FIU begins its 15th season of football when the Panthers start fall camp Wednesday morning. Coming off a 5-7 season, FIU features an experienced offense this season that looks to build on 2015. The FIU defense heads into the 2016 season with job openings after the graduation of defensive stalwarts at key positions. Before camp kicks off we’ll take a look at the Panthers position-by-position today and Tuesday.
Alex McGough is the clear-cut starter after his record-setting season in 2015. McGough had the most completions, passing yards and touchdowns in a single FIU season last year. What will be interesting to see is which Alexander emerges as the backup to McGough. Christian Alexander and Maurice Alexander (no relation) are both redshirt freshmen and each has shown flashes in practice but neither one has any game experience. The Panthers are expected to have a couple of walk-on quarterbacks in camp.
Alex Gardner and Anthony Jones are the returning leading rushers. Jones is near 200 pounds and will be used as a running back in 2016. Two newcomers Shawndarrius Phillips (5-11, 226 pounds) and D’Angelo Ware (5-9, 190) are intriguing options, especially Phillips with his size could play a role a la Darriet Perry. Napoleon Maxwell will try to return from a knee injury. Jacob Kraut (5-11, 250) gives FIU its first true fullback in probably the history of the program. Not only is Kraut a load to bring down but he has good hands catching the ball out of the backfield.
Thomas Owens had career-highs of 51 catches for 638 yards and 8 TDs in 2015. Owens might be the most experienced of a young receiving corps for FIU. Mark Hutchinson (6-0) and Austin Maloney (5-11) have size but are redshirt freshmen. They will be pushed by bigger newcomers Freddie Pinder (6-4) and Stanley Thomas (6-2). Freshmen Darius Scott and Tony Gaiter will also be in the hunt for playing time. Thomas, Scott and Gaiter can all stretch the field. Returnees Shawn Abrams (6-4) and Shug Oyegunle, who came on in the spring, will also vie for playing time.
Jonnu Smith is completely healthy after missing the final four games of last season. Smith, a senior, will look to put up big numbers that could lead to a bountiful April 2017. Tennessee transfer A.J. Branisel, Jonathan Pavlov, Ricky Fernandez and Mac Carey compete to back up Smith. With Kraut on board it’s possible FIU could use more of one tight end set than the two tight end sets the Panthers have used in years past. Zachary Armour is the lone freshman in the unit.
This is the position group that could determine how successful the offense is in 2016. If you can’t run block or pass block then there won’t be much offense. Good thing for FIU that the o-line is a veteran unit losing only Aaron Nielsen from last season. Center Michael Montero heads the line. Tackles Dieugot Joseph, Edens Sineace and Trenton Saunders are seniors. Joseph is expected to man left tackle. Sineace can play everywhere. Daquane Wilkie had his moments at right tackle last season. Kai Absheer is among the candidates to start at right guard. Douglas Connell and Dallas Connell are ahead of the incoming freshmen after starting their FIU careers last spring. Jordan Budwig is trying to return from a shoulder injury.
Austin Taylor is the incumbent after hitting 10 of 14 field goals last season, including a long of 47 yards. Freshman Jose Borregales arrives fresh off an All-State selection while he was at Booker T. High. Borregales is also an All-America Honorable Mention and might be the most decorated kicking prospect to come to FIU since Jack Griffin, who went on to set the FIU all-time scoring record.