2013 FIU Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 28, 2013

Preview 2013 Florida International Golden Panthers Defense

FIU Golden Panthers

Preview 2013 - Defense

- 2013 FIU Preview | 2013 FIU Offense
- 2013 FIU Defense | 2013 FIU Depth Chart

What You Need To Know: The Florida International defense was a big disappointment in 2012. Coordinator Josh Conklin and the new staff of assistants are on board to make sure that a new trend is started in 2013. The coaches do not have an easy job, inheriting a unit moving forward without its two best players, NFL Draft picks Johnathan Cyprien and Tourek Williams. The Panthers are athletic and speedy, which is code for raw. They've got potential up front, with the likes of DE Giovani Francois and DT Greg Hickman, but the linebackers are undeniably green. Above all else, Conklin wants to transform his team's speed into more money plays and fewer red-zone touchdowns allowed. FIU was toothless with its back to the end zone last fall, and were tied for 91st nationally in takeaways. A program with so many feisty athletes must do a better job of picking off throws and stripping balls for fumbles.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Sam Miller, 62
Sacks: Giovani Francois, 4.5
Interceptions: Sam Miller, Greg Hickman, 1

Star of the defense: Junior CB Richard Leonard
Player who has to step up and become a star:Senior DE Paul Crawford
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Patrick Jean
Best pro prospect: Leonard
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Leonard, 2) Senior DT Greg Hickman, 3) Junior DE Giovani Francois
Strength of the defense: Team speed, cornerbacks, run defense
Weakness of the defense: Linebackers, safeties, takeaways, red-zone D

Defensive Line

Senior DT Greg Hickman will really need to step up his level of play this fall, especially now that two veteran tackles and all-star Tourek Williams are no longer around to help apply pressure. The 6-2, 280-pound Hickman has been a steady performer throughout his career, starting 13 games, but spectacular has escaped him up to this point. A year ago, he had 30 tackles, nine stops for loss, a couple of sacks, a pick and two forced fumbles. His numbers were decent, but Williams will no longer be around to deflect attention from opposing linemen.

Next to Hickman on the interior will either be 6-3, 310-pound sophomore Darrian Dyson or 6-5, 295-pound senior Isame Faciane. Dyson is extremely strong, with a bright future, despite making just three tackles in four games last year. Faciane missed the spring, but leads all Panthers' defenders with 18 career starts. He's looking to bounce back after his production dipped in 2012 to 29 tackles, 5.5 stops for loss and a sack.

The new veteran on the outside will be enormous senior Paul Crawford, the owner of three letters and four career starts. The 6-8, 275-pound has the long arms to disrupt the vision of opposing quarterbacks, yet made just 18 tackles, 2.5 stops for loss and 1.5 sacks in 2012.

Taking a lead on the other side is 6-1, 250-pound junior Giovani Francois, who's looking to build on a breakout season in 2012. Despite missing a game and exclusively coming off the bench, he still notched 32 tackles, 5.5 stops for loss and 4.5 sacks, good for No. 2 on the team. He's very quick off the ball, uses his hands well and pursues the ball with all of the tenacity of, well, a panther.

Behind Hickman is 6-4, 280-pound sophomore Fadol Brown, a two-game starter as a rookie. He chipped in eight tackles, two stops for loss and 1.5 sacks, getting his feet wet at the college level.

Watch Out For .... Francois to create a buzz in Conference USA circles. His get-off, determination and pad level are going to cause fits for opposing tackles who'll have seen little film on No. 9. The junior has a very high ceiling, which he'll begin to approach in the fall.
Strength: Winning at the point of attack. Sure, life won't get any easier without Williams around, but the Panthers remain confident in their ability to beat the other guy off the snap. Last year's squad ranked second in the Sun Belt in run defense, yielding less than four yards a carry, and were third in sacks.
Weakness: Consistency. Too often last year, FIU was erratic, showing up big one week and disappearing the next Saturday. It wasn't until the second half of the year that the Panthers found their groove, stuffing the run and attacking the pocket with regularity. The line must build on that effort in September, carrying it right through to December.
Outlook: Williams, a sixth-round pick of the San Diego Chargers, will certainly be missed. But the cupboard isn't empty in the trenches. Hickman is pointing toward his best season in Miami, and Francois is a budding star. If Faciane is healthy and Crawford gets out of the blocks are priorities, the Panthers will be testy along the D-line in 2013.
Rating: 4.5


The new-look Panthers linebackers are starting over following the loss of three starters to graduation. Bucking to become the new figurehead on the second level is 6-3, 205-pound Patrick Jean. The sophomore has had an outstanding offseason thus far, consistently turning the heads of the coaching staff. He had four tackles in five games in 2012, but will emerge as a defensive leader the way he flies all over the field.

Taking control of strongside is 6-2, 220-pound sophomore Luis Rosado, who was limited to just a single game last season. While he'll need to prove it once games begin, he's proven in practice to have the kind of range and instincts that the new coaching is looking for at the position.

As spring closed, 6-1, 200-pound sophomore Davison Collmon was out ahead in the race to win the job at weakside. Like his peers, he has limited experience, yet has garnered attention with his athleticism, both in run defense and as a pass defender.

