2010 FIU Preview - Defense
FIU S Jonathan Cyprien
FIU S Jonathan Cyprien
Posted Jul 14, 2010

Preview 2010 Florida International Golden Panthers Defense

FIU Golden Panthers

Preview 2010 - Defense

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- 2010 FIU Defense | 2010 FIU Depth Chart
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What You Need To Know: The defense should've been far better, but injuries, no consistency, and problems against the run led to a disastrous season finishing second-to-last in the nation in yards allowing 492 yards per game and over 35 points per outing. On talent and athleticism, FIU has the potential to have among the best defenses in the Sun Belt, but all the parts have to be there. Defensive coordinator Geoff Collins has tremendous options in the secondary to play around with helped by the return of safety Ashlyn Parker from injury and with CB Anthony Gaitor and FS Jonathan Cyprien among the league's best players. Only one starter returns to the front seven, but there's a boatload of young playmakers led by LB Winston Fraser and DE Tourek Williams, who'll help the Golden Panthers get into the backfield on a regular basis. However, this isn't a huge defense and it has to be far, far better against the run.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jonathan Cyprien, 78
Sacks: Toronto Smith, 3.5
Interceptions: Anthony Gaitor, 2

Star of the defense: Senior CB Anthony Gaitor
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore DT Kasey Smith
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Winston Fraser
Best pro prospect: Sophomore FS Jonathan Cyprien
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Gaitor, 2) Cyprien, 3) LB Toronto Smith
Strength of the defense: Athleticism, Promising Depth
Weakness of the defense: Run Defense, Lack Of Upperclassmen

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The defensive front needs a new star who can get into the backfield on a regular basis, and sophomore Tourek Williams appears to be it. At 6-4 and 255 pounds, he's a tall, athletic local prospect who saw a little time in his true freshman season making 28 tackles with a sack and five tackles for loss. Great on special teams, he also had enough of a burst to block two kicks. He's expected to shine on the end after a terrific offseason.

6-1, 230-pound junior James Jones was a spot starter, getting the call three times, but he only made seven tackles with two half sacks. He's being given the opportunity on the end, and now the former running back has the potential to be a pass rushing specialist. Still growing into the job, he has to prove he can stop the run.

At 6-3 and 275 pounds, sophomore Kasey Smith is one of the biggest bodies in the interior. Expected to be a dangerous inside playmaker right away, but he didn't get into the backfield in his little bit of time finishing with 12 tackles. Active, his worth needs to be as an interior pass rusher as well as a tough run stopper. While not a true anchor, he needs to be the type of player that makes opposing offenses worry.

Working on the nose is Joshua Forney , a 6-4, 265-pound sophomore who's a bit undersized weight-wise for the position and a bit too tall to get consistent leverage. A pass rusher coming out of high school, he came up with a half a tackle for loss along with four stops in his little bit of time, but he needs to show he can hold the middle of the line and let everyone else operate. He's not built like an anchor.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Jarvis Wilson was a key part of the rotation last year making 35 tackles with 4.5 tackles for loss. A linebacker by trade, he bulked up to 235 pounds on a 6-2 frame, and now he'll be used as a pass rusher on the outside. The brother of former Miami Hurricane star safety Kenny Phillips, he's a terrific athlete who'll be used in a variety of ways.

Coming over from Hutchinson Community College, 6-3, 270-pound senior Thatcher Starling turned out to be one of the team's most productive reserves making 24 tackles with three sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss seeing time in every game. Combining with Joshua Forney on the nose, he's expected to play a bigger role and be in the starting mix as one of the better interior pass rushers up front. Active and always working, he should be a strong leader for the inside.

6-3, 285-pound sophomore Andre Pound is the biggest lineman in the mix, and he could end up being the tackle everything works around before his career is up. The former offensive lineman has good athleticism and tremendous upside, but he needs more time after working as a backup making four tackles in nine games of action. He'll start out in a rotation with Kasey Smith.

