When it comes to football, there’s a lot that’s new at FIU.
Sage Lewis is the new middle linebacker, Ike Brown is back at cornerback with dazzling 40-yard dash times, and wide receiver C.J. Worton has transferred in from the University of Florida.
Lewis, a 6-1, 240-pound junior who was a first-team All-State player at Monsignor Pace, started 10 games at outside linebacker last season but will now move over one spot to replace the graduated Anthony Wint, FIU’s leading tackler in 2017.
“Sage is the guy we’re looking at,” said Butch Davis, who officially started his second year as FIU’s coach with Monday’s first day of 2018 spring practices. “I’ve had a lot of great middle linebackers [at UM], Ray Lewis, Dan Morgan, Jonathan Vilma …
“They were like coaches in the huddle. We’ve got to get somebody like that, who can control that front seven.”
Brown, a 6-1, 185-pound junior who played just five games last season before suffering a broken collarbone, recently ran 4.39 in the 40.
“I’m extraordinarily pleased with Ike,” Davis said. “He had the fastest 40 time on our team. That tells you what we lost [last year]. We lost our fastest cover corner. He’s had a great offseason.”
Worton, a 6-0, 195-pound senior, brings big-game experience after catching a 46-yard touchdown pass against Alabama in the 2015 SEC title game.
Davis is hoping Worton can replace the graduated Terrell Owens, a three-year starter who caught 21 touchdown passes during that span. Worton, a star at South Dade High, helped the Bucs win the 2013 Class 8A state title with six catches for 159 yards and three touchdowns in the final against Apopka.
The addition of Worton, the return to health for Brown and the availability of Lewis in the middle should help an FIU team that is coming off an 8-5 season, doubling the win total from the previous year.
However, the Panthers lost most of their biggest stars to graduation, including quarterback Alex McGough, who is FIU’s all-time leading passer for touchdowns.
“Yeah, it’s pretty strange,” FIU running back Napoleon Maxwell said when asked about not having the four-year starter around anymore. “Not hearing McGough’s voice is a big change.”
FIU has three quarterbacks competing for the starting job this spring: juniors Maurice Alexander and Christian Alexander (no relation) and redshirt freshman Kaylan Wiggins.
Maurice Alexander (5-11. 180) has the only significant college experience of the three as he started four games in 2016 and threw 39 passes last season.
Christian Alexander (6-3, 225) has the best size of the three, and Kaylan Wiggins (6-2, 195) is the only one in this group who was recruited by Davis and his staff.
“We’re going to give all three of these guys the opportunity to win the job,” Davis said.
To ensure that happens, Davis will rotate them this spring, allowing all of them the chance to play with the first unit.
However, it appears that a final decision on the starting QB won’t occur until the fall. That’s because two more passers will join the fray this fall: Bowling Green transfer James Morgan and true freshman Caleb Lynum.
Morgan, a 6-5, 225-pound junior, has outstanding size as well as the most experience of anyone in the battle. He played 19 games, including 13 starts, at Bowling Green, completing 51.9 percent of his passes for 25 TDs and 22 interceptions.
THIS AND THAT
▪ Even though FIU graduated four-year starting running back Alex Gardner, Davis said this is perhaps the Panthers’ deepest position. Davis mentioned Maxwell, Anthony Jones, D’Vonte Price and Shawndarrius Phillips as part of his deep backfield.
▪ Fermin Silva, a 6-2, 235-pound senior who has started 22 games the past two years at defensive end, is being tried at outside linebacker. He could fill the void left by graduated outside linebacker Treyvon Williams, FIU’s second-leading tackler.