Florida International U

The making of a linebacker: FIU’s Fermin Silva switches from defensive end

Florida International University Defensive Lineman Fermin Silva poses for a photograph at Riccardo Silva Stadium on Wednesday, August 8, 2018.
Florida International University Defensive Lineman Fermin Silva poses for a photograph at Riccardo Silva Stadium on Wednesday, August 8, 2018. adiaz@miamiherald.com

If football were a highway, FIU’s Fermin Silva spent his entire career prior to this spring looking at endless green lights with relatively little in the way on the way to his desired destination.

Now, to keep with the driving metaphor, Silva is watching for a series of blinking lights, trains crossing the tracks, pedestrians on the road, and cars and trucks weaving through traffic.

In football terms, instead of simply going forward as a defensive end, Silva has learned to backpedal into coverage as a senior playing outside linebacker for the first time in his career. He is also attacking and playing laterally, all while sifting through added traffic on the field.

This “position transition”, which began in the spring and continues this fall, should be beneficial for Silva’s career. At 6-2 and 245 pounds, his size should make him a better fit as an NFL outside linebacker as opposed to defensive end.

“It’s been very positive,” FIU coach Butch Davis said. “He started from scratch in the spring, but he knows football. He knows this scheme, and that’s helped him.”

Davis said there were concerns initially.

“We were worried: ‘Is he going to be athletic enough? Is he going to be fast enough?’ But he clearly has all those capabilities answered,” Davis said. “It’s just a question of how good he’s going to be in coverage, but he seems to be getting better every day, reading the quarterback’s eyes. I’m very pleased.”

Silva, who won three state titles at Miami Central High, said he intercepted two passes during his prep days. On each of those picks, however, he was tackled from behind, one yard short of a touchdown.

At FIU, Silva has 12.5 career sacks. Last season, he led the team in tackles for losses (14) and sacks (seven), but he has yet to grab an interception.

“I’ve dropped (potential interceptions) in practice,”said Silva, who normally covers tight ends and running backs. “But my time is going to come.”

Silva said the toughest part at linebacker is not dropping into coverage or improving his hands — it’s the mental aspect.

“I’m looking at the game different,” Silva said. “Before, I was on the d-line receiving calls. Now I give calls.”

Silva said he learned a lot from watching game film last year with linebackers Anthony Wint and Treyvon Williams, who have both since graduated.

FIU defensive coordinator Brent Guy and current middle linebacker Sage Lewis have also helped Silva.

“Before, I didn’t have to worry about looking at formations or reading receivers — none of that,” Silva said. “I’m learning the game, knowing my assignment, knowing what the d-line is going to do so I know what gap I have.”

Guy said Silva got some experience in coverage last year when FIU used zone blitzes, but that didn’t happen often.

In the run game, Silva is seeing more pulling guards coming at him, forcing him to make an immediate decision about getting under the block or outside of it, Guy said. Finding the ball when the run is away from his side is another issue.

Sacking quarterbacks on blitzes is different, too.

“He’s natural as a pass-rusher, knocking down hands and all that,” Guy said, “but there are other aspects he’s learning such as disguising his blitzes. He was burned a couple of times on blitzes in the spring.

“Technique is a lot of it, especially in coverage, re-routing receivers, knowing where his help is and making the quarterback try to fit the ball into a small window over the top.

“With more reps, (Silva) will get better. He’s playing a lot faster than he did in the spring because of more knowledge.”

NOTE: The Miami Herald is now offering a digital sports-only subscription for $30 per year. This is unlimited access to all Herald sports and sports stories, thus allowing you to comment in the section below as many times as you wish. Click right here to get started immediately.