Watch Out For … the sophomores inside. Smith and Forney are still working on getting more polished and more experienced, but they're the future of the line … and the present. Starling might end up starting, but if the sophomores aren't great, the line isn't going to be better against the run.
Strength: Quickness. Getting into the backfield from all four spots isn't going to be a problem. By design, everyone is supposed to make plays behind the line, and while the back seven does its part, the front four should come up with several tackles for loss.
Weakness: Stopping the run. This isn't the biggest of lines and there aren't a slew of massive bodies for the interior. The run defense got shoved around way too easily, allowing 233 yards per game, and the hope is for the young prospects to shine with more work.
Outlook: The line was great at being active and for getting behind the line, but it was tissue paper to run through. All the top starters are gone and there will be some concerns about finding the right combination, but this could be a half step back to take a leap forward. It might take a little bit, but with six sophomores playing key roles, the hope is for everyone to mature in a hurry.
Unit Rating: 4.5


Projected Starters: Able to play inside or out, senior Toronto Smith finished fifth on the team with 50 tackles while tying for the team lead with 3.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss with an interception. At 5-11 and 225 pounds, he's a bit smallish for the middle but he has great quickness and is good at getting to the ball in a hurry. He'll need to be a steadying force for the corps.

6-0, 215-pound sophomore Kenny Dillard saw a little bit of time in eight games but only made two tackles. A natural pass rusher, he has the burst to get to the quarterback on a regular basis from the outside with sub-4.5 speed, and he's a tough tackler who won't miss many stops in the open field. He's a perfect fit for the defense and he should be able to pick up the slack with the loss of leading tackler, Scott Bryant.

Working in the middle will be Winston Fraser , who was supposed to be the starter from Day One last year, but he suffered a neck injury and only ended up playing in six games. However, he made 28 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss showing a little bit of the promise that made him such a big recruit. At 6-1 and 230 pounds, he's a big player who's almost certain to be one of the team's top tacklers. The sophomore came back from the injury to play in the season finale, and now he's about to blow up on the stat sheet.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Aaron Davis brings size to the inside at 6-1 and 245 pounds, and now he has to use it to be better against the run. A good tackler with enough athleticism to be used on the outside, he'll be moved around where needed after finishing third on the team with 59 tackles with 2.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. A versatile stat-sheet filler, at worst, he might be one of the Sun Belt's top backup linebackers.

Is Larvez "Pooh Bear" Mars going to live up to his prep hype (as well as his terrific nickname)? While he's only 5-11 and 210 pounds, he's built like a safety and moves like one getting offers from several decent schools like Kentucky, South Florida, and Cincinnati. While he's undersized for the middle, he has limitless range and now he has to show it off after making just six tackles. He's a big hitter who can be used all over the linebacking corps just to get him on the field.

6-1, 215-pound sophomore Markeith Russell got on the field as a true freshman and was a decent backup making 17 tackles for a tackle for loss. Working well on the outside, he got better as the season went on and game up with a great game against Florida Atlantic making seven tackles. A good open field tackler, he'll work in a rotation with Toronto Smith.

Watch Out For … the situation in the middle. Smith was good when needed on the inside, but Davis was better. Pooh Bear and Fraser are too good to not be on the field.
Strength: Again, the middle. It could be argued that FIU has the three most promising inside linebackers in the conference if everyone is healthy. Fraser, Mars, and Davis would form a nice starting trio for most Sun Belt teams.
Weakness: Proven production against the run. Everyone will get into the backfield from all three spots (athleticism is hardly a problem), but the run defense had problems with too many stops made down the field. There's too much raw talent to be that bad again.
Outlook: A disaster three years ago, the linebacking corps has slowly been working its way into being really good. After a disappointing 2009, there are several great prospect waiting to shine with five underclassmen playing huge roles. Power teams will be able to run all they want, but no one in the Sun Belt will outrun this group.
Unit Rating: 5


Projected Starters: The secondary struggled, but senior corner Anthony Gaitor earned second-team all-star honors after making 45 tackles with two interceptions and eight broken up passes. Able to get into the backfield, he made 4.5 tackles for loss. A terrific tackler over his first three seasons with 145 career stops, he's tougher than his 5-10, 185-pound size. A pure No. 1 cover corner, he takes away half the field.

Growing into one of the Sun Belt's best young players, sophomore Jonathan Cyprien came up with a great true freshman season finishing second on the team with 78 tackles with an interception. A big hitter, the 6-0, 205-pound playmaker is a great free safety against the run, but he needs to do far more when the ball is in the air. After earning Honorable Mention All-Sun Belt mention, he should be an all-star over the next three years with great leadership skills and the smarts to be all over the field in the right spot.

After making 56 tackles in 2007, senior Ashlyn Parker suffered a knee injury and redshirted the 2008 season. He saw time in one game starting the opener before getting hurt again. He made seven tackles with a sack and a broken up pass in the opener, and now the veteran strong safety is back and ready to give it another shot with 6-0, 215-pound size and good speed even with his knee problems. If he's 100%, he could be an all-star.

