Preparation for FIU’s 12th season of football starts Monday morning at 9:15 a.m. when the Panthers open training camp. I'll have practice updates on Twitter: @PetePelegrin throughout camp. The Panthers enter camp with a very young and inexperienced team. On the 97-man training camp roster, the team is made up of 40 freshmen and 26 sophomores, which means a little more than two-thirds of the team (66 players), are underclassmen.
In the preview below we’ll take a look at five areas concerning the FIU offense in training camp and for the upcoming season. On the next preview we’ll focus on five aspects of the Panthers defense.
On FIUSports.com is the most up-to-date official team roster before camp begins. The roster does not take into account eligibility issues. The 97 players listed on the roster will be in camp starting Monday. Whether they will be playing at Maryland on August 31 will be determined this month.
On to the offense. . . .
FRONT AND CENTER
The most obvious and important part of the offense that needs to be resolved in the next month is the offensive line. Only three returning offensive linemen have playing experience and it's limited: Donald Senat, David Delsoin and Jordan White – all three are juniors.
Senat got most of the snaps at center in the spring and could be the starter there unless someone else beats him out in camp. White is coming off a knee injury and will be monitored closely throughout camp. Beyond those three juniors, FIU has only three other upperclassmen offensive linemen with all of them being juniors as well: Michael Montero, JUCO transfer Byron Pinkston and Delmar Taylor. Pinkston might be the most intriguing among the new linemen. He was an honorable mention All-American JUCO at center. He could challenge Senat or vie for another starting spot on the line.
I thought Dieugot Joseph did a pretty decent job in the spring for a guy who started playing offensive line four months ago. Joseph certainly has the athleticism to be a starter for this team. If you are wondering about the incoming true freshmen offensive linemen, well then, join the crowd. Yes, they all have their high school accolades in tow, but the college game is completely different. College football is a lot faster and more physical than prep ball. How fast and how well the freshmen adjust will determine how much we see of them on Saturdays and possibly how well the o-line plays. FIU’s o-line could be very dependent on freshmen this season. Like you, I will be learning about the freshmen offensive linemen throughout camp.
BETTER TO RECEIVE
There is no doubt who will be throwing the football for the Panthers this fall, junior quarterback Jake Medlock is the starter, but who will be catching the passes? I will not get into academics here because no one knows about that until the grades are posted sometime next week. For this preview I will just go by who is on the official roster, which means those players will be in camp.
Medlock’s top two targets are expected to be Willis Wright and Glenn Coleman. Both players are capable of being in the upper echelon of receivers in Conference USA. Should Medlock get the time to throw to these two receivers then the FIU offense could do some damage. Three other receivers who could factor in the passing game are tall, athletic receivers: Dominique Rhymes (6-4), Jairus Williams (6-5) and Raymond Jackson (6-2). All three have had their moments while at FIU but need to take the next step. With pretty much an open competition at receiver, James Louis has his chance to breakthrough and earn some playing time. Some of the speedier receivers such as T.J. Lowder, De’Andre Jasper and freshman Shug Oyegunle could thrive in the vertical passing game of the new pro-style offense.
With leading rusher Kedrick Rhodes no longer on the team there is plenty of carries to go around for some young running backs. Shane Coleman, Lamarq Caldwell and Jakhari Gore should get the initial opportunities. However, with no starting jobs set at running back and with the Panthers employing a two-back set at times in the new offense, some of the freshman running backs could figure into playing time.
Freshmen Silas Spearman and Alfonso Randolph have good prep credentials coming in that the Panthers hope translate to the college game. While Coleman and Gore have the breakaway speed, Caldwell is a back to keep an eye on with the new offense. Caldwell at 220 pounds is built to be an every down back and has shown flashes when he’s gotten the chance. Caldwell is better suited for the pro-style offense than the spread.
NEW STYLE THIS FALL
You got a glimpse of the new pro-style offense in the spring. Should Jake Medlock get sufficient pass protection, he should not expect to run the ball as much as he did in the spread offense. Having an extra back in the backfield can help an inexperienced offensive line and can help to keep Medlock’s jersey clean.
Medlock likes running the pro-style offense because it's the offense he ran in high school. There will still be short and intermediate routes in the passing game, but the Panthers would like to take more deep shots if the pass protection allows them. You might also see a double tight end set in the new offense to help with the running game as well as the passing game. After all FIU has a receiver basically playing tight end in Ya’Keem Griner. Coral Gables school transfer tight end Cory White, all 6-6, 280 pounds, could be a big help, no pun intended. The style of the new offense could also thrive in third-and-short situations with the two backs or two tight ends and Medlock under center. But again how successful the new offense is will depend on the offensive line.
Since spring ball ended FIU has added kickers to the roster and kicker is certainly a position that the Panthers need to address with the graduation of FIU’s all-time field goals made and points leader Jack Griffin. Three freshman kickers, Karson Dietrich, Cody Hodgens and Austin Taylor, have been added to compete with holdover Sergio Sroka. We saw throughout Griffin’s FIU career how important it is to have a reliable kicker. Like many positions on the team this is an open competition in camp as are other parts of special teams which I’ll get into in the defensive preview next.