Butch Davis has been steadfast in his belief that the lack of a “normal” offseason severely hampered his football team’s chances for success in 2020. Following Friday night’s spring game, Davis was appreciative that the Panthers were able to complete an entire spring session.
“I told the players after the game that there’s nothing better than having this opportunity to go out there and play,” said Davis. “We needed it last year and we desperately needed it this year and with the exception of one practice this spring, I felt that all of them were positive.”
FIU’s offseason has been marked by the arrival of six new coaches, something that Davis notes will take time for the players to get adjusted to — and vice versa.
“We’ve got a bunch of new coaches and I think what they’re trying to teach, tonight was a great opportunity for them to see where the players are at and the players to have a chance to execute what the coaches are teaching them,” said Davis.
The scrimmage saw 10 total drives and lasted roughly 85 minutes before Davis blew the final whistle shortly after 7:30 pm. Here are five takeaways from the evening’s event.
1. QB competition
It’s no secret that identifying a starting quarterback is of the utmost emphasis for Davis, quarterbacks coach Bryn Renner and offensive coordinator Andrew Breiner. The three-man race is far from over, but Davis feels that each player has benefited from the practices.
“Max (Bortenschlager) was the starter tonight and he made some plays for us, Kaylan Wiggins at the end you really got a chance to see what he can do,” said Davis. “Haden Carlson missed the first half of all of the spring and he desperately needed those reps, but I’m very pleased with the way he’s coming along.”
Bortenschlager went 3-of-5 passing for 28 yards in his drives, but also had his penultimate drive stall out on the one-yard line. Carlson took the second-team reps and showed some flashes of his athletic ability by escaping the pocket when the protection broke down, but finished 1-of-5 passing. Wiggins took all of the final reps except for one, going 3-of-6 passing for 27 yards and used his trademark elusiveness to complete a pair of passes on the move to quarterback-turned-receiver Caleb Lynum.
Davis noted postgame that the quarterbacks are still adjusting to certain nuances that come with changes Breiner is trying to implement.
“We have three kids that I think are smart enough to pick up the new things that we’re trying to do,” said Davis. “Terminology and Schematically wise, some of the things are the same — but a lot of the things we’re trying to emphasize are totally different than the previous four years.”
2. Running Back Depth
Senior D’Vonte Price is arguably the second-best back in Conference USA, behind UTSA’s Sincere McCormick, and the case can be made that if he played as many games as the Roadrunners’ superstar, his numbers would have been comparable. With that being the case, the Panthers have emphasized getting the backs behind him significant playing time during the spring.
Price took part in the 7-on-7 warm-up session, but did not take a snap during the game. Freshmen Kejon Owens, E.J. Wilson and redshirt freshman Lexington Joseph took the bulk of the carries, with Wilson having four carries for eight yards, Owens carrying twice for 17 yards and Joseph had 16 yards on four carries.
3. Daniel Jackson
Senior linebacker Daniel Jackson is universally liked and respected by his teammates and coaches alike as one of the hardest-working and professional players on the FIU roster. Davis has been effusive in his praise of Jackson during the spring and continued in his comments after the scrimmage.
“Everybody in that locker room has an incredible amount of respect for Daniel Jackson,” said Davis. “He is as passionate about football as any player I’ve ever coached and wants to help the football team win in any way, he’s been a captain of the special teams for three years — and that’s not a vote — he earns that role.”
Jackson has been a stalwart on special teams during his entire career at FIU, but appears poised to crack the linebacker rotation and earn more snaps on defense. He remains proud of his special teams work, but also admits that he’s looking forward to earning his time on defense.
“I try to push myself so I can give the same encouragement to the guys around me, because how can I try and speak on something that I’m not doing myself,” said Jackson. “I take a lot of pride in special teams because it’s all about effort, you have a simple assignment and it’s all about how hard you want to play. Is it frustrating not to play on defense, no. Because am I doing everything I can to put the team in position to succeed and when my number is called, I’ll be ready.”
4. Tyrese Chambers
Transfer wideout Tyrese Chambers was under-recruited coming out of high school in Baltimore and under recognized at the FCS level, despite being a Jerry Rice Award finalist — the honor given to the top player in the college football Subdivision.
Since his arrival in Miami, Davis has made a point to talk about Chambers throughout the spring and rewarded the sophomore with the starting assignment at receiver in Friday’s scrimmage.
“I’ll tell you what, one of the tings you love about him is every time I picked up the phone and called him during his recruitment, he talked about going out and catching passes or running routes and that’s carried over to FIU,” said Davis.
Chambers had one catch for a first down in the early drives and also has been fielding punts as a returner during the spring.
5. Missing Names
Davis noted that the spring session might not have been “the best one I’ve ever been a part of in college, but it’s one of the better ones I’ve had at FIU.”
That may be in part to the number of key players who have missed time during the spring. Shemar Thornton, Alexy-Jean Baptiste, Rivaldo Fairweather, Teddy Richardson, Donovan Georges, Shaun Peterson Jr., Jamal Anderson, Jecoryan Davis-Hamilton, Dorian Hall and Jason Mercier were among the players who weren’t dressed for the spring game.
“We’ve had a few guys get banged up during the spring, but the positive is that we’re expecting all of them back by the time Fall camp opens,” said Davis.