FIUs so light in offensive linemen this spring, the Panthers arent just avid shoppers for junior college prospects, theyre thinking conversion, i.e., their second-string left tackle in Tuesdays practice had never played left tackle before.
The guys playing there are working hard, theyre buying in to what were doing, we just dont have the numbers until the freshmen come in, FIU coach Ron Turner said. Weve 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, Theres been days where weve 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 arent stupid. They look around and say, Shoot, theres nobody behind me. Then, the coach has to provide all the competition and thats 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 hell 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 FIUs 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 didnt 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 Id 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 couldnt play defensive end. He can. But we need help offensively. Weve got more depth at the position he was at. We told him, Once you learn the position, youll compete for a starting spot. Not sure he wouldve done that at defensive end right now. I told him he looks like a lot of offensive tackles Ive seen play in college and a lot Ive seen play for a lot of years in the National Football League.
Those good feet probably come from Josephs 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 couldnt even see myself moving out of that stance, Joseph said. Im like, This isnt 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. Hes behind six days and a lot of meetings. He doesnt even know the snap count. The one thing I did get a sense of today is hes a very bright football-sense guy. He understands the game of football. Thats 80 percent of the battle. The rest is up to me. For one day, I couldnt be happier about that move.