In three and a half months FIU will start fall camp to prepare for the 2014 season. Spring football is in the books. After 15 practices including the spring game last Saturday this is what we learned from FIU spring ball.
There will be a legitimate quarterback competition when camp opens in August. Alex McGough had one of the better springs by an FIU quarterback that I've seen in the 13 years since the program began in 2002. Even with an offensive line that is improving but is still a work in progress and receivers that are still developing, McGough made plays all through spring and threw for 131 yards in the spring game with a touchdown. Although just a freshman, McGough has the pocket presence and poise of an upperclassman. As coach Ron Turner has said before about McGough, he has a "quarterback's demeanor". E.J. Hilliard showed improvement from last season this spring and he will battle to be the starter in Week 1 against Bethune-Cookman.
Team speed improved with the return of Richard Leonard, Jeremiah McKinnon and Glenn Coleman and with De'Andre Jasper getting more opportunities. One area that FIU lacked in 2013 was speed and you saw that in the return game and at receiver. Leonard is a threat to take every punt or kickoff back for a score. Leonard and his cousin McKinnon are cornerbacks that have the speed to stay with any receiver. Coleman is an immediate upgrade to the receiving corps. Jasper impressed in the spring game with his speed and elusiveness. You saw a first glimpse of Jasper's speed in 2012 with his kickoff returns. Doubling as a running back and receiver gives Jasper a chance to impact the FIU offense this fall.
Safety Demarkus Perkins has a chance to be a Johnathan Cyprien-type of defensive leader and playmaker in his senior season. Overall I thought Perkins had the best 15 practices of any defender this spring. Perkins not only delivers secure tackles but he has taken on a more vocal role on D lining up other Panthers. Perkins might be among the tackles leaders this fall with FIU having an inexperienced linebacker corps. The Panthers have some talent at linebacker but it will be a matter of those linebackers putting it together in the fall. Linebackers Luis Rosado, Patrick Jean, Davison Colimon, Treyvon Williams are all athletic, but now they just need to nail down the intracacies of playing linebacker.
Safety Jordan Davis has the talent to emerge as one of the best defensive players for FIU for the next three years. At 6-2 and 210 pounds, Davis is certainly physical. Davis also has a nose for the ball. There were many times this spring when Davis was around the ball during team drills and in scrimmages. The only time I saw Davis being the one taking the hit and not delivering the hit was when Jonnu Smith collided with Davis. No shame in that because Jonnu Smith is a physical freak and that is one of the highest compliments you can pay a football player.
FIU will need freshmen running backs Alex Gardner and Napoleon Maxwell to contribute immediately because the Panthers lack depth and a home run hitter in their offensive backfield. Junior Shane Coleman really took a step forward this spring after a terrific off-season in the weight room. Lamarq Caldwell is a solid back both running and catching the ball. However, FIU doesn't have a back that can out run a defense. Silas Spearman showed some promise last season as did Alfonso Randolph. Maybe Anthon Samuel can be a factor in the fall after recovering from a concussion.
No kicker or punter has stepped up to claim their respective kicking jobs. Austin Taylor and Sergio Sroka handled the majority of field goal duties in the spring but neither recalled Jack Griffin or Adam Moss. Former Argentinian rugby player Jose Laphitzondo showed the best leg of any FIU kicker/punter but he is as raw as cookie dough. FIU soccer goalie Robin Spiegel could return for another look in the fall after impressing in his tryout last fall.
After struggles last season the offensive line looked better this spring. During team drills, scrimmages and even in the spring game, it seemed like there were more holes opened up for the running game and quarterbacks were getting more time to throw. The O-line has a year playing together now and has gotten bigger after another year in the weight room. Two factors that should help them this fall.
The tight ends might be the strength of the offense. Everyone knows what Jonnu Smith did last year and he should continue to get even better this season. For you good people that have followed FIU football since it started in 2002, Jonnu Smith has a chance to be a more explosive version of former FIU tight end Sam Smith, who currently holds all the FIU tight end records. But defenses will have to contend with other FIU tight ends as well in Ya'keem Griner, Cory White and Jonathan Pavlov this fall. All three had a terrific spring and spring game catching the ball. All three are also huge targets with White being 6-6 and Griner and Pavlov each standing at 6-4.
Isame Faciane and Greg Hickman will be missed on the interior of the defensive line, but Imarjaye Albury, Leonard Washington, Lars Koht and Marques Cheeks did an admirable job filling in this spring. Albury and Koht also pressured the quarterbacks and made plays in the offensive backfield. Giovani Francois, Michael Wakefield and Denzell Perine seemed to have gotten quicker rushing the quarterback.