FIU finishes spring football Friday night with the annual Blue/Gold Spring Game. The Panthers wrap up a spring where a number of younger players and reserves got more reps due to injuries to some key players.
To get you ready for the spring game here is a synopsis of the spring by position and what you can look for on Friday.
Starting quarterback Alex McGough appears to be making quicker decisions this spring, feeling more comfortable running the offense. FIU coach Ron Turner said, "McGough's anticipation has gotten better. He's anticipating the receiver getting open sooner. His eye discipline is better but it's not where it needs to be. Because his eye discipline is better, he's anticipating better. He's throwing the ball better with more accuracy and touch. He's not throwing a fastball every time."
Christian Alexander and Maurice Alexander have pretty much split evenly the reps with the second team this spring. Christian seems to be ahead of Maurice right now with his overall play, but Maurice might throw the best ball of all the quarterbacks. Turner thinks Christian "is probably a little ahead of Maurice" but said that Maurice has done better of late.
With Napoleon Maxwell wearing the Home Depot orange injury jersey all spring, Anthony Jones (above) has gotten the bulk of the carries with Alex Gardner. Turner said Jones will exclusively be a running back this year. Jones looks bulkier as he approaches his sophomore season.
"Anthony Jones looks like a different guy," Turner said. "He's much more comfortable in the system and he's in better shape than he was as a freshman. He's what we thought he was."
Maxwell is expected back in August. Turner added that Jones can play with Gardner at the same time in the backfield or spell him as an every down back.
Rutgers transfer fullback Jacob Kraut is a load to bring down and could help FIU in short yardage and goal line situations. Kraut has also shown some good hands catching the football out of the backfield. Now healthy, Alfonso Randolph is showing signs of the quickness he displayed when he first got to FIU.
RECEIVERS & TIGHT ENDS
Thomas Owens is FIU's top receiver but there has been a spirited competition among four other receivers to join Owens in the starting lineup.
Julian Williams and Mark Hutchinson have emerged this spring as viable options for the second starting receiver spot. Both appear to have developed physically since their freshman seasons in 2015. Hutchinson sustained a concussion last Saturday so his availability for the spring game is uncertain.
Austin Maloney might be one of the more athletic receivers on the team. Not only does Maloney have good hands, he can run after the catch. Maloney had a 21-yard touchdown run in last Saturday's scrimmage.
Shug Oyegunle hadn't really distinguished himself in his first three years at FIU, but the junior is playing with a lot more confidence this spring. You see it in the way he's running routes and catching the ball.
Tight end Jonnu Smith has also worn the Home Depot jersey all spring as he returns from injury. Tennessee transfer tight end A.J. Branisel has taken advantage of the extra reps. Branisel can run downfield and should make a good duo with Smith when he returns.
There has been some shuffling on the offensive line this spring. The one constant has been Michael Montero at center. But others have moved around. Kai Absheer has moved to guard but also worked at right tackle. Neal Mars has been getting work at guard and center and right now would be the backup center to Montero.
According to Turner, Dieugot Joseph has had a good spring as has Chris Miller at guard. New tackle Andrew Burgess has been hurt but should be ready for fall camp.
Early enrollee freshman Dallas Connell has really caught the attention of FIU coaches.
"Dallas Connell for being a senior in high school is doing a lot of good things," Turner said. "He's going to be a very good player. Started out at guard but we've worked him at tackle. He's more of a guard but he's doing both. He's quick. He's smart. He's aggressive, very instinctive and understands the game of football."
As for twin brother, Doug Connell, Turner said: "Doug is not as far along as Dallas is but it's exactly what we thought in the recruiting process but he's going to be fine. He's going to be a good player."
As you well know FIU has some big shoes to fill on the defensive line and at cornerback after the graduation of several senior stalwarts last season. Turner is encouraged by the play of the young defensive ends.
Turner said there is some strong competition going on between Fermin Silva, Anthony Johnson, John Broome, Newt Salisbury and Jermaine Sheriff at defensive end to help replace Michael Wakefield and Denzell Perine, who hope to be playing pro ball this fall. Sheriff and Broome are a couple of ends that have caught the FIU coach's attention.
"Sheriff and Broome have surprised a little this spring," Turner said. "Sheriff has an unbelievable motor. He goes hard all the time, explosive, quick off the ball. Broome has improved against the run from where he was, got more physical."
Leonard Washington, Marques Cheeks, Milord Juste and North Dakota transfer Jordan Hinojosa are vying for playing time on the interior of the defensive line. Juste and Hinojosa have had good springs. For being nearly 280 pounds, Hinojosa is rather quick. There is certainly plenty of playing time to be won with the departures of Lars Koht and Darrian Dyson.
This is undoubtedly FIU's best and deepest defensive position group. Sage Lewis has really come on this spring with his play. Lewis is not only fast but at 235 pounds is a load. Lewis is battling Treyvon Williams for the starting weak side linebacker spot.
"Treyvon is making Sage better and Sage is making Treyvon better," Turner said.
Anthony Wint has taken over in the middle. Williams can play there as well as he did in his first few seasons at FIU. Fred Russ is also playing in the middle.
Vontarius West and Davison Colimon are competing at strong side linebacker. Colimon is completely healthy and has look every bit the defender he was before his season-ending injury at Central Florida last season. West might be one of the most improved defenders in the past year for FIU.
If the season started Friday then Emmanuel Lubin and Kenyatta Anderson are the starting cornerbacks replacing Richard Leonard and Jeremiah McKinnon. Lubin and Anderson have emerged among the young corners this spring. Both have good size with each being over six feet tall.
Niko Gonzalez and Tyree Johnson have lined up at the safety spots with the first team this spring but they are not written in permanent marker in the starting lineup. Olin Cushion has shown all the promise he showed in high school. Jordan Davis will also be competing in the fall when he returns from injury. Freshman Isaiah Hill has got good size at safety for a freshman. Hill hasn't disappointed this spring.
"Niko Gonzalez and Tyree Johnson are at safety but they are not necessarily the starters," Turner said. "Olin Cushion will have something to say about that. Xavier Hines is also battling at safety. Isaiah Hill is very smart. He's got good size and quickness. He's in the mix for a safety job."
Austin Taylor and Stone Wilson are the kicker and punter, respectively. Kicker Scott Wade has shown a strong leg but Taylor has been more accurate on field goals. Both will be pushed in the fall when all-state kicker Jose Borregales joins the Panthers.