2008 Florida International Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 27, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Florida International Golden Panther Defense

FIU Golden Panthers

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN FIU Preview | 2009 FIU Offense
- 2009 FIU Defense | 2009 FIU Depth Chart
- 2008 FIU Preview | 2007 FIU Preview | 2006 FIU Preview

What you need to know:
The potential is there for the defense to be among the Sun Belt’s best if someone of note emerges on the defensive front. Wholesale changes are being made on the line that was good last year, but never got to the quarterback. The linebacking corps could be strong with Scott Bryant a good all-star on the weakside and Tyler Clawson a decent veteran in the middle. Anthony Gaitor stepped up big-time as a top cover-corner last year and should be among the Sun Belt’s best this season. With Ashlyn Parker back from a knee injury and Jeremiah Weatherspoon back in the mix, the safeties go from a problem to a possible strength.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Scott Bryant, 89
Sacks: Toronto Smith, 2.5
Interceptions: Anthony Gaitor, 5

Star of the defense: Junior CB Anthony Gaitor
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DE Reginald Jones
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Aaron Davis
Best pro prospect: Gaitor
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Gaitor, 2) LB Scott Bryant, 3) FS Ashlyn Parker
Strength of the defense: Back seven quickness, Gaitor and Bryant
Weakness of the defense: Defensive line experience, pass rusher

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Senior Reggie Jones was supposed to be a key pass rusher last year but was hurt in the second game of the season and was out for the year after making four tackles with a sack. At 6-2, and 256 pounds he’s built like a linebacker, but he has a good burst and should get the first look at one end. He’ll be expected to be the team’s best pass rusher.

On the other side is Armond Willis, a 6-2, 232-pound senior who was a nice reserve making 31 tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss. While he’s not all that big, he’s fast and should be more of a factor once he gets the regular starting job. He’s been good when he’s gotten a chance.

Trying to clog things up on the inside is Jonas Murrell, a big, a way too big, 6-2, 340-pound senior who made 12 tackles as a space-eater. He’s not going to do much to get into the backfield and his weight is always going to be an issue, but he’s a big body who’ll be strong against the run for spurts.

Working on the nose will be Jonathan Nieves after seeing a little bit of starting time last year and finishing with seven tackles. While not huge at 6-1 and 266 pounds, the sophomore has a good base and is very active. He’ll need to be part of a rotation, but he can hold his own.

Projected Top Reserves: In the rotation at one end will be Cody Pellicer, a promising 6-5, 220-pound speed rusher who wasn’t healthy last year and ended up redshirting. He’s not going to be a regular up front because of his size, but the high school defensive tackle is tough and strong with a good burst on the outside. He made two sacks and seven tackles in a limited role in 2007.

Artis Warthen was supposed to grow into a starter at one end but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Last year he was able to see time in every game, but he only finished with nine tackles and no sacks. The 6-2, 243-pound senior is a former linebacker with good quickness, but he’ll have to shine early on to see playing time in the rotation.

Looking to become a key factor on the inside behind Jonas Murrell will be Andre Pound, a 6-3, 295-pound redshirt freshman who has future anchor written all over him. He’s a former offensive lineman with good athleticism and big-time upside.

Watch Out For ... a few players to come from out of nowhere to shine. This will be a work in progress, a major work in progress, and there will be plenty of chances for at least one young star to shine through. Now, who will that be?
Strength: Quickness. There wasn’t enough of a pass rush last year with just 18 sacks, but there were plenty of plays in the backfield and that’s not going to slow down now. The ends have a nice burst and the tackles, other than Jonas Murrell, have upside.
Experience. All four starters are gone and there isn’t anyone who’ll absolutely, positively be a sure-thing star. The line was decent last season, and now it’s starting from scratch.
Outlook: The line wasn’t bad last year by Sun Belt standards and was great at getting into the backfield to come up with tackles for loss. Now the front four has to start over with all four starters gone. However, there’s plenty of quickness and athleticism, surprisingly decent depth, at least compared to the starters, and lots of upside.
Rating: 4.5


Projected Starters: Senior Scott Bryant has been a tackling machine over the last two seasons leading the team in both years making 91 stops in 2007 and 89 last year to go along with 7.5 tackles for loss. He’s only 5-11 and 224 pounds, but he’s tough, doesn’t have a problem holding up against big blockers, and gets in on every tackle. While he’s a great playmaker against the run from the weakside, earning honorable mention All-Sun Belt honors, he doesn’t do much against the pass.

Back in the middle will by Tyler Clawson, a smallish 6-1, 224-pound hitter who finished with just 49 tackles despite starting every game. He’s a smart, tough defender who won’t put up big numbers, even though he plays on the inside, and he’s not going to come up with many big plays. However, the senior has enough experience to be steadier.

Starting on the strongside, and bringing some size to the mix, is Aaron Davis, a 6-1, 245-pound sophomore who made eight tackles in his limited role. With his size and tackling ability, he should quickly become one of the team’s biggest stat-sheet fillers and he can be used a big as a pass rusher. He could be moved to the middle if needed.

Manning the middle will be 5-8, 211-pound sparkplug Mannie Wellington after making 57 tackles. He might not be all that big, but he can fly from sideline-to-sideline with sub-4.6 speed to go along with tremendous strength. With his wheels, he needs to be better at getting into the backfield on a regular basis.

There will be a battle for the strongside job, but the most talented option will be 5-11, 225-pound junior Mike Dominguez. The starter early on, he was suspended for a game and didn't get his starting job back until late in the year. Even so, he finished second on the team with 66 stops along with a sack and three tackles for loss.

