Following a disappointing 6-7 campaign, FIU will open spring practice on March 16th, marking the fourth spring under head coach Butch Davis since he took over in November of 2016.
With the departure of various starters on offense due to graduation or transfer, the start of spring will certainly play a role in shaping a new-look Panther offense in 2020.
The task at hand for Davis and offensive coordinator Rich Skrosky - replacing over 70% of the rushing and 45% of the receiving output from last year - plus identifying who will be under center.
Here are my five storylines on the offensive side of the ball worth watching when the Panthers hit the field in 14 days.
5. A new FIU backfield:
It’s considered a journalistic faux pas to begin a sentence with a quote - the disclaimer given gives me a clear runway for this one.
“Obviously, you don’t expect to spend six years in college.”
That was the line given to me by Napoleon Maxwell following FIU’s senior day win over ODU.
The significance of his postgame quip - the upcoming season will mark the first time in a half-decade that Anthony Jones or Maxwell will not be a part of the Panther backfield.
Luckily for Davis and running backs coach Tim Harris Jr., there’s no shortage of talent at the position.
Who will get the next set of reps after D’Vonte Price - keep an eye on Shaun Peterson Jr. and Demarcus Townsend.
Arkansas transfer Maleek Williams had his eligibility waiver approved late last season and will be part of the rotation.
Also, Miami Central product Lexington Joseph will look to push for significant playing time after appearing in four games as a true freshman.
4. Sterling Palmer
After an excellent true freshman season that saw the Virginia native burst onto the scene and earn a spot on the C-USA All-Freshman Team, Sterling Palmer had an up-and-down sophomore season, to say the least.
He saw a significant dip in playing time and targets last season and while his sheer number of catches only decreased by four (26 to 22) - five of those receptions came in the Camellia Bowl.
With the emergence of Kamareon Williams along with David O’Meara’s role as a blocker, it will be worth watching what Palmer’s role will be going forward.
At his best, Palmer is one of the top tight ends in C-USA.
It should be noted that there are plans to use multiple tight ends in the passing game.
“Ideally, that would be the plan - to be able to go two tight (ends) at any time and be able to create that athletic mismatch. We think that would give us a huge advantage,” said tight ends coach Drew Davis.
3. Bryce Singleton
Bryce Singleton is an immensely gifted receiver - who has unfortunately been snake-bitten by injuries throughout his collegiate career.
After seeing time as a true freshman and making C-USA’s All-Freshman Team as a kick returner, he earned an increased role as a sophomore and finished fourth on the team in receptions (29) and receiving yards (368).
That year was highlighted by a one-handed grab against Florida Atlantic that made national headlines.
However, he missed time during that season due to injury, followed by being sidelined for the entire 2019 campaign.
If he is healthy - and can regain his prior form - Singleton has the potential to be one of the better receivers in the entire conference.
2. Offensive Line
Butch Davis was forceful in his affirmation that no player on the roster can call a starting spot their own following last year’s letdown.
That proclamation makes the offensive line battles all the more intriguing to watch during the spring and fall practices.
Reliable veterans Shacquille Williams and Dallas Connell have graduated, while Devontay Taylor now resides in Tallahassee with the Seminoles.
Both guard spots and right tackle will be in-play throughout the offseason.
Keep an eye on Sione Finau, Mershawn Miller and Jose Mirabal at guard. Lyndell Hudson Jr. is a name to watch at tackle. The Brooksville native had an excellent season when called upon in 2018.
Logan Gunderson is capable of playing either tackle or guard and will be in the mix at both guard and right tackle.
James Morgan has been the unquestioned leader on offense for the past two seasons.
Now, with his graduation, the quarterback competition will be worth watching all the way up until the season-opener against Jacksonville State.
Redshirt freshman Stone Norton arrived at FIU as the program’s highest-rated quarterback signee in the composite ranking era. After sitting last season, he’ll have his first real chance at earning playing time in 2020.
Kaylan Wiggins tantalized Panther fans with his dual-threat abilities as the backup last season.
The Sanford, Florida native set the program-record for rushing yards by a quarterback (187) when he filled in for an injured Morgan against New Hampshire.
Last season’s third-string signal-caller in Caleb Lynum will also have his opportunity to during the spring.
While Morgan’s production on the field will be hard to replace, his role as a well-liked leader among his teammates and in the meeting rooms will also be a void that 2020’s starting quarterback will have to assume.