If you don’t remember Bouie (above right) in FIU football history, Bouie like Williams arrived at FIU as not the biggest of linebackers but had a nose for the ball and went on to win the Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year. Bouie was also a part of the FIU defense that led the nation in tackles for loss in 2006 and that was No. 28 in the nation in total defense that same year despite an 0-12 record.
7. Like the linebackers, the FIU receivers are young but have displayed glimpses of playmaking ability. The receivers are looking to be more consistent. They have the size and/or speed to stretch the field or make plays in space. They have made some tough catches in camp, but then will drop some easy throws. And when you are part of such a green offense, the easy catches have to be made to keep moving the chains and limit the 3-and-outs. Dominique Rhymes at 6-4 can be FIU’s No. 1 receiver. T.J. Lowder is one of the faster receivers, if not the fastest. You saw how quick De’Andre Jasper was in games last season and has been a pleasant surprise catching the ball out of the backfield. Clinton Taylor started strong in camp. Glenn Coleman might be the most talented overall of the receiving corps but like all the pass catchers needs to be more consistent. I think once Shug Oyegunle gets some experience he will be a factor in the passing game. Oyegunle has shown to be fearless in camp and is fast.
8. The tight ends should thrive in the new offense, especially catching the ball. With uncertainty along the O-line, the tight ends will be Medlock’s safety valve quite often. Freshman Jonnu Smith has been impressive stretching the field on pass patterns, shown soft hands, and can line up and block out of the backfield. Smith wears No. 87, which is the same number and has the same surname of the former Panther that holds every tight end record in FIU history, Sam Smith. Cory White is a load blocking at 6-6, 260 pounds and catches the ball well. When given chances before Zach Schaubhut has been productive and he’s done well this camp. I don’t want to call him a surprise because this will be his third year at FIU, but Ya’Keem Griner, if he is more consistent, could be pretty important in this new offense. Like Smith, Griner can be like a receiver the way he stretches the field.
9. Despite FIU’s recruiting put on hold for most of last December with the late hire of Turner and his staff, there could be some impact freshmen this season. You’ve read above about Treyvon Williams and Jonnu Smith. Others that can have an influence this season are receiver Shug Oyengunle, cornerbacks Brad Hyman-Muhammad, Wilkenson Myrtil, Xavier Hines and Vontarius West, running backs Alfonso Randolph and Silas Spearman, and guard Jordan Budwig. Turner has reiterated throughout camp that he will play the best players, regardless of class. Turner has shown that with Williams, Smith, Randolph and Budwig getting first team reps.
10. Without getting into detail, the offensive play calling will be very different this season. To start the Panthers are running a new offense where the quarterback will be under center for the majority of the snaps. So on 3rd down and short or 4th and inches, Medlock could sneak for the needed yardage. The Panthers offense has run such a variety of plays in camp, more than I have seen in the 12 years that I’ve covered FIU football, which happens to be 12 years old. Now how successful the execution of those plays will be will probably determine what kind of year FIU has. We’ll know more next Saturday in College Park, Maryland.