Florida International U

This is why the FIU football team has confidence in its rebuilt defense

FIU cornerback Isaiah Brown (13) makes a tackle against Florida Atlantic.
FIU cornerback Isaiah Brown (13) makes a tackle against Florida Atlantic. ImageReflex

FIU football coach Butch Davis was asked whom he lost from the Panthers’ 2017 secondary.

“Everybody,” Davis said.

Well, almost everybody. Isaiah Brown, a 6-1, 195-pound junior cornerback, is back, and he appears to be better than before.

The Panthers wrapped up their final practice of the spring on Monday, and Brown figures to enter the fall as FIU’s top cornerback. He started seven games as a freshman in 2016, but he lasted just five games last season before he got injured.

This spring, he has reduced his 40-yard-dash time from 4.5 to 4.4 — “fastest on the team,” he said.

Last year, he was able to bench press 225 pounds five times. Now, he can do twice as many repetitions.

“Ike Brown is the leader of that group,” Davis said of FIU’s cornerbacks. “He’s running well, he’s gotten bigger and stronger, and that’s made a huge difference.”

Davis said he wants to find a total of at least six cornerbacks he can rely on for the 2018 season.

In last Friday’s annual spring game, the defense held up nicely, allowing just a pair of field goals until the final two plays. The ball was then placed at the eight-yard line — hey, that’s what happens in scrimmages — and the offense made two plays for what was scored as a 14-13 win over the defense.

Kaylan Wiggins, a redshirt freshman and one of three quarterbacks currently on campus battling for the starting quarterback job, threw a two-yard touchdown pass to Richie Cooper and then ran for a two-point conversion.

The defense, though, was solid as sophomore defensive end Kevin Oliver led in tackles with five and also had a sack and a pass break-up. He played 10 games as a reserve last season, getting one sack, but he may be ready to step up this year.

FIU Panthers head coach Butch Davis speaks to the media after the FIU Panthers lose to Temple Owls 28-3 at the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida on Thursday, December 21, 2017.

Senior defensive tackle Anthony Johnson had four tackles, one sack and one pass break-up. He played 11 games last season, starting seven and registering seven sacks.

Besides Oliver and Johnson, the FIU defensive line should get help this fall from four-star recruits Tayland Humphrey and Teair Tart-Spencer, both tackles.

At linebacker, the keys for FIU figure to be Sage Lewis in the middle and Fermin Silva outside. Silva played defensive end last year when he had 14 tackles for losses and seven sacks. Lewis played outside linebacker last year when he had five tackles for losses.

The two players are replacing last year’s two star linebackers, Anthony Wint in the middle and Treyvon Williams outside.

At safety, FIU graduated starters Bryce Canady and Niko Gonzalez. Competing for starting jobs in 2018 are sophomores Dorian Hall and Daniel Jackson, junior Olin Cushion and senior Tyree Johnson. Hall (6-foot-4) and Jackson (6-2) are tall and rangy while Cushion is 5-8 and Johnson 5-9.

“Some guys looked great in drills,” Davis said. “But can they carry the drill work into scrimmages? And if they do it in scrimmages, can they do it on game day?”

Answers to that final question won’t come until the fall, but, for now at least, there’s optimism about FIU’s defense.

THIS AND THAT

▪ FIU’s baseball team (16-17, 6-6) swept a Conference USA road doubleheader on Sunday, beating UAB 6-4 and 3-0.

Both games were scheduled for just seven innings because of travel restrictions, and Nick McDonald pitched a four-hit shutout in the finale. It was his first career shutout.

▪ FIU’s softball team (22-21, 6-6) took two of three games this past weekend from Florida Atlantic. FIU center fielder and leadoff batter Jackie Schoff had four hits this weekend and is hitting .386. She entered the weekend ranked fourth in the nation in hits. Panthers pitcher Shannon Saile struck out a career-high 18 batters on Saturday in a 1-0, 10-inning loss to FAU. She became the fifth NCAA pitcher with at least 18 strikeouts in a game this year. She leads the nation with four games with at least 15 Ks.

▪ FIU sophomore pitcher Shannon Saile was named the Conference USA Pitcher of the Week for the second straight week announced by the league Monday.

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