In a young season in which nothing has come easy for the FIU, the defensive secondary has seen as much hardship as any group on the team. Now the challenge for the coaching staff is to pick up the pieces and quickly build chemistry with a younger core of cornerbacks and safeties.
In FIU’s first two games, opponents completed 39 of 50 pass attempts (78 percent) and tallied a pass efficiency of 196.8, making FIU the fifth worst in Football Bowl Subdivision pass defense.
The series of setbacks began the week after a 43-10 loss at Maryland, when coach Ron Turner announced junior Richard Leonard, widely regarded as the team’s best cornerback, would not play in 2013 because of academic issues. In 2012, Leonard recorded 55 total tackles and broke up seven pass attempts.
In FIU’s home opener on Sept. 6, sophomore cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon was benched for poor performance, and redshirt junior safety Demarkus Perkins didn’t play because of a knee injury.
All the attrition has resulted in an influx of inexperienced players, most notably first-year junior college transfer Randy Harvey, freshman Brad Hyman-Muhammad and senior Mitch Wozniak, who played wide receiver his first three years at FIU.
Largely responsible for integrating the young talent, along with defensive coordinator Josh Conklin, is secondary coach Jason Brooks.
Brooks, an offensive assistant with the Baltimore Ravens the past four years, said that he has seen progress with his group, but he hopes communication and chemistry will continue to improve as the group gets more game experience.
“Especially with the secondary, communication is a major piece of the puzzle,” Brooks said.
Brooks said the secondary is young, hungry and eager, and its attitude makes the group easy to coach.
“They come in a lot on their own and watch tape. That’s what you like to see as a coach,” Brooks said. “It makes it easy as a coach when you have a good group like that, that’s fun to coach and will work hard.”
According to Brooks, this attitude comes in part from the influence of senior cornerback Sam Miller, the group’s leader.
“Sam is a tremendous person and a tremendous leader,” Turner said of Miller. “He’s smart, hard working and everything you’d want in a leader.”
Brooks noted that coaching has its limitations, and players often need an upperclassman to lead by example and put in extra time after practice helping others.
“[Miller] has really taken on the leadership of this position group as a player,” Brooks said. “He’s really been able to lead not just the young guys, but the group as a whole. He’s been really focused not just on his job, but on other guys as well.”
Miller has recorded 12 tackles this year, second on the team, and leads in pass breakups.
Turner said he expects the secondary to improve on its performance against Bethune-Cookman on Saturday. While the Wildcats may be more known for their defense so far, Brooks isn’t taking the Football Championship Subdivision opponent lightly.
“They have a lot of speed and they’ll pose some challenges to us,” he said. “But I think our guys are locked in and prepared.”