About 48 hours have passed since FIU inked its 2015 recruiting class. Looking back at the 22 signees the Panthers addressed several areas of need with their latest class. On Wednesday's NSD radio broadcast I had a chance to talk about the class with coach Ron Turner, cornerback Richard Leonard, quarterback Alex McGough and my broadcast partner Mike Levine and below is some of what we discussed. Going by what the newest Panthers have shown on film and projecting it translates to the next level here's a look at how FIU got better with its latest class.
As you may recall last season FIU lacked the big play downfield. Outside of a couple of Glenn Coleman touchdowns and tight end Jonnu Smith's catch and long run score at UAB, the vertical passing game was not a big part of the FIU offense. Adding receivers such as Anthony Jones and Mark Hutchinson who can stretch a defense will help. Another season of speedy Dennis Turner, the physical Thomas Owens and Clinton Taylor, who came on at the end of last season will help as well. New FIU receivers Austin Maloney and Julian Williams bring size with each standing at 5-11 and can also help with the vertical passing game. Maloney led all high school receivers in Miami last season in catches, yards and touchdowns. Jones and Hutchinson are also big targets at 5-11 and 6-0 respectively.
At times last season Jonnu Smith lined up in the backfield to block as a fullback because FIU didn't have any other options. Signing fullback/tight end Mac Carey and fullback/halfback Collin Olsen will help give Smith more freedom to line up at other spots. Although Smith is a gifted athlete, the 245-pound Carey is built almost like another offensive lineman and Olsen arrives at 223 pounds and you know he will add more bulk in the FIU weight room. Plus, both Carey and Olsen could catch or carry the ball out of the backfield to give FIU more offensive options. Terry Bennett is an athletic 204-pound freshman running back that will compete with FIU's established backs for carries.
Besides getting taller receivers, the Panthers acquired some bigger bodies in the secondary. FIU has one and maybe two safety spots to fill with Demarkus Perkins and Justin Halley now graduated. Jordan Davis made a strong case last season for one of those starting jobs. Emmanuel Lubin (6-1), Jestin Green (6-0) and maybe even Kenyatta Anderson (5-11) could challenge for that other safety spot. If not anyone of those would help at corner with their size should Richard Leonard, Jeremiah McKinnon or Wilkenson Myrtil need a breather. Fast, athletic Olin Cushion (5-9) and Tyree Johnson (5-9) present FIU with a bright future at cornerback.
Christian Alexander and Maurice Alexander arrive as highly-touted prep stars and will compete with Alex McGough for snaps in spring and fall camp, respectively. Having the chance to begin his college career in spring practice is an advantage for Christian Alexander as McGough said Wednesday on the radio broadcast. McGough participated in spring ball last year before he started his college career. Regardless of how the quarterback competition turns out FIU will have little college experience in its backup quarterback now that E.J. Hilliard has transferred. Now having that faster, bigger receiving corps will help out the quarterbacks.
Typically the offensive and defensive linemen take the first year to acclimate themselves to college and add some size. However, Turner has shown in the past that he will play guys who are ready such as guard Jordan Budwig, who has started all 24 games in his two-year FIU career. With center Donald Senat graduated, the starting center job is open. Freshman center/guard Neal Mars has a chance to vie for that job. The Panthers added some good size on the offensive front with Mars (270 pounds), Deion Eakins (322) and Andrew Burgess (280). FIU also has to fill its starting right guard position and could find a lineman pushing Aaron Nielsen for the starting right tackle position.
The Panthers return most of their starting defensive front seven. But again with players like Treyvon Williams, Jordan Guest and Anthony Wint, who played significant snaps as freshmen you never know if one of the newest Panthers could crack the playing rotation. Linebackers Fermin Silva and Sage Lewis were some pretty good playmakers in high school and could challenge for playing time. Silva might also add weight and shift to the D-line, that remains to be seen. Along the defensive line R.J. Harris (263 pounds), Milord Juste (246) and Irick McDonald (222) will have a task on their hands trying to unseat a veteran defensive line for some snaps. Either way FIU stocked itself nicely along the defensive line and linebacker positions for now and the future.