2011 FIU Preview - Defense
FIU LB Winston Fraser
FIU LB Winston Fraser
Posted Jun 7, 2011

Preview 2011 Florida International Golden Panthers Defense

FIU Golden Panthers

Preview 2011 - Defense

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- 2011 FIU Defense | 2011 FIU Depth Chart
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What You Need To Know: Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando enters the mix after working at Connecticut, and while FIU has its third defensive coordinator in the last three seasons, having a defensive head coach in Mario Cristobal is a big help. The D led the Sun Belt total defense and scoring defense, and while it was hardly a brick wall, it was productive. The pass rush was terrific, and it should be again with Tourek Williams leading a fast defensive front. There's athleticism to burn at linebacker, but the bulk isn't there to hold up against the bigger and badder running games. The secondary loses some key stars, but it'll still be a strength led by the return of all-around playmaking safety Jonathan Cyprien.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jonathan Cyprien, 113
Sacks: Tourek Williams, 6
Interceptions: Junior Mertile, 3

Star of the defense: Junior SS Jonathan Cyprien
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore DE Gregory Hickman
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Larvez Mars
Best pro prospect: Cyprien
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Cyprien, 2) DE Tourek Williams, 3) LB Winston Fraser
Strength of the defense: Athleticism, Pass Rush
Weakness of the defense: Defensive Tackle, Linebacker Size

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: The concern going into last year was the pass rush that needed new starters and new stars to emerge. Problem solved as the Golden Panthers finished third in the Sun Belt and 21st in the nation in sacks with several players across the defensive front doing their part. With three starters returning, there's reason to be excited about the possibilities.

The spotlight was on Tourek Williams to produce, and he was terrific earning Second Team All-Sun Belt honors with six sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss, and 46 tackles. A linebacker-sized 6-4 and 247 pounds, he's quick off the ball ad showed over the second half of last season that he can be a game-changer. 6-1, 265-pound senior Jeremy Jermin saw time in just three games after coming in from the JUCO ranks, but the quick, thick pass rusher from Nassau JC has the bulk and the burst to do a little of everything behind Williams.

The one new starter up front is end Gregory Hickman, a 6-1, 274-pound sophomore who'd be a better fit as a 3-4 end, made eight tackles with two sacks in his limited time, and now he gets the full-time job. With all the attention paid to Williams, he should blow up on the stat-sheet, while 6-1, 248-pound senior James Jones should do more after missing most of last year out. He made eight tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in his limited time, but the former running back has the skills to be a star in the rotation.

6-2, 270-pound junior Joshua Forney earned Third Team All-Sun Belt honors after making 29 tackles with 1.5 sacks and three tackles for loss. The quick, tough interior defender from Chicago started every game, and he has the athleticism to be a better pass rusher. He'll combine with 5-11, 270-pound sophomore Jerrico Lee, a great-looking prospect who turned in a strong first year making 13 tackles with a sack as a spot starter.

6-5, 250-pound Isame Faciane got a start against Western Kentucky and was a key part of the rotation throughout last year finishing with eight tackles with a sack. He's not built for the interior and he's not a big anchor, but he's strong enough to hold his own and is tough to throw over. 6-2, 272-pound junior Kasey Smith brings more bulk to the position. A five-game starter, he was decent with 17 tackles and three tackles for loss. However, he was expected to quickly be a top inside playmaker and a dangerous pass rusher, and he wasn't.

Watch Out For … Hickman. He was terrific in his limited time, and with his combination of size and quickness off the ball, and with Williams on the other side, a five-sack season is possible.
Strength: Pass rush. The FIU line is extremely quick with all four spots athletic enough to get into the backfield on a regular basis. The line should be among the best in the Sun Belt at getting behind the line.
Weakness: Bulk against the run. That might change if some of the huge offensive linemen end up moving inside, but overall, the run defense needs to be stronger against the more powerful teams. ULM and Troy ran wild.
Outlook: Even before the team's breakthrough 2010, the defensive line was hardly the problem with good quickness and the talent across the board to make big play after big play. With all the returning experience, and with Williams a dangerous star on the outside, the FIU line should be a strength.
Unit Rating: 5.5


State of the Unit: It has taken a few years, but the FIU linebackers have improved over the years and turned out great last year. Toronto Smith was the team's second leading tackler and a terror in the backfield, but he's gone, and while there will be some shuffling going on in the rotation, this should eventually turn out to be a strength.

