The most experienced and probably the most talented part of FIU's defense is the linebackers. The Panthers return a pair of senior starters in Davison Colimon and Treyvon Williams along with 2015 leading tackler junior Anthony Wint. Colimon missed 11 games last season after a season-ending injury in the opener at Central Florida. Williams missed eight games due to injury, but both players are back to full health.
FIU defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Ron Cooper said that along with their playmaking abilities the starting trio has taken the next step where they have mastered the defense and its calls. Cooper added that those three will be instrumental in helping the rest of the linebackers and defense get in the right spots.
While FIU knows what it has with Colimon, Williams and Wint, the Panthers are looking for the rest of the linebackers to progress to the next level. Former defensive back-turned-linebacker Vontarius West is one of those who made strides from last season.
"With all the spread out stuff that we play that position that [West] plays has to be like a defensive back," said Cooper, who coached the FIU secondary last season. "[West] definitely made the transition. His brain is ahead now. He can coach it. If he has to explain our defense, he can explain our defense."
Freshman safety Isaiah Hill is making the same transition to linebacker this month. Hill has already made several plays earlier in camp, including a pair of interceptions, when he was still at safety. Hill will benefit from West, who did the same thing in the spring of 2015.
"Isaiah Hill is working the same position [as West] which is like the SAM position," Cooper said. "That position is a little bit of a hybrid. You have to have the toughness to play linebacker and you got to have some skills to play out in space. Hill has really been doing well. We have two upperclassmen there so we have to get somebody there ready to go. Like I told all the guys I’m looking for two first team guys at every position and then one second team guy."
It will be intriguing to chart the progress of a couple of freshman linebackers this month. Shakur Cooper led Dade County high school football in sacks last season at Coral Gables High. With college football being a higher level of football, Shakur Cooper will be asked to do more.
"Now Shakur has to drop a little bit in coverage rather than just blitz," Ron Cooper said. "We know what his strengths are. To have a good defense you have to use what the guys have. If that is a strength that he can use this year then we will use him in that situation. He has a knack for rushing the passer. Now we are teaching him the fundamentals of reading backfield flow and dropping into coverage along with rushing and blitzing."
Redshirt freshman Sage Lewis just turned 18 earlier this year after graduating from Pace High early last year. Lewis redshirted last season but he showed flashes in practice and working with the scout team. Lewis has gotten off to a good start in camp making several stops in the offensive backfield.
"Lewis is doing excellent at the WILL," Ron Cooper said. "He’s just 18 right now. He needed a redshirt year last season. He was probably good enough to play but he needed it for maturity purposes. He turned 18 in January of this year. He graduated high school early. If he had another year of high school there’s really no telling where he would have been playing."