There are several unknowns throughout the FIU defense after the graduation of stalwarts such as Michael Wakefield, Denzell Perine, Lars Koht, Richard Leonard and Jeremiah McKinnon. New defensive coordinator Ron Cooper and his defensive coaches will have to find replacements for some pretty darn good players before September 1 when the season opens against Indiana.
There is young talent on the defensive line, it just doesn't have much game experience. Most of the experience on the FIU d-line is on the inside with seniors Imarjaye Albury, Marques Cheeks and Leonard Washington. Sophomore Milord Juste had a good freshman season and will battle for a starting spot. FIU has some playmakers at defensive end such as Fermin Silva, Newton Salisbury, Jermaine Sheriff and Josh Glanton. Wakefield and Perine had a knack for getting in the offensive backfield. The returning ends have to develop that knack. Jordan Hinojosa, who had a good spring, and Anthony Johnson will also be counted on.
This is by far the strength of the FIU defense. Anthony Wint, Treyvon Williams and Davison Colimon headline the linebackers. Vontarius West, who moved over from the secondary before last season, was a pleasant surprise and played linebacker last season as if he had played it his whole career. Fred Russ and Jordan Guest provide valuable depth at linebacker. Freshman Shakur Cooper led the county in sacks last season for Coral Gables High. Cooper could get plenty of snaps because of his pass rushing ability. I thought Sage Lewis showed some flashes last season in practice. The redshirt freshman from Pace could be a factor this season.
Leonard and McKinnon were two of the most dependable cornerbacks last season. Emmanuel Lubin might be one of the top choices to fill one of the starting corner spots vacated by Leonard and McKinnon. Lubin has good size at 6-1. Junior college transfer Khairi Reaser could be the other starting corner but he will have plenty of competition from Cincinnati transfer Aaron Brown and Garden City (Kan.) CC transfer Andrew Brown (no relation to Aaron). Freshman Isaiah Brown (also no relation to Aaron and Andrew), at 6-1, could also figure in the cornerback plans.
The Panthers will try to find the right combination at safety from a group including Niko Gonzalez, Tyree Johnson, Olin Cushion, Deonte Wilson, JoJo Louis, Isaiah Hill and Shermarke Spence. Cushion, Louis and Hill are freshmen. Gonzalez and Johnson have the experience as a junior and a sophomore, respectively.
Stone Wilson enters camp as the number one punter but kickers Austin Taylor, Jose Borregales and Scott Wade will compete with Wilson. Chris Flaig is expected to snap on field goals and extra points replacing the dependable Brandon Taylor, who graduated. Special teams ace Sam Medlock returns for his senior season as the long snapper.