Florida International U

As the FIU Panthers’ spring game approaches, these players will have to play new roles

Sage Lewis (7), Fermin Silva and Jordan Woods will be asked to fill the void left by departing players as the FIU Panthers get ready for their spring game.
Sage Lewis (7), Fermin Silva and Jordan Woods will be asked to fill the void left by departing players as the FIU Panthers get ready for their spring game. adiaz@miamiherald.com

Anthony Wint and Treyvon Williams are gone, but Sage Lewis and Fermin Silva are attempting to fill the void. And Jordan Woods is making his mark, too.

With FIU’s annual spring game set for April 6, two of the team’s key openings — at middle linebacker and weak-side linebacker — have crystallized.

Asked to name FIU’s most improved players this spring, Panthers coach Butch Davis responded with one offensive player (rising senior lineman Kai Absheer) and one on defense (Lewis, a 6-1, 240-pound rising junior from Monsignor Pace).

Lewis, who started last year at outside linebacker, made 55 tackles, including five for losses. He moved to middle linebacker this spring, calling defensive signals.

“It’s critical for him to be a leader,” Davis said of Lewis. “I think he’s comfortable and confident. He’s taken control of the huddle. He’s exceeded our expectations.”

Lewis will attempt to live up to the numbers put up by Wint, who started 45 games in the past four years, making 325 tackles.

Williams, meanwhile, led FIU in tackles in each of the past two seasons, totaling 191 stops. He will be replaced by Fermin Silva, who started last season at defensive end.

Silva made just 45 stops last year, but he led the team in tackles for losses (14) and sacks (7). But at 6-2 and 230 pounds, Silva’s only chance at playing in the NFL will be at linebacker, making this move a natural in more ways than one.

The plan, Silva said, is to move him to defensive end on certain passing downs.

“The offensive linemen won’t know where I’m coming from,” said Silva, a rising senior from Miami Central. “And it’s going to get me ready for the next level. It’s fun.”

Davis said another big development for the defensive front this spring is the addition of Woods, who sat out last season after transferring from Georgia Tech.

A 6-4, 260-pounder, Woods could replace Silva at defensive end. But Woods, a former four-star recruit who has three years of eligibility remaining, is also being viewed as a defensive tackle.

Woods, deeply religious, suffered a shoulder injury at Georgia Tech, and he soon figured that he wasn’t in the right place.

“I felt like God told me there needed to be a change,” Woods said. “You feel certain things, certain vibes. You talk to God about it, and He kept sending signs.”

Davis has raved about Woods since last year. The same can be said for former Miami Hurricanes and NFL defensive lineman Kenny Holmes, who now coaches the position at FIU.

In fact, just about every FIU coach seems to have noticed how the former member of the Georgia Tech Rambling Wreck has indeed wrecked Panthers offensive linemen in practice while sitting out last season as per NCAA transfer rules.

“[Running backs coach] Tim Harris Jr. said, ‘What are we going to do with this dude?’” Holmes said. “Every week, the offensive coaches would bend my ear to say Jordan was blowing up plays.”

Davis said Woods was a “nightmare” for FIU’s offense during last year’s practices.

Woods clearly delights in that reputation, even comparing FIU’s 2017 scout team to the Navy’s elite special missions unit.

“Last year, it hurt not to be able to play in a game,” Woods said. “But Monday through Thursday, that was our Super Bowl. We were like SEAL Team Six.”

THIS AND THAT

▪ FIU’s Pro Day on Thursday featured 15 seniors working out on campus in front of NFL scouts. Davis said 26 teams called with interest in FIU’s seniors, including Wint and Williams as well as quarterback Alex McGough, wide receivers Thomas Owens and Julian Williams and running back Alex Gardner.

“We have some guys who I believe deserve a chance to get into an NFL camp,” Davis said. “Whether it’s as a draft choice or a free agent.”

Also working out Thursday were defensive backs Niko Gonzalez, Brad Muhammad, Andrew Brown, Shemarke Spence and Bryce Canady; linebacker Fred Russ; tight end Pharoah McKever; and defensive linemen Newton Salisbury and Jordan Guest.

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