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FIU Football: Fall Camp Notebook

The Panthers are squarely in the midst of a much-needed Fall camp.

Michael Berlfein/FIU Athletics.

16 days separate the 2021 FIU football team from their season-opener at FIU Stadium against FCS Long Island, and there are still plenty of unknowns about the new-look Panthers. While multiple starters on both sides of the ball return from last year’s team, the addition of six new coaches and an additional two coaches in different capacities give the Fall training camp added importance.

Then, there’s the obvious cloud hanging over the R. Kirk Landon fieldhouse — it’s been over 600 days since FIU has been in the win column. Let’s take a look at some notes to come out of fall camp as it’s full speed ahead towards September 2nd.

Quarterback Competition

After a full spring camp with three quarterbacks and now midway through the fall session with four contenders, Butch Davis, Andrew Breiner and Bryn Renner aren’t any closer to a starting quarterback than the team was at the end of last season — or at least they aren’t any closer publicly.

“I’m not going to give a status update as to where each guy is to protect ourselves and what we share with upcoming opponents,” said Breiner.

However, he did shed some light on what he’s looking for out of whoever will take snaps week one.

“Number one thing is decision-making. My philosophy on quarterback play boils down to decision-making, timing and accuracy. We have to have someone who gives us a chance to have success on every single play.”

To glean some insight into Breiner’s answer, the best bet would be to look at his time spent coaching under current Oregon offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, who is considered one of the earliest innovators of the RPO offense. Brenier spent seven seasons under Moorhead, including two at Mississippi State when Moorhead was the head coach of the Bulldogs. While Davis has been on the record stating that the offense will be a melding of Breiner’s principles along with the system in place, whichever signal-caller can grasp the decision-making required of an RPO system may have the edge when it comes to seeing the field.

Everett Withers

Of paramount importance to solving the quarterback riddle is fixing the run defense woes that have plagued the Panthers for the better part of three seasons now. Defensive coordinator Everett Withers shed some light on his defensive philosophy as a whole and which players have impressed him during fall camp.

“I’ve been really pleased with the development of the guys up front, guys like Da’von Strickland, Rashad Colson, Jeremy Passmore, Hal Vinson — I’ve really been impressed with Jason Mercier and obviously we’ve got K.O. (Kevin Oliver) as well,” said Withers.

Of the players at the front seven positions (linebacker and defensive line) a total of 11 have played at least 10 or more career games. When asked about a potential lack of experience, Withers offered a substantive response in assessing his players.

“It’s funny, nobody mentions experience if you’re Clemson or Alabama,” said Withers. “We expect our young guys to be able to come in and compete just like those programs have expectations of their young guys.”

Hey Mr. DJ

It’s commonplace to hear music blaring from practice fields across the nation and FIU is no different. During warm-ups and stretches, players and coaches are given the chance to set the soundtrack for the day. I polled several players to get a feel for their tastes during practices and on game day.

Tommy Heatherly: “I like to listen to a little Luke Combs and Zach Bryan, then right before I go out, I listen to the speech from Friday Night Lights.”

Sterling Palmer: “A lot of artists. Travis Scott, Lil Baby, Gunna, Drake.”

Dontae Keys: “I listen to Kodak (Black) — a lot of Kodak before the game.”

D’Vonte Price: “I have different stages before a game. On the bus, I listen to R&B to calm myself, make sure I’m not too hyped. Once I get to the stadium, I turn it up, listen to some G-Herbo, Future, Lil Durk. Then right before the game, I slow it down again and put on some gospel or R&B.”

D’Vonte Price when asked who has the worst taste on the team: “Two dudes, Jason Mercier and Kamareon Williams, I don’t even know who they’re playing, but it’s that bad, I hate when they get on the speaker.”

Bryce Singleton: “This year, I’ve really been listening to Nipsey (Hussle). I’m a big Lil Baby fan and then depending on the mood, (NBA) Youngboy.”

Bryce Singleton when asked who has the best taste besides himself: “I’d say K.J. (Owens), Shemar (Thornton) because he has a little old-school vibe to him and then Kaylan Wiggins.”

Richard Dames: “I listen to a lot of Rod Wave, you’re gonna laugh but I listen to Fantasia sometimes. But mainly Rod Wave and Lil Baby.”

Offensive line coach Joel Rodriguez: “I listen to a lot music, I’m a music carnivore. If you walk into my office, there’s always something playing — it’s funny because Breiner’s office is nearby and it drives him crazy. I’m mainly a hip-hop guy. 90s to early 2000’s. Really anything except death metal and reggaeton. My top-five would be Biggie, Pac, Nas, gotta go Jay-Z four and then Gang Starr fifth.”

Misc

  • When asked about the competition at the kick and punt return spots, special teams coach Casey Horny mentioned last year’s primary return men in Lexington Joseph, E.J. Wilson and Bryce Singelton as again being in the mix for the role this year. Horny also mentioned wideout Tyrese Chambers, who also took punts in the fall, along with fellow wideouts Nate Jefferson and Artez Hooker being in contention.
  • Chase Gabriel held the kicking duties as a true freshman last year, but Horny mentioned that it’s still an ongoing competition between Gabriel and Broward County product Lucas Matias. Matias didn’t see action last year at FIU, but served as a kickoff specialist at NAIA Keiser University.
  • Running backs Shaun Peterson Jr. and Joseph, who suffered season-ending injuries last year are both practicing without restrictions. Safety Dorian Hall, who had offseason surgery, was fully cleared to practice with the team “about two weeks ago.”
  • The offensive line rotation hasn’t been finalized but during Breiner’s press availability, he listed Miles Fraizer, Sione Finau, Dontae Keys and Lyndell Hudson Jr. as first-team players, with Julius Pierce and Api Mane splitting the reps at center.
  • Freshman AJ Mathis saw limited time last year as a reserve linebacker but has made the switch to defensive back. When asked what played into the decision to move Mathis, Withers mentioned that Mathis is “6-0, 200-pounds and runs a 4.43.” Expect Mathis to see action as a safety and at the star position.
AJ Mathis’ athleticism gives him the chance to slide into the defensive backfield.
Michael Berlfein/FIU Athletics
  • Texas State transfer Hal Vinson was recruited by Withers during his tenure as Bobcats’ head coach and played primarily as a linebacker, but also served as a rush end. Withers mentioned that Vinson’s size at 6-1, 240-pounds and 4.5 40-yard-dash time allows him to play at end in 2021.
  • UCF transfer Eric Mitchell Jr. is expected to play a factor as a linebacker and rush end as well. Withers mentioned that Mitchell Jr. “is having a good camp, but has been somewhat banged up with a shoulder injury.”