With less than 75 days until the start of the 2022 season and the Mike MacIntyre era for the FIU Panthers, we begin our annual position-by-position preview of the roster.
Quarterback was a relatively stable position for the Panthers during the Butch Davis era. In his five seasons at the helm, there was a primary starter for four of those campaigns. After sending back-to-back starters to the NFL, the program was able to sign three-star recruits in each of Davis’ final three recruiting classes.
As two of the three remain on the roster with the transition to MacIntyre, it gives he and offensive coordinator David Yost a solid base in looking to jumpstart an FIU offense that racked up over 3,100 passing yards last season — most of which came in playing from behind.
Let’s take a look at the quarterbacks who are competing for the job.
All stats listed are for the 2021 season. Projected starter(s) are in bold. Class year reflects COVID-year eligibility rules.
Returning: Grayson James (Soph.) 6-2, 210, 18-27, 162 passing yards with one touchdown pass
Haden Carlson (R-Fr.) 6-3, 205, zero statistics
Newcomers: Gunnar Holmberg (Sr.) 6-3, 210, 235-349, 2,358 passing yards, 7 TDs - 10 INTs (Career statistics at Duke)
Andrew Robison (Soph.) 6-0, 190, zero statistics — appeared in two games (At Nicholls State)
Amari Jones (Fr.) 6-2, 210, Three-star recruit, Starke, FL (Bradford HS)
Heading into Fall: For the better part of the past five seasons, the FIU offense has been navigated by a veteran signal-caller.
In 2017, four-year starter Alex McGough led the Panthers to a bowl berth. The next two seasons saw grad transfer James Morgan lead FIU to back-to-back bowl games. Like McGough, Morgan was a primary starter for four seasons. Over the last two seasons, grad transfer Max Bortenschlager was the main starter for the team.
It was no secret that Davis liked veteran quarterbacks — it’s also no secret that yearly, teams are increasingly turning to the transfer portal to bring in signal-callers with experience.
With the departure of Bortenschlager leaving FIU with only three quarterbacks (at the time) on the roster, it was expected that another player would be added at the position. Duke transfer Gunnar Holmberg arrives as a transfer with two years of eligibility left.
However, a key difference between McGough and Morgan opposed to Bortenschlager and Holmberg — while the latter both came to FIU as veterans in class — they had only the equivalency of one season of starting experience. As the Panthers head towards the fall, it will be worth watching to see if that’s enough fend off a pair of former three-star recruits, who are eager to finally see the field.
Summary: Grayson James’ pedigree as a Texas high school quarterback seemed to have served him well as a freshman, earning the backup quarterback duties and appearing in six contests last season. By many accounts from those within the program last year, James has all of the physical tools to be a starter sooner than later. The 6-2, 210-pounder looked the part during warmups and led the offense on a pair of scoring drives in mop-up duty last year.
Part of what may have propelled James to the QB2 role last year was Haden Carlson’s missing time during the spring session before James’ arrival. As part of the 2020 signing class, Davis, not known for being effusive in praise offered that Carlson would have started games down the stretch of that season, had it not been cut short due to COVID. He also said that Carlson, “has a bit of that kid from Kansas City (Patrick Mahomes) in him.”
Like James, the raw physical ability is evident when watching Carlson and he is a mobile player who’s capable of extending plays. Of note for Carlson, this will be the third different offensive coordinator (and offense) he’ll have to learn in as many college seasons.
Three-star signee Amari Jones was somewhat of a surprise addition during February’s National Signing Day. The 6-2, 205-pound Jones bounced around in high school, playing for Valdosta High before finishing his career at Bradford High in North Florida. He arrives in time for fall camp and will likely be a factor in next year’s quarterback competition.
Andrew Robison rounds out the room as a walk-on who began his career at Nicholls State.
Following the spring, MacIntyre and Yost have played things close to the vest and haven’t offered much in a way of a QB depth chart.
Position Grade: C - Yost is on the record as having said that he won’t need much time to decipher whether or not his quarterback is on the roster or not. While in theory, they could add another quarterback from the portal, the most likely scenario is they’ll stay with the quarterbacks on the roster.
Holmberg was at his best last season when he was able to use his legs as a rusher (six rushing touchdowns) and getting the ball in the hands of playmakers quickly. Of 130 FBS teams, Duke’s offense ranked 90th in yards per pass attempt (6.6). Additionally, in his top-three passing outputs of 2021, over 55% of his passing yards came from yards after catch.
While Yost has emphasized getting the ball in the hands of skill position players and letting them operate, it remains to be seen what balance will be struck with downfield playmakers like Chambers in-tow.
Similarly to last season, James and Carlson are the wildcards.
Both are entering crucial points in their collegiate careers in which whoever of the two ends up as the QB3 could look to enter the transfer portal.
Overall, the position is still very much an unknown as the verdict is still out on how Holmberg will adjust to the new offense and surroundings, while the two underclassmen are large on potential, but short on game experience.