The key returning starter is junior Winston Fraser, the main man in the middle who finished third on the team with 72 tackles with a sack and nine tackles for loss. The Second Team All-Sun Belt performer was supposed to be the starter going into the 2009 season, but he suffered a neck injury and only played in half the year. He showed no ill-effects last year and started to show off why he was such a big-time recruit for the program. While he's not huge at 6-2 and 227 pounds, he can pop. Junior Kenneth Dillard is a 6-0, 213-pound guided missile with sub-4.5 speed, but he only started four games and wasn't the player he was supposed to be with just 20 tackles and no plays in the backfield.

6-1, 228-pound junior Jordan Hunt was a strong JUCO pickup who earned all-star honors at Co-Lin CC making 88 tackles. A perfect fit for the defense, he came to school early and should be ready to go on the outside with his blend of speed and tackling ability certain to fill up the stat sheet. Junior Franklin Brown is a 6-0, 189-pound veteran who got hurt and only made four tackles. Fast, he has the burst to be a playmaker into the backfield with a little more work.

Working at a hybrid Star position is the star recruit of 2009, Larvez "Pooh Bear" Mars, a 5-11, 210-pound sophomore who made six tackles as a true freshman. Ready to blow up last year, he suffered a broken ankle early on and took a medical redshirt. Now, the big-time athlete who could've gone anywhere in the Big East and was courted by Kentucky will get his chance to show what he can do now that he's healthy. Fortunately, the injury happened early enough to give him time to heal, and with his athleticism and range he should put up big numbers in a variety of ways. If there are any setbacks, 6-1, 213-pound junior Markeith Russell will step in after making 21 tackles as a spot starter and key reserve. Able to play outside or in, he has the range and the toughness to work in a variety of ways.

Watch Out For … Hunt. It's not a lock that the JUCO transfer will get the starting job, and Russell could certainly be the third linebacker, but the hope is that the program got an instant playmaker in Hunt.
Strength: Speed. The corps isn't all that big, but everyone can move and everyone is very, very tough. Mars and Fraser are both excellent interior tacklers who can go sideline to sideline. Hunt and Brown move like safeties.
Weakness: Size. Strangely enough, the power running games weren't a problem for the FIU linebackers; the talented running fast running games were a problem. The linebackers can all run like defensive backs, but they're all built like them, too.
Outlook: A big upgrade over where the linebackers were a few years ago, Mars and now Hunt should become major factors after neither one was part of the mix last season. Fraser will be the glue to keep it all together, and there's plenty of talent around him.
Unit Rating: 5.5

Defensive Backs

State of the Unit: The pass rush was tremendous and the pressure on the quarterback was constant, and that helped the secondary that finished 32nd in the nation and first in the Sun Belt in pass efficiency defense. With three starters returning, the defensive backs should be even stronger.

The star of the show will once again by junior Jonathan Cyprien, who followed up a great true freshman season with a team-leading 113 tackles with a pick and three forced fumbles on the way to a First Team All-Sun Belt season. At 6-0 and 205 pounds he's a big strong safety and a great tackler, and he makes plays like a corner with a team-lead tying seven broken up passes. He'll be all over the field again and should be a lock for all-star honors. Working behind him will be junior Emmanuel Souarin, a spot starter who can work at corner or safety. At 5-11 and 176 pounds he's not built for the position, but he's a willing tackler making 29 stops with a pick and six broken up passes. A great recruit for the program in 2008, he's athletic and physical with the tools to play anywhere in the secondary.

