With fall football practices opening on Friday for the FIU Panthers, here are five things to look for during training camp and beyond:
1: There’s competition at quarterback:
Both candidates — 6-4, 215-pound James Morgan and 6-3, 225 Christian Alexander — have ideal size for the position. Both are in their fourth year in college, but Morgan started seven games as a redshirt freshman at Bowling Green before losing his job.
Alexander has the advantage of knowing his teammates for much longer, and he has shown leadership ability. Alexander is also in his second year in coach Butch Davis’ system while Morgan is brand new.
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But Alexander has no starting experience, so check that box in favor of Morgan.
“I’m really excited about this battle,” Davis said. “I’m a huge believer in competition.
“People thought James would be the automatic starter because of his experience at Bowling Green, but Christian really improved this spring.”
2: Both QBs will play: Davis said he will make a decision as soon as it “blatantly apparent” who should start, and he added that 10 days before the Sept. 1 opener against Indiana is the “drop-dead date” to make his choice. His starter will then get 70 percent of the practice reps.
Last year, though, Davis said he didn’t have a backup sufficiently ready to play, and that cost the Panthers when starter Alex McGough (now in the NFL) went down in the 28-3 bowl loss to Temple.
“I’m not going to say we will play two quarterbacks every game,” Davis said, “but we will prepare the backup 10 times better than we did last year.”
3: The big experiment: Senior Fermin Silva, who led FIU last season in tackles for losses (14) and sacks (seven), has shifted from defensive end — where he has played his entire college career — to outside linebacker, where his size (6-2, 245 pounds) makes him a better fit for the pro level.
Silva got some experience in coverage last year when FIU used zone blitzes, and Davis said Silva handled his new position well during spring practices.
4: Ready to surprise? Lindy’s magazine doesn’t have much faith in the Panthers, ranking them No. 108 in the country.
And while it’s true the Panthers lost a lot of talent from last year’s 8-5 team, one major factor in FIU’s favor is its coaching staff.
Not only did Davis inherit a 4-8 team and transform them into the group that qualified for FIU’s first bowl game since 2011, he also managed to maintain his entire coaching staff from last year.
That continuity in systems and instruction should help the current team while also building relationships with high school coaches for recruiting.
5: Close to home: FIU’s schedule seems to be manageable. The Panthers will play eight of their 12 games in Miami Dade County. FIU’s three toughest games are all in the county: vs. No. 7 Miami at Hard Rock; vs. No. 31 Florida Atlantic and vs. No. 64 Indiana.
FIU’s true road games are at No. 116 Old Dominion; No. 102 Western Kentucky; No. 114 Texas-San Antonio; and No. 128 Charlotte.