Continuing to look ahead to the FIU football team in 2014 we’ll turn our attention to the defense. This past season the strength of the Panthers defense was the defensive line but the interior of the line will need to be addressed. The linebacking corps was undermanned not only because of a lack of depth but also with players that had never really played before. The secondary had to break in some new corners after one of its best cover corners was ineligible before the season. Let’s break down what FIU has coming back and who FIU loses on the defensive side of the ball. On the next post we’ll take a look at the special teams.
The most productive defensive players that FIU must obviously replace for next season are likely NFL-bound defensive tackles Isame Faciane and Greg Hickman. Faciane led the team in tackles for loss in 2013 and Hickman led the team in sacks. The Panthers will have big shoes to fill in those two spots. Returning defensive tackles include Lars Koht, Marques Cheeks, Darrian Dyson, Leonard Washington and Imarjaye Albury gets in on the action after sitting out this year due to NCAA transfer rules after arriving from West Virginia. Albury, a Miami Northwestern High grad, is an intriguing tackle at 6-0, 295 pounds. Still, FIU will need to reload at the tackle positions.
Pretty much all of the defensive ends return for the Panthers. Michael Wakefield, who had a good season with six tackles for loss and two sacks, should play a more prominent role next fall. Denzell Perine really came on at the end, especially in the Marshall game. Giovani Francois showed his pass rushing skills in the eight games he played. Francois missed some time with injury. Paul Crawford could be back after missing the season with a shoulder injury. He does have a redshirt season available. FIU will also have Buffalo transfer Wonderful Monds available after sitting out the season due to NCAA transfer rules. As you saw with all the running quarterbacks in Conference USA, you can never have too many athletic defensive ends.
Middle linebacker Markeith Russell will be missed. Not only did Russell lead the team by a lot in tackles (96 tackles, next closest Panther was Justin Halley and Faciane each with 53 tackles), but Russell will be missed for his leadership. Russell was the anchor of a linebacking unit that lacked depth to the point that cornerback Derrick Jones was moved to linebacker before the season. Like Russell, Jones graduated. FIU does return some promising young linebackers in Davison Colimon, Patrick Jean, Treyvon Williams and Luis Rosado. Josh Glanton and Leroy Owens may be back if they take care of business off the field. Freshman Jeremy Derrick showed glimpses of what he can do practicing on the scout team as he took a redshirt. Of the three units on defense, linebacker is the position group that the Panthers need to stock up on the most before NSD.
Sam Miller, arguably FIU’s best cornerback, has graduated. Speedy cornerback Richard Leonard is trying to work his way back on to the team. The Panthers return a pair of freshmen corners that were highly-touted coming out of high school in Xavier Hines and Wilkenson Myrtil along with Jeremiah McKinnon, Randy Harvey and Sam Gervais. In pass happy C-USA, FIU needs to add several cornerbacks to the returning roster.
Starting safeties Justin Halley and Demarkus Perkins will be seniors next season. Halley led the team with three interceptions. Perkins was a big hitter who had several pass breakups. One player I thought really started to blossom last season was redshirt freshman safety Jordan Davis, who finished fourth on the team with 47 tackles. Deonte Wilson and Vontarius West also return. Terrance Taylor and Mitch Wozniak are two safeties who were seniors.