With FIU’s August 31 opener at Central Florida fast approaching, running back depth has become a concern because of a knee injury to key backup Anthony Jones.
The Panthers are in great shape at starting running back. Senior Alex Gardner, who missed all of spring practice due to a toe injury, has returned to form, looking to improve on a 2016 season in which he ran for 930 yards, had a 5.1 average and six touchdowns — all team highs. Gardner is also FIU’s career rushing leader with 2,272 yards.
He started all 12 games last year and has impressed new FIU coach Butch Davis, who earlier this fall compared him to Clinton Portis, a former Miami Hurricanes running back who went on to become a two-time Pro Bowl player in the NFL.
“[Gardner] has a lot of the same vision and explosiveness,” Davis said. “He’s electric.”
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With Jones out — he said he plans to return for the third week of the season — Davis mentioned three players battling for backup carries. They are junior Napoleon Maxwell, sophomore Shawndarrius Phillips and freshman D’Vonte Price, who has also earned raves from athletic director Pete Garcia.
Maxwell, a 6-0, 210-pounder, rushed for 254 yards and a 4.6 average and added a 57-yard TD catch in 2014. But he has missed the past two years after twice ripping up his left knee.
Phillips, a 5-11, 225-pounder, hasn’t done much — he rushed eight times for 12 yards last year. And Price, a 6-3, 195-pounder is new to the program.
Besides Price, there are several other true freshman from Davis’ first FIU recruiting class who have stood out this fall.
The list includes defensive linemen Kevin Oliver (Davie Western) and Noah Curtis (Delray American Heritage); linebackers Brandon James (Miami Southridge), Romelo Brooks (Miami Killian) and Jamal Gates (Palm Beach Dwyer); and defensive backs Rishard Dames (Miami Booker T.), Daniel Jackson (North Carolina) and Dorian Hall (Hollywood South Broward).
All eight of those defensive players have a chance to be second-stringers by the time the season opener arrives.
DB EARNS SCHOLARSHIP
At a team meeting on Sunday, Davis announced that walk-on cornerback Brad Mohammad, who is in position to become the starting nickel back, had earned a scholarship. When the announcement was made, his teammates let out a roar of approval.
THIS AND THAT
▪ The first four wide receivers Davis mentioned when asked about the depth chart: Thomas Owens, Julian Williams and sophomores Austin Maloney and Tony Gaiter IV.
The tight ends, in order, are graduate transfers Pharoah McKever and A.J. Sattinger, who suffered his first career concussion on the first day of fall contact but returned to practice last week.
▪ Junior Sean Young, who arrived this summer from Miami’s ASA College, is challenging redshirt freshman Jose Borregales (Booker T.) for the kicking job that came open when Austin Taylor’s eligibility expired. Taylor is second in FIU history in field goals made (45) and points (241).
▪ Davis, a former defensive line coach as well as a defensive lineman during his playing days, has focused his recruiting on this position to a large extent. His ultimate goal is to get eight to 10 linemen he can rotate without losing any quality.
At the moment, Fermin Silva and Newton Salisbury are the starting ends, and Anthony Johnson and Milord Juste are at tackle.
Davis is hoping veterans Jordan Guest and John Broome emerge. Guest, a fifth-year senior linebacker from Miami Columbus, has converted from linebacker to end.
Jordan Wood, a redshirt freshman transfer from Georgia Tech, is ineligible until next season. Another lineman, freshman Rashad Colson, has a knee injury. Davis is extremely high on both players, especially Wood.