New FIU running backs coach Tim Harris, Jr. inherits a loaded backfield as he begins his first season as a college coach. Harris, who coached some vaunted teams at Booker T. Washington High, will work with a variety of talented running backs.
"These backs have tremendous potential," Harris said. "The best part about it is how they complement one another."
Indeed, FIU's top three running backs Anthon Samuel (top right), Alex Gardner (top left) and Napoleon Maxwell (top center) have distinct running styles and give the Panthers several options when they have the ball.
Samuel is more of the power runner but can also shake defenders. Gardner is probably the quickest of the three backs and will also see time as a kick returner along with Napoleon Maxwell when Richard Leonard needs a breather. Maxwell has a little of both Samuel and Gardner in his game with power and speed.
"Samuel has the experience, leadership in the group," Harris said. "Gardner had success as a true freshman before he got hurt. I sense there is a hunger in him. He reminds me of the athletes I coached at Booker T. I think Maxwell merges Samuel and Gardner's game."
Samuel and Gardner tied for the team lead in rushing last season with each player totaling 582 yards on the ground. Gardner played in eight games before breaking his collarbone. Gardner is fully healed now.
Both Samuel and Gardner had good per carry averages with Samuel gaining 4.4 yards per tote and Gardner averaging 4.2 yards per carry. Maxwell had the best per carry total gaining 4.6 yards each time he touched the ball while rushing for 254 yards.
Of course how well these backs do is predicated on how well the offensive line jells. If you include Aaron Nielsen's move from right tackle to center, FIU will have three-fifths of a new offensive line this season.
Senior Lamarq Caldwell (above left) returns and he could see more time as a fullback with the trio of backs ahead of him on the depth chart. Caldwell was asked to do just about everything in 2013 when he led FIU in rushing with 504 yards and he even threw a touchdown pass at UTEP.
Redshirt sophomore Silas Spearman (above right) is healthy again after a good freshman season where he ran for 368 yards and four touchdowns, including a then-FIU freshman single-game rushing record of 136 yards at Southern Miss in 2013. Gardner broke that freshman single-game record with 138 yards against Wagner last season.
Freshman Collin Olsen, 6-0, 223 pounds, could alternate with Caldwell at the fullback position. Olsen played fullback, halfback and tight end at Spruce Creek High. With Caldwell and Olsen on board the Panthers may not need to use a tight end as a fullback as they did the last two seasons.