Projected Top Reserves: How fast can “Pooh Bear” mature? Larvez “Pooh Bear” Mars is a 5-11, 210-pound superstar recruit who might be too good to not see time right away. He had his pick of several decent schools like Kentucky, South Florida and Cincinnati and has the big time talent to be a major factor. While he’s undersized, he can hit.

Junior Toronto Smith walked on to the team and made 51 tackles with seven tackles for loss as a key backup in 2007, and now he’s the leading returning sacker even though he came up with just 2.5. He made 41 stops as a key backup on the inside, and while he’s too small at 5-10 and 216 pounds, he’s tough.

6-2, 210-pound junior Jarvis Wilson got plenty of work thrown to the wolves as a true freshman making 16 tackles in a part-time role, and last year he came up with 20 tackles. The brother of former Miami star Kenny Phillips might be built like a safety, but he’s effective on the weakside behind Jarvis Wilson. He could be moved to the strongside from time to time.

Watch Out For ... Davis. His size is desperately needed for the smallish linebacking corps and he could be used in a variety of ways. He might not be an all-star, but he’s a decent prospect who could breakout in his sophomore season.
Strength: Veteran options. Bryant is overdue to be considered among the Sun Belt’s best linebackers and Clawson is a nice veteran for the inside. There are good backups to be excited about and a potential superstar in Pooh Bear coming in.
Size. This group can move, but it always has problems against teams that want to pound away. There isn’t enough production from the linebackers as a whole on the FIU defense; the defensive backs end up making way too many plays.
Outlook: After the disaster that was 2007 the linebacking corps became a relative bright spot at times. Scott Bryant is a two-year star to work around, while there are good veterans and prospects to form a good rotation at all three spots. Power teams will be able to run all over the smallish defenders, but there will be plenty of plays made in the backfield.
Rating: 5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: The secondary made a night-and-day improvement anchored around the 5-10, 175-pound Anthony Gaitor at one corner. The junior has been a starter for the last two years and he’s been a great ball-hawk making 56 tackles as a true freshman and following it up with a 44-tackle, five interception season with 11 broken up passes. He’s a terrific open-field tackler for his size and he’s a pure No. 1 cover-corner who emerged as a major-league playmaker last season on his way to first-team All-Sun Belt honors.

Senior Dezeriah Johnson was expected to be the starter at one corner last season but he ended up being a key backup, special teamer and nickel back finishing with 48 tackles with four tackles for loss. While he didn’t do too much against the pass, that could quickly change. At 6-1 and 182 pounds, he has good size now that he has bulked up a bit, but he has to prove he can handle getting picked on with teams staying away from Gaitor.

Former wide receiver Ashlyn Parker stepped in at free safety making 56 tackles in 2007, but he suffered a knee injury early last year and took a redshirt. The 6-0, 204-pound junior has earned Sun Belt honors and should be healthy enough to be a key playmaker again. He has good speed and will be all over the field, but he’s not a huge hitter and will need to do more against the pass.

Working at strong safety will be Jeremiah Weatherspoon, a 6-2, 220-pound senior with excellent size and good tackling ability making 41 tackles with an interception. He was a key playmaker two years ago making 50 stops but missed the entire 2007 season. Used as a kick returner at times, he has good speed and is like a fourth linebacker with his tackling ability.

Projected Top Reserves: 5-10, 191-pound junior Kreg Brown walked on to the team and became a key special teamer and spot starter. He became a major factor last year making 47 tackles with three broken up passes showing good range and toughness working at strong safety.

The understudy behind Gaitor, and a good prospect for the other side, will be Emmanuel Souarin, a 5-11, 175-pound redshirt freshman who was a nice recruit for the program and has tremendous speed. He’s too good an athlete and too strong a prospect not to see the field in some way.

Watch Out For ... teams to stay away from Gaitor like the plague. He has too good a reputation to be tested, which means Dezeriah Johnson will get picked on early and often.
Strength: Production. Yeah, the stats are a wee bit misleading with most teams running on the front seven and avoiding the pass, but the secondary really was decent. Gaitor and Parker are strong, and Weatherspoon is overdue for a tremendous season.
Proven backups. Brown is a good one and there’s decent upside in Souarin, but there isn’t much to count on right away if there’s a rash of injuries. Developing a regular rotation will be job one early on.
Outlook: There’s good experience and by far this is the most talent FIU secondary in the last several seasons. Anthony Gaitor is a special corner and Ashlyn Parker is a good free safety who should be on the verge of all-star honors. Thanks to Gaitor there will be plenty of picks, but teams will stay away from him meaning the rest of the secondary will have to step up and produce.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Senior Dustin Rivest wasn’t great, but he was able to nail five field goals against Arkansas State. However, he only connected on seven against everyone else and finished with 12-of-19 field goals. He has a decent leg that tops out at around 45 yards.

With Carlos Munera gone after a good year averaging 41.1 yards per kick with 20 put inside the 20 and 21 forced fair catches, true freshman Jack Griffin has to step in and take over. If he can’t handle the work, Rivest will have to try out his punting skills.  

Receiver T.Y. Hilton turned into a tremendous all-around return man averaging 14.8 yards per punt and 23.4 yards per kickoff return. Corner Anthony Gaitor can see time returning kicks, too.

Watch Out For ... FIU to get great field position time and again with teams staying away from Hilton. He’s too good to not be avoided at all costs.
Strength: The return game. Hilton is among the best in the country and Gaitor isn’t all that far off if he was able to see a little bit of time returning kicks. FIU should be among the best in the Sun Belt here.
Punting experience. There’s nothing the team can count on right away. If Griffin isn’t great, there will be an open casting call for the punting job.
Outlook: There are some good aspects to the special teams, like T.Y. Hilton as a returner, and Dustin Rivest isn’t a bad placekicker, but the punt coverage team hasn’t been special for a few years and the punting game is a major question mark.
Rating: 6