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FIU Football: 2022 Preview — Defensive Line

The defensive line will look to emerge for the first time in several seasons.

As was the case for most position groups last season, the FIU defensive line struggled to establish their footing in 2022. For the third consecutive season, the Panthers were among the bottom third in Conference USA in sacks — this time finishing last with 14 sacks in 12 contests — and six of those came from linebackers or defensive backs.

Position coach George Frazier comes to FIU after two seasons as the defensive line coach at UT-Martin and prior to that played for Mike MacIntyre for four seasons (2013-2017) at Colorado. He’ll have his work cut out for him in several ways, most notably developing a defensive line room that features 13 underclassmen.

Colorado University Football Practice
Former Colorado Buffalo George Frazier reunites with his college head coach in Miami as DL coach.
Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The arrival of MacIntyre also brings a change in defensive philosophy. While the Panthers do plan to be “multiple” on defense, part of that will be featuring a 3-4 look after five years of operating out of a base 4-2-5/4-3 defense. As a result, the offseason and recruiting class saw the addition of eight defensive linemen — four of which are listed at above 280 pounds.

All of the changes are in an effort to fix the above pass-rush woes and a run defense that has been equally as poor — if not worse over the last four years. In FIU’s last 43 games, the run defense has allowed over 170 yards rushing 26 times — with 21 of those being over 220 yards on the ground.

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 Frazier’s defensive line room as the countdown till the season opener continues.

All stats listed are for the 2021 season unless noted. Projected starter(s) are listed in BOLD. Class year reflects NCAA eligibility (COVID) rules for the 2022 season.

Returning: Davon Strickland: (R-Jr.) 6-1, 285, 53 tackles with six tackles for loss and three sacks

Ty Danzy: (R-Soph.) 6-5, 235, 23 tackles with three tackles for loss and one sack

Shykieim Pace: (Soph.) 6-4, 220, 10 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss and one sack

Jeramy Passmore: (R-Soph.) 6-3, 263, 18 tackles with .5 tackle for loss

Savion Collins: (Fr.) 6-4, 290, three tackles

Jordan Guerad: (Soph.) 6-3, 295, 11 tackles with .5 tackle for loss

Travonte O’Neal: (R-Fr.) 6-3, 240, one tackle

Jeremy Moore: (R-Soph) 6-3, 300, five tackles and .5 tackles for loss

Newcomers: Latarie Kinsler: (Fr.) 6-3, 223, transfer from Syracuse

DJ Aiken: (Fr.) 6-4, 245, three-star recruit, (Bluffton, SC — Bluffton HS)

Stevin Conille: (Fifth Year) 6-4, 280, transfer from Warner University

Timothy Van: (Fr.) 5-11, 300, (West Palm Beach, Fla/Centennial HS)

Donnell Johnson: (Fr.) 6-2, 300, (Fort Lauderdale, Fla/Flanagan HS)

Steven Shannon: (Fr.) 6-3, 250, three-star recruit, (Miami, Fla/Miami Killian HS)

Jamarrion Solomon: (Fr.) 5-11, 260, (Miami, Fla/Miami Palmetto HS)

Will Prendergast: (Soph.) 6-2, 280, (Prosper, TX/Blinn College)

Heading into Fall: Similarly to the offensive line, the need for bodies was apparent when MacIntyre took over as several players departed via the transfer portal. Of the additions, the most notable was Syracuse transfer Latarie Kinsler, who earned offers from Nebraska and Louisville before signing with the Orange as part of the 2020 class. The former three-star recruit didn’t appear in any games for Dino Babers, but as an edge rusher fits the scheme that MacIntyre and defensive coordinator Jovan Dewitt are looking to deploy.

For the first time in several years, the strength of the defensive line very much appears to be with the interior linemen. Underclassmen Jeremy Moore and Jordan Guerad saw valuable playing time last year and responded with solid showings for players who weren’t expected to see a ton of time in 2021. Indiana transfer Jeramy Passmore was a full-time starter for the first time in his collegiate career and responded with 18 tackles and showed flashes of potential.

Indiana transfer Jeramy Passmore looks to build on his first season with FIU.

Redshirt junior Davon Strickland is the undoubted leader of the unit. After battling injuries during his first two seasons, the Hollywood native has been among the top interior defensive linemen in C-USA over the past two years. Last year, he finished third among league defensive tackles in tackles (53) and proved that he could be a presence over a full season after a truncated five-game 2020.

During Butch Davis’ tenure, several highly-touted defensive linemen were signed and they’ll look to make the most of the opportunity under a new staff. Ty Danzy earned a starting role after Texas State transfer Hal Vinson left the program a week into the season and recorded 23 tackles. Shykeim Pace, Travonte O’Neal and Savion Collins are all former three-star recruits who are looking to establish themselves in the rotation.

True freshman DJ Aiken was among Macintyre's earliest commits and has a college-ready frame at 6-4, 245-pounds, especially as an edge rusher in the 3-4. JUCO transfer Will Prendergast is another sizable body at 6-2, 280 pounds and saw time during the spring at both tackle and end in the 3-4 scheme. Local product Steven Shannon was a late signee, but also has an opportunity to contribute.

Summary: In what feels like a bit of rinse and repeat from the past two seasons, there’s no denying that this group has to improve — but they have talented players in the room. Everything starts with Strickland, whose rise from mild-mannered reserve to standout defensive lineman has been incredible to watch.

If he can take the next step in his development and adjust to the new scheme, that will go along way in helping players like Danzy, Kinsler and others rush the passer. Strickland, Danzy and Passmore were three of the primary four starters last season and figure to again have those roles in 2022 — providing continuity if nothing else.

Ty Danzy was forced into a starting role last year with the departure of Hal Vinson.

As is the case with every team in America around this time of year, establishing depth will be crucial for the Panthers. Over FIU’s most successful stretch (2017-2019), while the defensive line had their issues in one form or another, being able to go seven or eight players deep throughout the game wasn’t an issue. Once players departed via graduation or the portal, that’s when the problems across the DL became glaring.

If Pace, Guerad, Collins and Moore can provide depth on opening night, that would be immeasurable, especially with newcomers like Aiken, Predergast and Shannon adjusting to the FBS level.

Final Grade: C This probably feels like a reoccurring theme at this point in the position previews. However, given the fact that over 65% of FIU’s roster are made up of underclassmen and players who haven’t started games in college, the story for much of this team is taking a wait and see approach as to their development. A major positive is the experience gained by Danzy and Passmore last season. If they can take a step forward and Strickland plays up to his potential, the Panthers’ defensive line could be a strength for the first time in several seasons.