FIU football

FIU Panthers scramble to find big bodies

 

FIU is very thin on the offensive line, prompting coach Ron Turner to move Dieugot Joseph from defensive end to left tackle.

dneal@MiamiHerald.com

FIU’s so light in offensive linemen this spring, the Panthers aren’t just avid shoppers for junior college prospects, they’re thinking conversion, i.e., their second-string left tackle in Tuesday’s practice had never played left tackle before.

“The guys playing there are working hard, they’re buying in to what we’re doing, we just don’t have the numbers until the freshmen come in,” FIU coach Ron Turner said. “We’ve got to get those numbers up — 15, 17 guys. We have seven on scholarship this spring, which is unheard of.”

Offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler said, “There’s been days where we’ve had one at a track meet, another kid in class, and you only have eight guys so it cuts practice short. Probably the biggest issue is creating competition. Kids aren’t stupid. They look around and say, ‘Shoot, there’s nobody behind me.’ Then, the coach has to provide all the competition and that’s not what you should have.”

Thursday, the Panthers signed center Byron Pinkston, a 6-3, 300-pound center who earned junior college honorable-mention All-Americam honors at Dean College in Massachusetts.

“I think he’ll come in and give us some depth, either him playing and someone else behind him giving us some depth or him giving us depth,” Turner said.

With three scholarships left, Turner said one or two would go to offensive linemen. And FIU’s 2013 recruiting class brings four offensive linemen. With none enrolling early, however, coaches needed more big bodies this spring. They have already flipped one defensive lineman and might go for more.

Redshirt freshman defensive end Dieugot (pronounced “Jeh-go”) Joseph switched sides after strong encouragement from Turner and Shankweiler.

“I told them I didn’t want to play offensive line, I wanted to stay on the D-line,” Joseph said. “But [Turner] explained to me it would put me on the field quickest and would better the team. We had a really long talk. We decided I’d go over to the O-line.”

FIU recruited the 6-6 Joseph in 2011 as part of a drive to get bigger and longer on defense. But Turner, with a roster thin on offensive linemen, saw something else.

“In the offseason program, we looked at him and said, ‘He looks like an offensive tackle — tall, long arms, good feet, very athletic,’ ” Turner said. “Not that he couldn’t play defensive end. He can. But we need help offensively. We’ve got more depth at the position he was at. We told him, ‘Once you learn the position, you’ll compete for a starting spot.’ Not sure he would’ve done that at defensive end right now. I told him he looks like a lot of offensive tackles I’ve seen play in college and a lot I’ve seen play for a lot of years in the National Football League.”

Those “good feet” probably come from Joseph’s basketball days. He had to be encouraged to play football at Orlando Freedom High.

Dieugot never played offensive line until Tuesday, when he was asked to step into the most important position for pass protection.

“When we first went over there and the stance they wanted me to get in, I couldn’t even see myself moving out of that stance,” Joseph said. “I’m like, ‘This isn’t even right.’ When we did one-on-ones, I did OK.”

Joseph said he felt confused by the offense, but Shankweiler expected that.

“His learning curve will be significant,” Shankweiler said. “He’s behind six days and a lot of meetings. He doesn’t even know the snap count. The one thing I did get a sense of today is he’s a very bright football-sense guy. He understands the game of football. That’s 80 percent of the battle. The rest is up to me. For one day, I couldn’t be happier about that move.”

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