2014 FIU Preview: What You Need To Know

Posted Jun 9, 2014

Preview 2014 - What You Need To Know About Florida International

2014 FIU Preview

What You Need To Know...

- 2014 Florida International Preview 
2014 Depth Chart & Unit Rankings To Come This Summer

What You Need To Know About The Offense: The good news? It would be nearly impossible for the Golden Panthers to be feebler than they were a year ago. Florida International averaged in a game, 9.8 points, what awful teams did in a half. The team was necrotic in every possible phase, so there's no area of the two-deep that doesn't need to be addressed. While no single individual is capable of transforming the unit on his own, QB E.J. Hilliard could be a difference-maker if he evolves up to the staff's expectations. While undeveloped as a passer, his ability to improvise when a play breaks down lends hope to the offense as a whole. The backfield is experienced, led by Lamarq Caldwell and Silas Spearman III, but the receivers are thin after emerging TE Jonnu Smith. The O-line is yet another concern area. After getting handled at the point of attack in 2013, FIU is counting on veterans Donald Senat and David Delsoin to initiate improvement in 2014.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: As bad as the Florida International offense was in 2013, the D was almost equally as ineffective. The Panthers gave up 37 points per game, and now must replace their two best linemen, Greg Hickman and Isame Faciane. The season ahead does not look promising. Yeah, Josh Conklin's defense harbors plenty of experienced players, especially in the defensive backfield, but no amount of reps will help this team shut down some of the more potent offenses in Conference USA. Conklin and the rest of the assistants are banking on team speed, veteran leadership and a couple of timely transfers to help FIU approach respectability in 2014. The D-line is getting an infusion of talent from West Virginia and Buffalo in DE Imarjaye Albury and DE Wonderful Monds II, respectively. Albury and Monds must do more than letter this fall. Both need to crack the rotation and impact a front that's going to struggle to hold the line of scrimmage.

Players You Need To Know

1. TE Jonnu Smith, Soph.
Smith was a revelation in his first season of action. The fact that he was so good, so early has the coaching staff excited about his future in Miami. Smith arrived out of Ocala, Fla. as a wiry athlete without a defined position. He ended his debut season as an All-Conference USA honorable mention pick. The 6-2, 225-pounder caught a team-high 39 passes for 388 yards and two touchdowns, highlighted by a 10-catch effort in the Nov. 2 loss to East Carolina.

2. S Justin Halley, Sr.
Halley was among the most consistent Panther defenders a year ago, a role he'll reprise in 2014. He was second on the team with 53 stops, while leading the way in pass defense with three interceptions and 11 passes defended. At 6-3 and 200 pounds, Halley has the length to combat taller wide receivers or tight ends in pass coverage. Florida International's version of a dual-threat is also a successful model during the offseason.

3. CB Richard Leonard, Sr.
Leonard was missed in 2013, by the defense and special teams, after being declared academically ineligible. Prior to going on the shelf, he showed flashes of becoming a dynamite playmaker, with the speed and the hips to impact the game in myriad ways. In 2012, the speedy 5-9, 170-pounder had 55 tackles and seven pass breakups, while returning a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns. Leonard will be a welcome addition this fall for a program that missed his skill set.

4. WR T.J. Lowder, Jr.
Lowder emerged last season into Florida International's most dangerous weapon on the outside, catching 24 passes for 307 yards and three touchdowns. He benefitted from an offseason of getting stronger and seeking the counsel of former Panther star T.Y. Hilton. Now, the 5-11, 180-pound Lowder must learn to rely on more than just his 4.4 speed, which is his best attribute. If he becomes a better student of the game, and gets more help from the rest of the offense, his production will quickly go north.

5. QB E.J. Hilliard, Jr.
Veteran Jake Medlock opted to transfer to FCS Valdosta State. The offense is now the undisputed domain of Hilliard, who has lettered as a backup and part-time starter in each of his first two seasons. In 2013, he supplanted Medlock late in the year to finish 77-of-132 for 775 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. The athletic, 6-3, 185-pound Hilliard can elude pocket pressure, but he still has a long way to go as a reliable distributor through the air.

6. RB Lamarq Caldwell, Jr.
Caldwell is aiming to once again be the feature back of a pro-style offense that covets his north-south style of running. A year ago, he led the Panthers with 504 yards and a touchdown on 144 yards, often absorbing contact shortly after taking the handoff. At 6-0 and 215 pounds, Caldwell possesses the size and the strength to break tackles, pick up yards after contact and shoulder the load on the ground with 20 carries a game.

7. OT David Delsoin, Sr.
Anchoring a wildly inconsistent O-line will be Delsoin, the veteran of the unit. He's started 16 career games, including all 12 a season ago. The senior's versatility has afforded him a chance to play some on the inside, but his long arms and 6-6, 305-pound frame make him a better fit at left tackle. Delsoin must become a more commanding presence for an offensive line that allowed more sacks than all but one FBS team last fall.

8. CB Randy Harvey, Sr.
Harvey was a positive addition for the Panthers in 2013, his first since transferring from Santa Rosa (Calif.) Junior College. The hyperactive Oakland native filled a need after starter Richard Leonard was declared academically ineligible, making 40 tackles and four pass breakups. While Harvey is only 5-8 and 170 pounds, he compensates with a feisty demeanor and tremendous short-area explosion. He's a natural playmaker that the staff hopes to mold into a more consistent performer.

9. DE Michael Wakefield, Jr.
A year after ranking 113th nationally in sacks, the Panthers must find a way to generate more pressure this season. Wakefield will be counted on to lead the charge this fall. In his return to defensive end, following a brief stint at linebacker, the 6-3, 245-pounder registered 34 tackles, six stops for loss, two sacks and two fumble recoveries. Florida International needs to see more of the player who schooled the Maryland offensive line in last year's opener.

10. LB Luis Rosado, Jr.
Rosado is in line to start for the Panthers this season at middle linebacker. He laid the ground floor for a productive second-half to his career by tying for fifth on the team with 44 tackles. Rosado has bulked up to 6-2 and 225 pounds over the past two years, yet he's maintained his lateral quickness and range. He'll be an integral piece of the run defense puzzle for a unit that yielded a whopping 5.3 yards per carry in 2013.

- 2014 Florida International Preview