Junior cornerback Richard Leonard, sophomore linebacker Patrick Jean and sophomore quarterback E.J. Hilliard drew praise from new FIU coach Ron Turner on Friday, one day before the Panthers conclude their spring practices.
Asked to name players who have improved the most this spring, Turner said Leonard has been “tremendous” every day, and Jean has “stepped up.”
Both of those players are projected starters, but the Hilliard comments were perhaps even more interesting because he is seen as the backup to Jake Medlock.
“[Hilliard] has made big strides the past two weeks,” Turner said. “He’s made some things happen.”
Asked if that meant he was pushing Medlock for the starting job, Turner said: “I don’t know. Let’s see where he picks up in the fall. But he’s got our attention.”
Turner also praised the entire defensive line and linebacker units for their work this spring.
The Panthers’ last spring practice of the year is set for Saturday from noon to 2 p.m. at FIU Stadium. Fans are welcome, and admission is free.
“The players will be in game uniforms, we’ll have the scoreboard going, and we’ll have an opening kickoff,” Turner said. “But other than that, it will be a normal Saturday practice.”
One thing that wasn’t normal, according to Turner, was an on-field fight Friday between FIU teammates.
“It’s a very selfish act,” Turner said of the fight. “They know that if they get into a fight and get a personal foul during a game, they hurt the team.
“We haven’t had that all spring, but we had it [Friday], and we threw them both out of practice. It won’t be tolerated in a game, so it won’t be tolerated at practice, either. We don’t have enough depth to have a starter thrown out of a game for stupidity.”
RED MEANS STOP
FIU defensive end Paul Crawford said he knows not to hit quarterbacks in practice — but that doesn’t make it any easier.
“As a lineman, you are foaming at the mouth to get a sack,” Crawford said. “That is what you train for, so when I do turn that corner, I can turn into a beast.
“But you turn and see the quarterback in a red [no-contact] shirt, it’s like you see a big stop sign. It’s like if you were to go 75 [mph] down I-95 and see a stop sign and have to slam on the brakes.”
Crawford said he can’t wait until the season starts in about four months.
“I’m pretty sure there will be a lot of quarterbacks with the green light on then,” he said.