Senior Derrick Jones, Jr. has moved from cornerback to compete with Collmon at weakside. The 6-0, 200-pounder has appeared in 13 career games, peaking as a rookie in 2009 with nine tackles.

The staff is eager for the return of 6-0, 220-pound senior Markeith Russell, who did not play last season. He's the most experienced—and biggest member of the unit—appearing in 31 career games and earning two starts over the span of three years.

Watch Out For .... Jean to instantly stand out on a unit that's pining for some leadership. The sophomore, who turned down Louisville to play for FIU, has been hard to miss since the end of last year, displaying great speed, leadership and want-to.
Strength: Range. Small, fast and attacking from every possible angle—it's the way Florida International likes its linebackers to be constructed. Sure, there make-up will cause problems against the run, but the Panthers will be plenty feisty as pass rushers and pass defenders.
Weakness: Talent and depth. Jean is going to bloom very quickly in the fall, but it says plenty about a unit when its new cover boy has barely played a down at the college level. The Panthers will do a lot of learning and a lot of chasing in 2013.
Outlook: The Panthers will grow up together this fall, learning on the fly and shuffling the lineup from time to time. They figure to be a liability against the run, bowing to physical Conference USA teams that grind out plays in a north-south fashion. The linebackers have potential, much of which won't truly become noticeable until 2014.
Rating: 5

Defensive Backs

The veteran among the Golden Panthers' defensive backs will be senior CB Sam Miller, who's coming off his best season with the program. An aggressive defender, both against the run and the pass, he was third on the team with 62 stops, adding four stops for loss, two sacks and five pass breakups. Miller started just six games in 2012, yet figures to play a far more expanded role this season. The 5-10, 180-pounder has earned three letters, and will be looking to bring an identity to an underachieving secondary that's going to miss current NFL safety Johnathan Cyprien.

Miller will be pairing up with one of the budding stars of the defense, 5-10, 170-pound CB Richard Leonard. The junior has started showing signs of becoming the Panthers' best pass defender. He's a terrific all-around athlete, with the hips and the closing speed to emerge as a lockdown defender before very long. Leonard started six games in 2012, and finished with 55 tackles and seven pass breakups.

The impossible task of replacing Cyprien at strong safety will belong to either 6-2, 210-pound sophomore Demarkus Perkins or 6-0, 190-pound senior Terrance Taylor. Perkins has ideal size and aggressiveness for the position, a former JUCO transfer who started two games at linebacker and made 11 stops in 2012. Taylor started three games at corner late in the year before getting injured, but was only marginally effective.

After starting four games a year ago, junior Justin Halley is set to take over free safety on a full-time basis. The athletic 6-2, 195-pounder was ninth on the team with 33 stops, chipping in four pass breakups.

Watch Out For .... Leonard to develop into one of the top playmakers and pass defenders in Conference USA. The junior has dynamic athletic qualities, the likes of which often result in turnovers and game-changing plays. He is the most exciting player on the Florida International squad.
Strength: The corners. In Miller and Leonard, the Panthers boast a pair of players with starting experience. Miller is a savvy senior ready to deliver his best season with the program, and Leonard is on the tarmac, with a possible NFL career in his future.
Weakness: The safeties. The Florida International safeties are middling entering 2013, with indecision at strong safety. The position will look even worse this year when held up against a 2012 crew that included Cyprien and steady veteran Chuck Grace.
Outlook: Look out for Leonard, who's about to pick up some of the slack left by the graduation of Cyprien, a second-round selection of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He's a fast riser, but he's also surrounded by a lot of journeymen who do not share his exciting trajectory. Skilled opposing passers will have few problems solving the Florida International secondary in 2013.
Rating: 5

Special Teams

The Panthers must replace their kicker, punter and long snapper, so special teams will be in a state of flux this offseason. After spending last season learning from Jack Miller, redshirt freshman Sergio Sroka, a former walk-on is poised to take over as the new placekicker.

Another redshirt freshman, Chris Ayers, is being tasked with the team's punting duty. He ran uncontested during spring practice, but that situation could change once rookies join the fray in the summer.

As many as a half-dozen players will contend in the return game this summer. Sophomore Richard Leonard is sure to be a prominent figure after he returned a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown last season.

Watch Out For… QB Jake Medlock to test his leg strength from time to time in the fall. Ayers is the guy, but if he struggles, Medlock showed in the spring that he's capable of popping of 45-yarders if needed.
Strength: Leonard. The sophomore showed last season that he's one of the most explosive Panthers on the roster. He operates with sub-4.4 speed and just enough wiggle to make one man miss before bolting toward the end zone.
Weakness: The legs. There'll be a lot of sleepless night for special teams coach Kevin Wolthausen as he attempts to prepare a couple of green rookies for action. With Sroka and Ayers, the staff will have absolutely no idea what to expect once the lights go on and the stadium is packed with fans.
Outlook: On special teams, the Panthers have Leonard … and a whole lot of question marks. Sroka and Ayers are sure to go through the usual growing pains of freshmen, while the coverage teams continue to be hit-or-miss. If neither of the specialists proves ready, the impact will be felt by both the offense and the defense.
Rating: 5

- 2013 FIU Preview | 2013 FIU Offense
- 2013 FIU Defense | 2013 FIU Depth Chart