Asked Monday if FIU’s staff had settled on an offensive line, coach Ron Turner paused for four seconds with a small smile, “Some positions.”
Is that unnerving at all days from Thursday’s season opener against a Central Florida team that returns two of four starters on a redoubtable defensive line?
“A little bit,” Turner chuckled. “It can’t be helped because of injuries. The guys who are in there will play well. Trenton [Saunders] will be back at right guard. We’ve settled in.”
The injury that put Saunders — whom offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler lauded as the best lineman in camp — in a walking boot is the latest ouch to an offensive line undergoing rebuilding and reshuffling anyway.
Coming out of spring, FIU felt security on the left side, with redshirt junior tackle Dieugot Joseph and two-year starter junior Jordan Budwig; and hope up the middle and on the right. Fifth-year senior Aaron Nielsen migrated from right tackle to center, and Saunders and redshirt junior right tackle Edens Sineace owned only a handful of games between them.
Budwig’s offseason shoulder surgery ended the preseason All-Conference USA selection’s season before it started. Early in camp, redshirt freshman Kai Absheer out of Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas shot up the depth chart past Sineace, then sustained an injury that’ll keep him out at least Thursday. Nielsen got freed up to move around when redshirt junior Michael Montero claimed the center position.
Turner said Nielsen will start at right tackle or left guard, the latter choice forming an Orlando Freedom High left side with Joseph. Sineace will take the position Nielsen doesn’t.
It’s akin to putting together a jigsaw puzzle — or a Minecraft building, for you younger readers — while pieces keep disappearing. Don’t be surprised if redshirt freshman Daquane Wilkie winds up at right tackle for some snaps Thursday.
Montero, a graduate of Columbus High, establishing himself at center takes the scramble factor down a notch.
“Mike Montero’s got a chance to be an awfully good center,” Shankweiler said. “Mike brings so much lower-body strength. He moves people. He’s got the leverage and hop flexibility to get under people.”
And sophomore quarterback Alex McGough, who has had to work with several centers this month, said, “Mike and I are good” as far as the snap. If you think that’s a given, talk to any football coach and be ready to listen to his story about the game his team won or lost on discombobulated center-quarterback exchanges.
“Any level, NFL or whatever, you delete a couple of guys, to get the best five guys in there, all of a sudden, guys have to learn two positions,” Shankweiler said. “That’s what makes it difficult. Most of these guys have never played before and now they’ve got to play two positions.
“It’s hard. There will be some mistakes, there will be some fubars,” he continued. “But as the year goes, they’ll get better. We’ll get one or two of these guys back and we’ll be able to cut back some learning. Right now, it’s a task that always seems to show up every year in some form or fashion.”
TWO QBS VYING TO BACK UP McGOUGH
FIU coach Turner said as far as backups to quarterback McGough, “We have two No. 2s — Christian Alexander and Trey Anderson.”
Anderson, a fifth-year senior graduate transfer from Pitt, is no surprise. He’s the only quarterback besides McGough with any college game experience. Lakeland Christian graduate Alexander enrolled early and has impressed Turner with his maturity, as well as height (6-3) and arm.
Still, it’s a bit of a surprise if only because redshirt freshman Bud Martin had been taking most of the second-team snaps in training camp.
DEPTH CHART RELEASED
The first depth chart released by FIU contains no surprises.
Junior Wilkenson Myrtil and sophomore Niko Gonzalez are listed as the starting safeties, but there could be rotation at that position.