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FIU Football: Spring Mailbag Q&A

Fans sent in their questions regarding the Panthers as the the spring comes to a close.

NCAA Football: Florida International at Southern Mississippi Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

With the first spring session under Mike MacIntyre set to come to a close with Saturday’s Spring Showcase, fans will get their first extended viewing of the new-look Panthers for the upcoming season.

The program has added over 25 players since the end of last season with several more set to join in time for Fall camp.

Expect FIU to be active on the transfer market, especially given the remaining scholarships left to fill.

Before closing the book on the spring, we solicited Twitter questions on the minds of Panther fans as the team looks to the start of the new era under MacIntyre.

Question/s: How’s the competition in the DL? — @FIUJM & FIU hasn’t had a strong pass rush from the DE spot since Silva left to Marshall. Will that end this year? — @chiapanther

Answer: This is a really important question for the Panthers. In 12 games last year, FIU had only eight sacks from the defensive line. Since 2018, the team ranks last among Conference USA teams in sacks from the defensive line and second to last in sacks overall.

Mike MacIntyre has mentioned that the defensive scheme won’t be a base 3-4 or 4-3 look, instead wanting to be “multiple” on defense. While that may be the case, expect to see the 3-4 defense that MacIntyre ran at Memphis deployed. During the spring, JUCO transfer Will Prendergast has looked impressive at the defensive tackle spot and Syracuse transfer Latarie Kinsler has served as the rush end.

Overall, the competition has been solid with returners Ty Danzy and Jeramy Passmore in the mix, along with returning starter Davon Strickland. As to whether that result in more sacks and pressures, I think the unit will be better. Looking at MacIntyre’s seasons at Memphis, they had 53 sacks in 2020 and 2021 combined.

Question: What do we know about the QB situation? Is it still too early to tell? — @adrianvald13

Answer: Here’s what I believe we know — that all three quarterbacks in the competition are capable of being starters at this level. Yes, that seems simplistic, but Grayson James and Haden Carlson have looked the part of starting quarterbacks, along with Gunnar Holmberg who started at Duke last year. As far as if one has separated themselves from the rest, the coaching staff hasn’t tipped their hand one way or the other.

Question: Is our next QB on the roster? — @RayLoPR51

Answer: Theoretically, the team could go back to the transfer portal to add another quarterback before fall. Former starter James Morgan didn’t arrive at FIU until late in the summer after graduating from Bowling Green. However, given the need to replenish the roster following the last two seasons of being shorthanded, it’s questionable if the program can afford to use another scholarship on the position.

Question: Breakout Player in 2021? — @agent__OG

Answer: I’ll give a few names. I’m really high on Flex Joseph’s potential in this offense. Especially with OC David Yost prioritizing getting the ball out of the hands of his quarterbacks quickly, we’ve seen plenty of the running backs in the passing game and Flex has been a solid rusher, when healthy.

Tight end Rivaldo Fairweather has all of the physical tools to be a top level tight end among the Group of Five ranks. Looking for him to build upon his freshman campaign. On defense, keep an eye on Gaethan Bernadel and Andrew Volmar. Bernadel should have been an All-Freshman performer last year and has had moments during the spring and Volmar stepped up with extended playing time in the second half of last season and was up to the challenge. I’d also put Joe Perkins on this list, but he’s missed time this spring due to injury.

Question: RB’s are strongest part of the team or WR’s? Thanks Eric — @Alejand33246744

Answer: There’s no doubt that over the past several years, FIU has recruited well at the running back position. So much so, that Shaun Peterson Jr., who had impressive moments during the spring in the backfield has chosen to switch sides of the ball and play linebacker.

I firmly believe that Flex Joseph is primed for a breakout season with an increased workload and Panthers’ fans may have seen a glimpse of what 2022 can look like in the season-finale, with Joseph and E.J. Wilson combining for over 160 yards rushing. Paired with Kejon Owens and incoming back Antonio Patterson and I believe that the RB room is currently the deepest spot for FIU.

Question: Will FIU ever refurbish the football locker room? — @fiumiamifan

Answer: Scott Carr addressed upgrades to athletic facilities in his introductory press conference. While he wouldn’t set a timeline as to how quickly upgrades could be made, it’s on his laundry list of items to take care of regarding FIU Athletics.

Question: Have any of the new additions to the roster stood out in these first days of spring practice? — @JD_Garcia21

Answer: I’ll give you a few new additions that have stood out and a couple returners to keep an eye on.

Indiana transfer Jacolby Hewitt has looked impressive during spring camp. The 6-1, 200-pound Tennessee native is among the more sizable receivers on the team and has caught several touchdowns in the redzone in both skeleton and team sessions.

Holmberg has also had his moments during camp and appears to fit what both MacIntyre and Yost are looking for from the quarterback position. I wouldn’t say it’s much of a surprise given his starting experience, but still worth noting.

JUCO transfer Will Prendergast is listed at 6-2, 280-pounds and he looks every bit of his size. Especially for a defensive line that’s been on the smaller side in previous years, Prendergast is currently the third-largest defensive lineman on the roster, which will need size in playing more 3-4 looks.

