FIU notebook

FIU Panthers’ offensive line shows much improvement

Of all the uncertainty surrounding FIU coming out of the spring, no unit inspired the downright anxiety like the offensive line. Few bodies, even less experience.

Some of that has changed a week into preseason training camp. While still behind the defensive line overall, it’s the difference between losing in the late rounds or by decision and getting overwhelmed in a round or two.

“A couple of the defensive coaches have come up to me and said the offensive line, whether it’s a run play or protection, is so much different than they were in the spring,” FIU coach Ron Turnersaid.

“We’re really completely different than we were in the spring,” FIU offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler said. “Kids worked hard on their fundamentals this summer in the workouts without coaches around, and it shows. Right now, it’s been a very, very competitive camp, whereas in the spring, it wasn’t very competitive.”

“You’re not just beating up a guy and wearing him down,” he continued. “Plus, there’s competition. We brought in a couple of kids who all of a sudden have started to put pressure on guys for their jobs. Whenever your job is on the line, you tend to take coaching a little better.”

Since the spring, the unit has added freshmen Jordan Budwig (Fort Lauderdale University School), James Cruise (Palm Beach Gardens High), Tim Thomas (Crowley High in Texas) and Danny Nunez (Dade Christian). It also got Byron Pinkston, a transfer from Dean Junior College (Franklin, Mass.), and was boosted by the return of redshirt junior guard Jordan White, who recovered from knee surgery.

“Getting 77 [White] back in there helps. He’s a good football player and didn’t take a snap during the spring,” Turner said.

“Jordan’s a kid who is as genuine and has a sweet disposition about him. He’s a great human being,” Shankweiler said. “He really, really wants to please. He really, really wants to do well. He just hasn’t played. The doctors can tell you your ACL is fine, but until you get out there and go through it that confidence level … You have to go out and experience the strain and hard work, the 300-pound vs. 300-pound, and that’s not easy.”

Shankweiler said Pinkston hasn’t had a blown snap in his time at center this week. He said Cruise and Budwig were players he would recruit all over again. Injuries have pushed Budwig up into taking some second-team snaps.

Lesson learned

Some teams are shown a video about changes in officiating rules or points of emphasis. FIU received an unintentional live demonstration and impromptu lecture from Turner.

In a one-on-one drill, junior cornerback Richard Leonard blasted redshirt sophomore wide receiver Richard Burrows just a second after Burrows missed a pass over the middle. Two officials working the practice threw flags as Burrows’ mouthpiece flew toward the new dorms north of the stadium.

As Burrows tried with limited success to collect himself, Turner cut off whatever Leonard was saying with a loud, curt request that Leonard stop speaking. Then, Turner told the team Leonard would’ve been penalized and ejected for the hit. He repeated the point to the team after practice.

“I wasn’t as mad about the hit — I was mad about the hit because it’s our own teammate and we don’t do that to our own team — but he was breaking on the ball and that stuff happens. It’s football,” Turner said. “I wasn’t as mad about that as his reaction. They call it, they call it.

“I don’t agree with the call. I don’t agree with the rule,” he added. “I understand the purposes of it. I don’t agree with all the concepts of it. I agree with what they’re trying to do. But it’s very difficult to play defense right now. You’ve got to change how you’re teaching some things.”

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