With two months till the season opener at Tulane, let’s take a position-by-position look at the Panthers, heading into Fall camp.
Today, we’ll look at the offensive line unit. The group took a major step forward, becoming one of the best overall in Conference USA. Now, they’re tasked with replacing multiple starters.
All stats listed are for the 2018 season. Projected starter(s) are listed in bold.
Returning: Dallas Connell: (Sr.)- 6-3, 300, Started 12 games
Shane McGough: (R-Jr.)- 6-2, 302, Appeared in 13 games with nine starts
Devontay Taylor: (R-Jr.)- 6-4, 305, Appeared in 12 games
Shacquille Williams: (R-Sr.)- 6-5, 310, Appeared in 10 games with four starts
Mershawn Miller: (R-Soph.)- 6-2, 313, Appeared in three games
D’Antne Demery: (Jr.)- 6-5. 310, Appeared in 11 games with 10 starts
Tahj Brighthaupt: (Jr.)- 6-7, 387, Did not play
Lyndell Hudson Jr.: (R-Fr.)- 6-6, 300, Did not play
Jason Jean: (R-Sr.)- 6-4, 290, Did not play
Newcomers: Shamar Hobdy-Lee: (Fr.)- 6-5, 290, Three-star recruit
Henry Omu: (Jr.)- 6-8, 295 Transfer (Atlanta Sports Academy)
Sione Finau: (Fr.)- 6-3, 300 Three-star recruit
Danny Corbett: (Jr.)- 6-5, 305 Transfer (Butler Community College)
Antonio Serrano: (Fr.)- 6-2, 295 Preferred Walk-on
Julius Pierce: (Fr.)- 6-5, 265, Three-star recruit
Logan Gunderson: (So.)- 6-5, 318. Transfer (ASA College)
Heading into Fall: Yes, the unit lost four members to graduation.
However, given the fact that FIU routinely used 8-9 offensive linemen per contest, there’s multiple returning players who all saw significant time last year.
Now, the question is, who are going to be the other linemen who step into the rotation?
A great starting point for the Panthers is center Dallas Connell. The senior has been praised by coaches for being a relentless worker, spending hours working on his snaps after a bad practice, or by leading film sessions.
Summary: After Connell, the unit will led by veteran guard Shane McGough and left tackle D’Antne Demery.
McGough made a significant jump last season, working his way from backup center/guard, to a starting right guard spot, while Demery was noted by coaches as having made the biggest improvement during last season from a mental and physical perspective.
Devontay Taylor is a talented athlete, who should be the starting right tackle on opening day. Both he and McGough are players that are expected make significant strides in 2019.
A factor that played a part in the success of the unit was an emphasis on scouting the most frequent looks that opposing defenses would give them, rather than trying to account for a team’s entire defensive package.
That, along with the differences in blocking mechanics that Rich Skrosky prioritizes, compared to more traditional ways of teaching line play have helped the unit.
Another unique thing about FIU is the amount of linemen they play. This is where the newcomers, and returning players who didn’t see much time last season, come into play.
Mershawn Miller lost a majority of his season to being injured in a drive-by shooting, but will be a part of the rotation in 2019.
JUCO transfer Logan Gunderson was highly-regarded coming from ASA College in Fort Lauderdale. He’s spent time at tackle and guard in the spring.
Beyond that, positions are wide open. Transfer Danny Corbett is the most experienced of the bunch, while freshmen Shamar Hobdy-Lee and Sione Finau were both three-star recruits.
Juniors Tahj Brighthaupt and Henry Omu are massive players, both standing 6-7, but both lack experience. Julius Pierce is an exceptional athlete for the offensive line, having played tight end and line in high school, but is still a raw prospect.
Position Grade: B - The unit was a major factor in the team’s nine-win 2018 season. After giving up 23 sacks the season prior, they allowed only eight, which helped FIU become one of the top offenses in the conference.
On the flip-side, FIU ranked 117th in rushing marginal efficiency, but ninth in rushing marginal explosiveness.
In layman’s terms, what that means is the run game in 2018 was either boom or bust. Now, with Skrosky’s offense prioritizing staying “on schedule,” during drives, a one-yard gain isn’t a bad play.
However, with the talent of the running backs behind the line, there’s potential big plays via the run game, at a higher consistency.
The biggest key will be how quickly the rotation can come together.
Expect Miller, Gunderson, and Corbett to fill out the group. Omu is an intriguing prospect, but may not be ready yet. Hudson Jr. is another player to watch.
Of the freshmen, Finau is the one who’s most ready, if needed.
Luckily, the offensive line room isn’t short on talent. Having JUCO transfers should make for a smooth transition to build on last year’s success.
By the end of the season, this unit could easily be one of the best in the conference for a second straight year.