Pierce Withers decision to return to FIU has been rewarded and the Austin, Texas native is looking to build on a 2021 season where he excelled in the nickel/star role, when healthy. He’s been a steady contributor throughout the spring.

Division II transfer Dean Patterson has raised eyebrows throughout camp. The Tampa native was a former teammate of Carlson’s at Steinbrenner High and appeared in three contests last season. During spring camp, Patterson has caught several touchdowns from all of the quarterbacks during skeleton and team drills.

Question: Do you think Coach Mac is following a “UAB Rebuild Model” for the upcoming season the transfer portal and JUCO additions? — @Eddie_FIU

Answer: That’s tricky. It depends on what you mean by a “UAB Rebuild Model.” Yes, UAB has been extremely successful after returning to college football following their two-year hiatus from play. However, they didn’t face the challenge that FIU is facing in terms of the lack of players on the roster at the time of MacIntyre's arrival.

I think the better analogy is this is more of a “UTEP Rebuild Model.” Dana Dimel focused heavily on recruiting the JUCO ranks in his first two seasons and didn’t try and hide the fact that the Miners sorely needed bodies who could step in and play immediately. This doesn’t mean that I believe it will take three seasons to rebuild FIU, but that the level of success at that UAB has had is unique to them.

Question: It feels like FIU’s produced a number of good players lately (Frazier, Price, etc), but the team success hasn’t followed. Will that change under the new staff? — @joebroback

Answer: What’s gone under the radar is the number of players that FIU has sent to the NFL/Power Five programs as of late. James Morgan and Stantley Thomas-Oliver were drafted in 2019, D’Vonte Price will be drafted this year, Tommy Heatherly has an outside chance of being a draft selection, Jose Borregales is on an NFL roster and Devontay Love-Taylor is projected as a late-round pick in this year’s draft. Also, Miles Frazier and Sione Finau made the jump to Power Five programs this offseason.

What’s hampered FIU’s success (not to sound repetitive) is the number of players who have left the program over the past three seasons. 17 players from the previous three recruiting classes (2019-2021) departed the roster over the last two seasons. When you consider those losses, plus losses to the portal and graduation — that’s played a major role in the lack of success.

I do believe that the new staff will have more success keeping players in-tow. The transfer portal isn’t a surprise anymore — it’s a way of life in college athletics. MacIntyre and company should be well-equipped to navigate those challenges.

Question: Give a grade on our head coaches hiring's and recruitment so far. — @Damany_Reed1

Answer: Appreciate the question, Damany. I’d give those two things in totality a B+ grade. In terms of the staff, sheer volume has increased under MacIntyre. The 11 on-field coaches, plus three analysts and three graduate assistants is an increase from the 11 on-field and two GA’s under Butch Davis. David Yost, Jovan Dewitt and Ricky Brumfield are veteran coordinators with Power Five experience, same for position coaches Greg Austin, Eric Hickson and Corey Bell. There’s no denying the increase in assistant coach budget has benefitted the program.

In terms of the recruitment, I’ve been on the record as stating that given the timespan from MacIntyre’s hiring to signing days, the staff did an excellent job of bringing in enough talent that could fill out the roster for spring via the transfer portal — and signing high school players.

Question: How can FIU expect to recruit any quality high school QBs when every year we bring in an experienced transfer to steal the job away. The young guys must be getting discouraged. — @Underdog174

Answer: I promise I’m not picking on you with this answer, Underdog. In the transfer portal era, this is the name of the game — not just for quarterbacks, but all positions. The frustration around players like Haden Carlson and Grayson James being highly-touted, yet not seeing the field is understandable. However, I can tell you that there are a litany of programs around the country who have taken the approach of recruiting the portal for quarterbacks. All you have to do is look at the shrinking number of high school quarterbacks signing at the Division I level.

Look at the case of Davin Wydner as an example. The Cocoa High product was the 4A Player of the Year in 2022 and is rated as a three-star recruit by 247 Sports. In prior years, Wydner would have had dozens of offers. Instead, he had a handful (including FIU) and chose to take a preferred walk-on offer from UCF.

Hopefully, this answer provides context.

Question: It seems like FAU got the AAC call up because of on field success. Are there any signs that that lit a fire under the administration that there has to be a standard for football in order for the entire athletic department to progress and grow or is it just dismissed? —@DemetriRavanos

Answer: There’s two parts to this answer. First, Florida Atlantic (or any of the schools who were chosen by the American) weren’t chosen because of on-field success. Look at Rice, North Texas and Charlotte as proof that on-field success isn’t the determining factor in expansion. The reason those schools along with the others were chosen is a myriad of factors, including facilities/infrastructure, administration and location. There’s no denying that all of the programs chosen by the American are in better position regarding facilities than FIU.

Second, I believe it may have lit a fire that there’s a standard for athletics as a whole — not just football. In order for FIU to be considered for conference realignment in the next round, yes, winning helps. I’d also offer that athletics operating at the same level as the schools who were chosen is just as key. That starts with Scott Carr, who appears to be pushing all of the right buttons, so far.