When it comes to experience the 2014 FIU linebackers and defensive backs are at opposite ends of the spectrum. The linebackers don't have much experience while the defensive backs might not only be the most experienced part of the defense but also the deepest.
The Panthers linebacker corps will have to find a way to replace the 96 tackles of middle linebacker Markeith Russell, who graduated. Luis Rosado and Treyvon Williams got most of the snaps at middle linebacker in the spring and did well. Rosado (photo below) had never played the MIKE position until this spring but did a good job of positioning the defense in spring ball. Williams had some bright moments last season despite being a freshman.
How quickly Rosado and Williams adapt to playing the middle might determine how successful the unit is in 2014 because the rest of the linebackers have not played much college football and remember FIU's interior defensive line is replacing NFLers Isame Faciane and Greg Hickman. A lot more will be asked of the linebackers this season.
"I thought we did take a step forward with the linebackers last season," FIU coach Ron Turner said. "I think we will be improved as a unit. As far as the outside linebackers go, we will play a lot of people there."
The outside linebacker jobs are there to be won in camp. Davison Colimon, Patrick Jean, Josh Glanton, De'Shawn Hazziez, Caleb Vincent, Jeremy Derrick, Jordan Gibbs are all among the returning linebackers looking to earn playing time. Colimon, Jean and Glanton might get the first looks for the outside spots.
Michael Wakefield, who had a solid 2013 season, could take one outside linebacker job when he is not on the defensive line. Wakefield will likely be shuffled between the two positions.
Freshmen Fred Russ (Tampa Bay Tech) and Anthony Wint (Homestead) are two talented newcomers that could earn snaps with an impressive August. Russ is from the same high school as Hickman and current FIU running back Lamarq Caldwell. The Panthers would welcome Hickman-like production from Russ or Wint. Walk-on linebacker Darryl Singleton, T.Y. Hilton's cousin from New York, will also get a look.
The secondary might be the most talented part of the FIU defense this coming season. The Panthers have some fast athletes and hard-hitting safeties in their defensive backfield.
Getting Richard Leonard back is akin to getting an immediate impact from a recruit from the most recent National Signing Day. Leonard (photo top of the blog) is the Panthers' best cover corner and most dangerous kick/punt returner, see: 100-yard kickoff return against Florida Atlantic in 2012. Leonard locks down one side of the secondary. Cornerback Randy Harvey played the most snaps of any FIU player last season when special teams play is factored in. Harvey will get a chance to secure the other starting corner spot. However, Harvey will have to hold off hard-charging Jeremiah McKinnon (photo below) who really emerged in the spring.
"Richard Leonard is huge. He had an outstanding spring," Turner said. "I'm really excited about McKinnon. Not only did he have a great spring, but he had a great offseason both on and off the field. He's got talent."
Some of the younger corners will also vie for playing time. Wilkenson Myrtil had some good games last season and can really run. Returning defensive backs Deonte Wilson, Vontarius West and Xavier Hines can play and will get looks in camp. FIU added three freshman cornerbacks in Mark Bruno, Shermarke Spence and Bobby Stinson and a freshman safety in Niko Gonzalez.
Senior safety Justin Halley is recovered from a shoulder injury. Halley is expected to team with safety Demarkus Perkins to give FIU one of the better safety duos in the conference. Keep an eye on Jordan Davis, who has a world of talent and finished fourth on the team in tackles last season. Davis could push for significant playing time. If you are looking for under the radar players who can make an impact on defense this season Davis is right there with Wakefield.