FIU has one of the best tight ends in the nation in Jonnu Smith, who again will be an integral part of the offense. Smith played in eight games last season before going down with a knee injury but is completely back to full health now. Smith virtually holds every FIU football tight end record and had 397 receiving yards and four touchdowns last season before getting hurt. The Panthers know what they have in Smith.
As far as the other five tight ends on the roster, FIU is still trying to sort through and figure who will emerge as a reliable second option behind Smith. Last season Akil Dan-Fodio (21 catches, 238 yards) and Ya'Keem Griner (21 catches, 225 yards, 2 TDs) filled in when Smith went down and both did an admirable job. However, both have since graduated.
That leaves A.J. Branisel, Jonathan Pavlov, Mac Carey, Ricky Fernandez and Zach Armour to compete for playing time behind Smith. None of these five tight ends caught a pass for FIU last season. Still, there is talent among the group to possibly provide quarterback Alex McGough with another offensive option.
Branisel transferred from Tennessee last season and showed flashes of what he can do last spring and this month in camp.
"Branisel had a good spring and a good training camp to this point," FIU tight ends coach Jason Brooks said. "Branisel does a great job as that inline guy type blocker. His presence is really going to help us this season. Really all six [tight ends] we have block well and can catch the ball when it's thrown to them. We have that dual threat in this group."
Armour is the lone freshman of the group and has the build of a receiver more than a tight end. Armour is listed at 6-3, 212 pounds. Yet, he has made some plays in camp and don't be fooled by his frame.
"Armour has had a really good training camp," Brooks said. "He'll be fighting to squeeze his way in there. He's a fast learner. He's very, very athletic and he's stronger than you might think inside at the Y position. He's shown a little bit of toughness and physicalness which you like to see."
Pavlov, Fernandez and Carey have all gotten their chances in camp and could also figure into the offensive plans.
"Right now it's really everyone," Brooks said. "All the other five guys [behind Smith] are battling every single day in practice. We'll take a real close look at them as we get ready for game week."