FIU’s football team, which opened fall practice this past weekend and works in pads for the first time this camp on Tuesday, could feature an extraordinarily long secondary this year.
The starters have yet to be determined, but leading contenders include 6-1 corners Ike Brown and Emmanuel Lubin, 6-4, 210-pound safety Dorian Hall and 6-2, 215-pound safety Daniel Jackson.
With all the tall receivers around in today’s football, NFL scouts will surely notice a secondary with this much length.
In addition, 6-2 corner Stantley Thomas-Oliver III is a converted receiver who has drawn raves from FIU coach Butch Davis.
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“That was a home run move,” Davis said of Thomas-Oliver. “I was just angry with myself that we didn’t do it two months earlier. He is tall and lanky and can jam receivers and re-rout them.”
Beyond a tall secondary, the Panthers will feature an experienced offensive line as all five starters return.
Right guard Dallas Connell is a third-year sophomore, but every other starter on this front wall is a senior. That includes redshirt senior left tackle Daquane Wilkie, graduate-student left guard Jordan Budwig, senior center Neal Mars and redshirt senior right tackle Kai Absheer.
All that experience has to help at a position which requires added strength as well the knowledge of more sophisticated blocking schemes. Both of those things take time to gain and learn.
Here’s a quick look at some other positions on the FIU team and how they stack up early in camp:
▪ In terms of offensive playmakers, FIU graduated Alex Gardner, the school’s career rushing leader; tight end Pharoah McKeever, who signed with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent; and Thomas Owens, surely one of the top five or so wide receivers in school history.
To replace those three players FIU will employ the “strength in numbers” system. For example, four running backs with experience at FIU are expected to share carries: seniors Anthony Jones and Napoleon Maxwell, junior Shawndarrius Phillips and sophomore D’Vonte Price.
At tight end, watch for three freshmen: Ivan Thomas, Sterling Palmer and David O’Meara.
And at wide receiver, FIU has an eclectic group that includes ex-Florida Gator C.J. Worton, sophomore Bryce Singleton, fourth-year junior Austin Maloney from Columbus High and converted quarterback Maurice Alexander, among others.
▪ Transfers hold the key to the success of the defensive line. Tackle Anthony Johnson, second on the team with six sacks last year, is the only player on FIU’s current defensive line who is proven to the point of putting up significant numbers.
But junior college transfers Tayland Humphrey and Teair Tart-Spencer, the only four-star recruits in FIU’s 2018 class, should make a push at tackle. And Georgia Tech transfer Jordan Woods is expected to make an impact at end.
▪ Kicker Jose Borregales, punter Stone Wilson and kickoff man Sean Young appear to have a close bond, and they are all good at their specialties.
It should make for a strong year for Panthers special teams, as long as they can replace their graduated long snapper and find a return man among numerous explosive athletes such as D’Vonte Price, Bryce Singleton, Anthony Jones and Ike Brown.