With less than 45 days until the Panthers begin their season at home against FCS Long Island, here’s our look at the defensive line room in our position-by-position preview of the 2021 FIU football team.
After two seasons under Kenard Lang, the defensive line will be led by a new voice in Deke Adams, who comes to FIU following a one-year stint as defensive line coach at Ole Miss. He’s tasked with helping improve a pass rush that’s struggled to get to the quarterback over the past three seasons. In 2018, FIU ranked tenth in Conference USA with 19 sacks from the front four, 2019 saw that number dip to 17.5 and last season’s group had six in five games.
Against the run, the Panthers allowed over five yards per carry for the second consecutive year and last year’s 5.2 yards per attempt allowed is the highest the team has allowed since the final year of Ron Turner’s tenure as head coach. As a whole, opposing teams have topped 165 yards rushing 18 times in FIU’s last 31 outings.
The positive is for all of the unit’s struggles, they have recruited well across the line, return contributors from last year and the group should be bolstered by offseason additions. Let’s take a look at Adams’ defensive line room.
All stats listed are for the 2020 season unless noted. Projected starter(s) are listed in BOLD. Class year reflects NCAA eligibility rules for the 2021 season.
Returning: Kevin Oliver: (Sr.) 6-4, 243, 15 tackles with one tackle for loss
Jason Mercier: (Jr.) 6-3, 262, 19 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss
Rashad Colson: (R-Jr.) 6-5, 310, two tackles with one tackle for loss
Davon Strickland: (Soph.) 6-1, 263, 15 tackles with four tackles for loss and three sacks
Ty Danzy: (R-Fr.) 6-5, 235, zero appearances
Tevin Jones: (R-Jr.) 6-4, 240, 11 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks
Henry Omu: (R-Sr.) 6-7, 300, zero appearances
David Reynolds: (Soph.) 6-4, 245, one tackle
Shykieim Pace: (Fr.) 6-4, 220, zero appearances
KJ Reid-Jacques: (Fr.) 6-3, 215, zero appearances
Clayton Senior III: (Fr.) 6-4, 235, zero appearances
Newcomers: Hal Vinson: (Sr.) 6-1, 240, 54 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and one sack (At Texas State)
Jeramy Passmore: (R-Fr.) 6-3, 263, appeared in three games (At Indiana)
Savion Collins: (Fr.) 6-4, 290, three-star recruit, (Miami, FL — Palmetto HS)
Jordan Guerad: (Fr.) 6-3, 295, three-star recruit, (Tampa, FL — Bloomingdale HS)
Keegan Davis: (Fr.) 6-3, 235, three-star recruit, (Port St. Lucie, FL — Treasure Coast HS)
Travonte O’Neal: (Fr.) 6-3, 240, three-star recruit, (Vero Beach, FL — Vero Beach HS)
Heading into Fall: There are a lot of unknowns surrounding this group and that starts with the lack of experience. Out of the 17 defensive linemen on the roster, only six have a full season’s worth of games under their belts, and two of those (Hal Vinson, Tevin Jones) spent a significant amount of their career at linebacker. Nine of the players are either redshirt or true freshmen. Butch Davis has emphasized the need to have between a seven and nine-man defensive linemen rotation throughout his tenure at FIU and 2021 will be no different. Defensive coordinator Everett Withers has implemented a myriad of changes to the defense and while specifics have been few and far between, players have noted during the spring that it’s a more simplistic scheme than in previous years.
Vinson comes to FIU after five seasons at Texas State, three of which were spent playing for Withers during his tenure as Bobcats’ head coach. Passmore, a former three-star recruit from Columbus High in Miami will have his first opportunity at significant playing time in college. Four three-star recruits on the line are entering their first collegiate season. Highly-touted DT Savion Collins was a last-minute get for the Panthers, after garnering significant interest from Power Five programs. Jordan Guerad, Keegan Davis and Travonte O’Neal will compete with Shykeim Pace and Ty Danzy for potential spots at the back end of the rotation.
Summary: Everything up front starts with veterans Kevin Oliver and Davon Strickland. Oliver is a high-motor defensive end who is one of the more fundamentally sound players and is always around the ball.
Strickland emerged as one of the few bright spots for FIU in 2020. After seeing playing time sparingly in his first two years, Strickland became a starter last year, leading the team in sacks and tackles and tackles for loss. If he can take a step forward in his development, there’s no reason to believe that the South Broward product won’t be among the top DT’s in C-USA.
Jason Mercier appears to have found a home at DT, but is capable of playing inside and outside. Tevin Jones is capable of excelling as a rush-end, returning to his high school position after spending two years with the linebackers. Keep an eye on David Reynolds, who earned steady playing time as a true freshman, but spent time in the transfer portal last year.
Final Grade: C- There’s a lot of talent on the defensive line for FIU. However, that statement could have been made over the previous three seasons. Until they actualize said talent, the DL has to be looked at with a wait-and-see approach.
Run defense isn’t just a front-four issue — but those struggles in conjunction with the lack of pass rush and the departures of Chris Whittaker, Noah Curtis and Alexy Jean-Baptiste leave the Panthers with a largely inexperienced DL. If Strickland and Oliver lead the way and Withers finds an eight-man rotation, this grade should be much higher at the end of the year.