Junior Junior Mertile will be the team's No. 1 corner early on after making 16 tackles with a team-leading three picks; all the interceptions came in the last four games. At 6-0 and 197 pounds he has decent size for the position and great upside now that he's a few years removed from an injury that kept him out all of 2009. The former receiver came up with 26 catches as a freshman, but he's better suited to corner. 6-0, 183-pound sophomore Terrance Taylor is another decent-sized corner who can play either spot or work as a nickel back. He made six tackles with two broken up passes in his limited work.

In a bit of a surprise, sophomore Jose Cheeseborough turned in a terrific year starting every game and making 49 tackles with four broken up passes. The 5-9, 160-pound corner isn't physical, but he's a willing tackler with tremendous speed and cut-on-a-dime quickness. Feisty, he battled for the starting corner job last year and never let it go, but he'll have to battle with JUCO transfer Tevin Blanchard this season. The 6-0, 180-pound Blanchard is the bigger option and has good experience coming from Itawamba CC. Ole Miss wanted him, but FIU got a key part of the secondary rotation.

Senior Chick Grace went from being a special teamer to a spot-starter to a key all-around piece of the puzzle making 35 tackles with a pick. At 5-10 and 185 pounds he's a free safety, and he has the range to show it. Now he has to make a few more plays when the ball is in the air, while 6-2, 185-pound sophomore Justin Halley is a bigger safety who can hit, making some big plays in practice.

Watch Out For … Mertile. The former receiver has the size and the tools, and now he has the health to grow into the role of an all-star corner. He'll handle the bigger receivers.
Strength: Experience. Mertile and Cheeseborough know what they're doing on the outside, while Cyprien is a special talent at safety. Even the backups have logged in time.
Weakness: Anthony Gaitor. The former all-star and eventual NFL draft pick made 52 tackles with two picks, seven broken up passes, three sacks, and 8.5 tackles for loss. He did it all for the Golden Panther defense, and while there's experience and talent returning, he'll be missed.
Outlook: The thought before last season was that the secondary could be the Sun Belt's most improved unit, and it was much, much better. There's missing star power with the loss of Gaitor and Ashlyn Parker, but there's lots of speed and plenty of veteran savvy to pick up the slack. The strong pass rush will help, too.
Unit Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

State of the Unit: The Golden Panthers needed Jack Griffin to come through as a difference-making placekicker, and he did earning Second Team All-Sun Belt honors connecting on 17-of-20 field goals including a 50-yarder in the one-point win over Middle Tennessee. The junior hit his last eight field goals and showed range and clutch ability throughout the year. He can also punt if needed.

Junior Josh Brisk was better than the team's overall stats. He averaged a mediocre 39.3 yards per kick, and FIU was 119th in the nation in net punting, but he put 18 kicks inside the 20 and forced 16 fair catches. An all-star from the Miami era started out at Duquesne before coming to FIU, and he has the leg and the ability to do even more.

WR T.Y. Hilton is deadly with the ball in his hands, and he showed why averaging 28.7 yards per kickoff return with scores against ULM and a killer against Toledo in the bowl win. Also a strong punt returner, he averaged 6.3 yards per try.

Watch Out For … More from Brisk. Yes, technically the Golden Panthers had the second-worst punting game in America, but Brisk also got three kicks blocked. He has the leg and he has the accuracy, so stat-wise FIU could fly up the charts in a hurry.
Strength: Hilton as a kickoff returner and Griffin from anywhere. Hilton will be avoided at all costs as a kickoff returner, and it'll only help FIU on field position. Griffin is solid from 40 yards and in and will be in the hunt for the Lou Groza.
Weakness: Kick and punt coverage. The punting game will turn out fine; forget the raw stats. The real problem was the coverage team that gave up 11.9 yards per punt return. The kick coverage unit wasn't a prize allowing 21.1 yards per pop.
Outlook: Griffin and Brisk could be the best kicker-punter combo in the Sun Belt, and should be among the best in the nation with more blast to the punting game. Hilton is a special talent with the ability to score from anywhere on the field. The coverage teams have to be better.
Unit Rating: 7

- 2011 FIU Preview | 2011 FIU Offense
- 2011 FIU Defense | 2011 FIU Depth Chart
- FIU Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006