Key returners: Jeramy Passmore (R-Jr., 6-3, 270 — 43 tackles with two tackles for loss and one sack), Jordan Guerad (R-Soph, 6-3, 300 — 34 tackles with 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks), Keegan Davis (R-Fr. 6-3, 260 — 20 tackles with four tackles for loss and one sack), Latarie Kinsler (Soph. 6-3, 235 — 20 tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack), Travonte O’Neal (R-Soph. 6-3, 240 — 16 tackles and one tackle for loss), Will Prendergast (Jr. 6-2, 285 — five tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss)
Key losses: Davon Strickland (graduation)
Newcomers: Jack Daly (Transfer — Bryant), Claude Larkins (Transfer — NC State), Marquez Tatum (Pearl River CC), Antoine Cobb (three-star recruit/Frostproof, FL), Toddrick Brewton (three-star recruit/Miami, FL)
Biggest unanswered question: Who makes the rotation — and who are the starters?
Seven defensive linemen (including all of the key returners listed above) played at least 200 snaps last season across the line. However, the bulk of the snaps (65% or more) were played by nose guard Davon Strickland and defensive ends Jeramy Passmore and Jordan Guerad.
After transferring from Indiana in 2021, Passmore has been a steady presence across the defensive line at defensive tackle in a 4-down alignment and defensive end in a 3-down alignment last season. The Christopher Columbus High product led the defensive line in tackles and should secure one spot at end.
Coming out of fall camp, Keegan Davis earned a starting spot at the other end after spending his first collegiate season practicing on both sides of the ball. Five games into the season, Davis was moved out of the starting lineup in favor of Will Prendergast and later Guerad.
With Davon Strickland off to pursue his long-awaited marine biology career, the Panthers will have to identify who the next nose guard is. Guerad, younger brother of former UCF defensive tackle Tony Guerad, was listed on the two-deep as the reserve nose and has the both the bloodlines and ability to slide into Strickland’s spot.
Prendergast saw consistent action as a reserve before a UCL injury wiped out the latter portion of his first season at the FBS level. At 6-2, 290, Prendergast could slide into the nose rotation.
However, the betting odds are on Bryant transfer Jack Daly establishing himself during the spring as the starter in the middle. A two-time all Northeast Conference first-team selection at Bryant, Daly is a prototypical nose at 6-3, 320-pounds and has 32 career starts to his name.
O’Neal, Kinsler and 2021 starter Ty Danzy all will push for starting spots at the ends, but should make the rotation.
Why 2023 production could be better: Longtime Panthers’ fans — hopefully you’re sitting for this one — the defensive line room has one of the highest ceilings of any position group on the roster.
Okay, I know you’ve heard that before — hear me out.
Passmore has looked every bit of a Conference USA-level starter since arriving and could be poised for a breakout year in his second season in the 3-4.
Run defense has long been an issue in Miami, but the arrival of Daly should help FIU’s efforts tremendously. Strickland spent most of last season battling injuries and likely was a playing out of position at the nose last year. Daly is more than equipped to play the role and the possibility of pairing him with Guerad has to be intriguing to Mike MacIntyre and defensive coordinator Jovan Dewitt.
Davis is a player who has transformed himself in the weight room since arriving in 2021. While he struggled with consistency last year, that’s expected from a first-time starter learning the scheme. The Port St. Lucie native has shown a high motor, who, in due time could resemble former four-year starter Kevin Oliver as a consistent presence around the football.
Kinsler and O’Neal are both long and athletic, who should round into capable pass-rushers, while Danzy was one of the few young bright spots in an otherwise forgettable 2021. The spring should also serve valuable for Jeremy Moore, DJ Aiken, Steven Shannon and Larkins in trying to crack the rotation.
Why 2023 production could be worse: As stated above, the defensive line room provides plenty of reason to be optimistic.
With that being said, the spring is crucial for this unit in identifying at least the 5-6 players who will be constants in the rotation. Between Davis, Prendergast and Guerad, the end spot was bit of a revolving door and as stated, the nose guard spot is of the utmost importance in keeping the mike linebackers clean to make plays at or behind the line of scrimmage.
Overall, the Panthers’ sack numbers need to improve, finishing among the bottom third in Conference USA in sacks for the sixth consecutive season.
Overall outlook: With Donovan Manuel returning and Elijah Anderson-Taylor added to the linebacker room, FIU has a pair of inside linebackers who should be more than sufficient in making plays.
Rush end Shaun Peterson Jr. has one of the highest ceilings amongst the Group of Five ranks as a pass rusher and he’s joined by Alex Nobles, who is just as athletic. If the front-three can excel, the Panthers defense has a chance to make a significant jump next year.
Last season gave players like Passmore, Davis, Guerad and others experience in the 3-4 — this spring will be for exceling and becoming bonafide play-makers in the scheme.