We've reached the conclusion of our national signing day previews with a look at the FIU special teams, which will have to make up for the loss of its best kick returner and find a special teams coach as good as Shannon Moore, who was hired away by East Carolina.
Before we review and preview the FIU special teams leading to National Signing Day, here is the disclaimer: Due to NCAA restrictions, I can only comment on current or former Panthers until National Signing Day on Feb. 3. Until then you good people are smart enough to know where to find recruiting rumblings.
Tune into PantherVision at FIUSports.com on National Signing Day, February 3 for our 2016 FIU Panthers Signing Day Live! video streaming show. We will be on the air LIVE beginning at 7 a.m. until the final new FIU Panther signs.
As the letters of intent from the newest Panthers roll into the FIU football offices, we will let you know live during the show the second FIU has signed a new player via our FAX CAM, a camera will be rolling live from the FIU football fax machine. Myself, PantherVision executive producer Brian Duval, FIU players, coaches and a cavalcade of guests will be broadcasting the live show from the FIU football fieldhouse that morning.
Throughout the show -- which could run up to four or five hours depending on how long it takes FIU to sign all its new players -- we will have live interviews with FIU players, coaches and guests as well as video highlights from the newest Panthers, and take you on a behind-the-scenes tour of FIU football, video features and much more. You can also tweet me throughout the show @PetePelegrin with questions or comments.
Although Richard Leonard didn't break a kickoff or punt return for a touchdown last season, just the threat of Leonard lined up to return a kick was enough to help FIU to some good field position. There were times when opponents punted away from Leonard that resulted in FIU's offense starting at an advantageous point on the field.
Of the four Panthers to return a kickoff or punt last season, only Anthony Jones (photo below) returns. Clinton Taylor, Jeremiah McKinnon and Leonard all have graduated so there will be an open competition starting in the spring for kickoff and punt return duties.
Jones has the quickness and shifty moves to be dangerous on returns. Jones had a kickoff return of 37 yards last season among his nine chances. He did not line up to return a punt. Of the returning Panthers currently on the roster Tyree Johnson, Napoleon Maxwell and maybe Dennis Turner could compete to return kicks. Johnson is one of the fastest Panthers currently on the roster. Alex Gardner could also be a candidate but he might be asked more to run the ball on offense than return it.
FIU's 2016 kickoff and punt returners may not be on campus yet and might not be on the roster until after Wednesday. The Panthers are certainly looking to add more speed to their team.
Shannon Moore did a terrific job as FIU's special teams coach in the two seasons he was in Miami. Besides Leonard's return prowess, FIU punters improved, Austin Taylor (photo top of blog) developed into a dependable kicker, both long snapper Sam Medlock and field goal snapper Brandon Taylor were on point, and the kick coverage teams were solid. Rarely, did you see any special teams gaffes by the Panthers. As of this post FIU has not hired Moore's replacement.
Taylor had less field goal attempts (10 of 14) in 2015 than the previous season (15 of 21) but still made his field goals at a 71 percent clip. Taylor also had 18 touchbacks last season compared to six touchbacks in 2014, which was a major improvement. Taylor will begin spring and fall practice as FIU's main kicker but expect competition to arrive on Wednesday.
Stone Wilson averaged 40.5 yards per punt last season with a long of 52 yards, nine punts landing inside the 20 and four punts of 50 yards or more. Chris Ayers, who graduated, had half as many punts (21) as Wilson but still averaged 39.4 yards per punt with a long of 51 yards. As of now, the punting job belongs to Wilson with no other punter on the roster.
Medlock returns as the long snapper and special teams ace. Not only was Medlock flawless with his punt snapping but he was usually the first Panther downfield to make the tackle on the punt return. Medlock is a senior this coming season.
Taylor graduated so the Panthers need to find a reliable field goal snapper as Taylor was during his time at FIU. Offensive lineman Chris Flaig might get the first crack at the job.
BACK AND GONE
BACK: Anthony Jones, Sam Medlock, Austin Taylor, Stone Wilson
GONE: Chris Ayers, Richard Leonard, Jeremiah McKinnon, Brandon Taylor, Clinton Taylor
IT'S NOT ABOUT THE STAR RANKINGS . . . IT'S ABOUT THE NUMBERS
Jack Griffin, FIU's most decorated kicker coming out of high school lived up to the billing, leaving FIU after four seasons owning most of the kicking records, including most field goals made, highest field goal percentage and most consecutive PATs made. However, before Griffin, who was ranked among the top 10 high school kickers in Florida, there was Adam Moss. The kicker on the 2002 inaugural FIU football team, Moss was a soccer player at Plantation American Heritage High, who had no scholarship offers. Moss was discovered by former FIU coach Don Strock when Moss was kicking long field goals that were landing on the roof of Strock's car when Strock went to recruit another player at American Heritage. Strock liked what he saw and offered Moss a scholarship. After initially struggling at FIU his first season, Moss evolved into a very good kicker to the point that he was nicknamed "Automatico Adam Moss" by FIU's then-Spanish radio broadcasters Jerry Del Castillo and Pepe Campos. Moss is second to Griffin in FIU history in field goals made 48 to 41. Moss is tied with Griffin for the most consecutive field goals made (11) in FIU history and shares the longest field goal made in FIU history with Austin Taylor (52 yards).