Senior Dezeriah Johnson started the first four games last season and came up with 22 tackles and three broken up passes before missing the rest of the season hurt. A versatile all-around defensive back, he'll get the call in a rotation at the corner on the other side of Anthony Gaitor, but he can also be a key nickel back and special teamer. At 6-1 and 190 pounds he has great size and has been around long enough to be consistent. Very fast, he has the raw tools to do more against the pass.

Projected Top Reserves: If it's not Dezeriah Johnson at corner it'll be Jose Cheesborough , a 5-9, 160-pound speedster who might not be all that big and he's not going to be all that physical, but he's feisty and can cut on a dime. He might end up being a nickel or dime defender, but he's not giving an inch in the battle for a starting corner job.

5-11, 190-pound sophomore corner Emmanuel Souarin made 19 tackles as a reserve and has the speed to do far more. A great recruit for the program in 2008, he has shown good promise, but he has to come up with plays to match up with his excellent athleticism. Staying with speed receivers won't be a problem.

Junior strong safety Chuck Grace didn't exactly come from out of nowhere, but he went from being a special teamer in the first part of his career to a spot starter who came up with a team leading seven broken up passes. The 5-11, 195-pound corner will once again work in a rotation as well as in nickel and dime packages with good ball hawking skills and the tackling ability to come up with 30 stops last year.

5-11, 195-pound senior Kreg Brown got a start against Toledo and saw plenty of action making 21 tackles with two broken up passes. The former walk-on is limited, and will mostly see time on special teams, but he's experienced enough to be a part of the rotation and see action at either safety spot. He'll mostly play strong safety.

Watch Out For … Parker. When he was right, he was emerging as a Sun Belt star with great all-around ability. He might be a half-step slower after all the injuries, but he's a smart, tough player who'll put up plenty of stats.
Strength: Options. All the injuries and all the problems of last year will pay off with several experienced prospects to work around with. Gaitor, Parker, and Cyprien are set, but there are enough good athletes to hope for more production.
Weakness: Production. The Golden Panthers were torched way too often giving up over 300 yards four times and allowing two touchdown passes or more in six of the final ten games. Even with a decent pass rush, the talent and athleticism didn't shine through.
Outlook: This could be the Sun Belt's most improved unit. With the return of Parker and the emergence of Cyprien and Gaitor as all-stars, there's a great base to work with and there's a ton of talent waiting in the wings. After finishing 108th in the nation in pass defense and 104th in pass efficiency defense, the secondary has to play up to start playing up to its talent.
Unit Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Taking over most of the kicking duties will be sophomore Jack Griffin , who'll handle the placekicking job after Dustin Rivest hit 10-of-14 shots and get a shot at taking over for Carlos Munera as the punter. Munera averaged an impressive 42.9 yards per try and put 20 inside the 20 and forced 21 fair catches.

Coming in to push for the punting job right away will be Josh Brink , an all-star from the Miami area who averaged 39.7 yards per kick for Duquesne and now will get every shot to be the main man to allow Griffin to work on the placekicking.

WR T.Y. Hilton will get the first look at the kick and punt return duties after averaging 28.8 yards per kickoff return and 12 yards on the three punt returns. He'll take over for Jason Frierson, who averaged 12.2 yards per punt try. Also returning to help out on kickoffs is Wayne Times , who might not have been as explosive as Hilton, but he was solid averaging 21.8 yards per try.

Watch Out For … Brisk. The more Griffin can work on being a steady field goal kicker, the better the special teams will be. Brisk is ready made to step in and shine right away and he'll get plenty of opportunities. FIU punted 78 times last year.
Strength: Hilton. One of the most dangerous players in the Sun Belt, he's deadly with the ball in his hands and is a threat to go the distance every time he gets a chance. He returned a kickoff 96 yards for a score last year, and he'll come up with at least one game-breaking return this year.
Weakness: Proven placekicker. The Golden Panthers has to take advantage of every scoring opportunity, and Griffin has to come through with a big year. He's a good talent who should be good with a little bit of time.
Outlook: If Griffin can be consistent and if Brisk lives up to his billing, the FIU special teams could be among the best in the Sun Belt. Thanks to Hilton, the return game is special, the coverage teams have been excellent over the last few years, and there's good potential in the young kicking game. FIU will have an advantage in most games here.
Unit Rating: 7

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