There are some big holes to fill along the FIU defensive line before the season opener against Indiana on Sept. 1. No longer at FIU and currently on NFL rosters are Michael Wakefield (Washington Redskins), Denzell Perine (Minnesota Vikings) and Lars Koht (Denver Broncos).
In 2015, the trio of Wakefield, Perine and Koht accounted for 132 tackles, 33.5 of the team's 68 tackles for loss (49 percent), 16 of the team's 22 sacks (73 percent) and 7 of the team's 12 forced fumbles (58 percent).
FIU returns some veterans to help fill the voids, but will also rely on several young linemen to stop the run and rush the passer.
"Those guys are difficult to replace," said FIU defensive line coach Paul Volero of Wakefield, Perine and Koht. "You have to develop an entire defensive line. You can't have one or two guys that make the line go. I think the whole group is developing as good run stoppers as we move on through camp. They are learning, growing and getting better."
Some of the seniors that the Panthers may heavily rely on include Imarjaye Albury, Leonard Washington, Marques Cheeks and Josh Glanton.
"I think Albury, Washington, Cheeks and Josh Glanton have done a good job of bringing the young guys along and showing them the dos and don'ts," Volero said. "They have had great leadership."
Still, FIU has 10 underclassmen among the 16 defensive linemen on the roster. So it's likely that the Panthers will need some of those freshmen and/or sophomores to progress quickly to fortify the defensive front.
Early on in camp sophomore defensive end Fermin Silva has stood out using his speed to get into the offensive backfield. Silva appeared in nine games last season recording seven tackles and half a sack. Redshirt freshman tackle R.J. Harris and sophomore defensive end Anthony Johnson are also doing well.
"Silva has looked right but he has a long way to go," Volero said. "He's very talented, very fast, but we have a lot more practices to go to get better. R.J. Harris and Anthony Johnson have come along but another guy that has really come along is our strong side end Newton Salisbury. He's doing great. There's a little bit of an adjustment [from junior college]. There's a learning curve but he's picking things up and starting to play faster."
Salisbury (below left) transferred from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M earlier this year and was with FIU for spring practice. The 6-3, 246-pound junior will get an opportunity at one of the end spots that Wakefield and Perine occupied last season.
"I'm proud of the work done by the freshmen," Volero said. "One of those is Andrew Tarver. He's picked it up and learned what we are doing and made some plays."