Florida International U

FIU Panthers linebackers fulfilling early promise

Gang tackle: FIU’s Richard Leonard (3) and Anthony Wint (53) take down Pitt wide receiver Manasseh Garner during the football game last Saturday.
Gang tackle: FIU’s Richard Leonard (3) and Anthony Wint (53) take down Pitt wide receiver Manasseh Garner during the football game last Saturday. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

The game film says Louisville likes to attack the edges in the run and the pass. That’s where FIU football junior Michael Wakefield and redshirt junior Denzell Perine earn their scholarship and unlimited snack money.

That will also further spotlight FIU’s linebacking corps, the youngest and perhaps most-promising unit on the team.

Coming into the season, the front seven loomed as the logical zone of uncertainty for the defense. With starting tackles Isame Faciane and Greg Hickman now trying to draw NFL pay and two of the three starting linebackers graduated, all projections came with a shrug and a “maybe.”

Instead, FIU ranks 47th nationally in tackles for loss and 13th nationally in sacks. Of Perine’s 15 tackles, 51/2 have been tackles for loss and he has four sacks. Exactly half of Wakefield’s seven tackles have been tackles for loss. Wakefield also has two pass blocks, two fumbles recovered and a forced fumble. On the first play Saturday against Pitt, Wakefield ignored the play-action fake and blew around the right tackle for a sack.

“I gained more weight and it helped me be more physical with the bigger O-linemen,” Wakefield said. “I worked more on my pass rush skills, my hands and quickness, to get to the quarterback.”

Meanwhile, redshirt sophomore Imarjaye Albury, junior Darrian Dyson and redshirt junior Lars Koht have filled the middle ably. Granted, Pitt’s persistent mass wore FIU down Saturday in the running game. That’s different than, start to finish, opponents creating the Soul Train line down which runners dance through the FIU defense, as some teams did last year.

Wakefield credits the improved run defense to “our linebacking corps is playing differently and better. That’s allowing the defensive tackles to get off blocks and the tackles are able to make more plays. Last year, [the linebackers] were reading more things. Now, they’re coming downhill more.”

And they have made an impression quickly. Freshman Anthony Wint shot up the depth chart to start all three games at one outside linebacker spot while snatching attention with moments of startling violence. Redshirt freshman Jordan Guest handles the other outside linebacker job. Sophomore Treyvon Williams assumed the job in the middle after the first game.

Wint and Guest pushed juniors Davison Colimon and Patrick Jean down the depth chart despite Colimon going from FIU coach Ron Turner’s doghouse to this week’s captaincy. Williams did the same to redshirt junior Luis Rosado. And so did they boost FIU’s talent and depth at the same time.

“They’re playing well,” Turner said. “And the good news is they’re going to get better as they get bigger and stronger. Right now, they’re freshmen and redshirt freshmen and sophomores for the most part. But they’re good football players. And they’re physical. They’ve got that edge about them in practice, especially in camp, I’ve had to coach them down because it’s our guys. Be smart when they’re not going live. Which is a good thing. You don’t want to coach that down. You can’t coach it up. You can’t teach them to be more physical.

“And they are. Every one of them.”

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