You didn’t need to be Nick Saban to see the difference between this year’s first day of FIU football spring practice Tuesday and that of the most-recent years.
The quarterback under center for most plays. The defense lined up in a 4-3. And the coaching staff, under Mario Cristobal’s direction from 2007-12, now an all-new staff hired by new coach Ron Turner.
“I think everybody was ready to see what the coaches can bring because we already know the talent that’s in the locker room,” senior defensive lineman Greg Hickman said. “Whenever you have a sour season like we had last year, then go through all the changes we went through, you’re ready to get back on the field and show people it wasn’t what it was.”
E-words got heavy usage Tuesday afternoon: energy, enthusiasm, excited, experience.
“I wanted to see energy and enthusiasm,” Turner said. “I knew the execution’s obviously not going to be where we want it. If it is, this game is too simple. We wanted to simplify the game, but you can’t come out Day One and have the kind of execution you want. I wanted to see the athleticism, the energy and the enthusiasm. As long as we have that, we have a chance.
“It wasn’t bad. We’ve got a long ways to go.”
Instead of running exclusively spread offense, the quarterbacks usually lined up under center in two-back or one-back, double-tight end sets.
But Turner said he would incorporate some spread, and quarterbacks Jake Medlock, E.J. Hilliard and Akil Dan-Fodio occasionally lined up in the spread with three wide receivers.
Whatever offensive formation the Panthers use, the experience sits at the skill positions.
Medlock will be a redshirt junior. Running back Kedrick Rhodes, wide receivers Willis Wright and Glenn Coleman all will be seniors. Five new starters comprise the offensive line.
“We’ve got very little experience at that position and very little depth,” Turner said. “We’ve got a ton of receivers and very few offensive linemen. We don’t have a two-deep offensive line. With managing our roster in the future, we’ve got to get the number of receivers down a little bit and get the number of offensive linemen up.”
Defensively, tackle Isame Faciane, one of the few returning starters, sat out practice as he continues to recover from offseason shoulder surgery.
The linebacker corps — redshirt sophomore Luis Rosado, sophomore Patrick Jean, sophomore Davison Colimon — started zero games last season and saw few snaps on defense.
Hickman, who was moved from linebacker to defensive end in 2011, lined up at defensive tackle with sophomore Darrian Dyson.
Senior Paul Crawford and junior Giovani Francois were on the ends.
“We’ve got some very good, young talented players,” Turner said. “A lot of them are very inexperienced. We lost a lot of starters from last year’s team, so we’ve got some young players, but we’ve got some good young players. Biggest thing I want to see over the next couple of weeks is where the leadership goes, how the leadership develops.”
On offense, that means Medlock, who says he’ll run much less in this offense and has been getting leaner and stronger to better absorb hits.
He has ended each of the past two seasons missing starts because of injury.
“We had a big change,” Medlock said. “I had to step up and keep the guys together and make sure things went right. Don’t freak out, the change was for the good.”