Tuesday marked the final padded practice for Mike MacIntyre’s club as they turn towards to Saturday’s spring showcase at FIU Stadium — one that MacIntyre is looking forward to seeing how his team reacts to various situations under the lights.
“It will be nice to get the guys out there at the stadium in front of fans and see how they react to a lot of the situational scenarios that we’ll have set up,” said MacIntyre. “Also, for the young guys, how will they react being in front of the crowd.”
As the Panthers wind down spring ball, here’s the notebook from the final week.
In the midst of his third quarterback competition, you would be hard pressed to detect any measure of frustration or anxiety in Grayson James’ demeanor. In fact, the junior quarterback looks as if he’s having the time of his life each day during spring practices.
“It’s still surreal in some ways that I’m out here living my dream of being a Division 1 quarterback,” said James. “This is what I dreamed of and now being able to build relationships with guys from different parts of the country and build a brotherhood as we’re all working towards seeing this team get better everyday.”
Recruited by former quarterbacks’ coach Bryn Renner, James was the prize recruit of the Panthers 2021 class, quickly earning the backup quarterback role and appeared in six games as the heir apparent to the QB1 duties.
However, with the hiring of Mike MacIntyre as head coach, the aforementioned QB battles ensued — something that James is no stranger to.
“I’ve been in quarterback competitions at every level, both in high school and here in college, obviously here it’s more intense with the level of competition and it’s about working on the little details to get better daily,” said James.
A product of Texas’ highly competitive football culture, James’ quarterback dreams began when he first found himself behind center as a kindergartner and started honing the skills solely from the third grade.
The 6-3, 230-pounder accounted for over 2,100 yards last season, throwing 11 touchdowns and rushing for three. Despite his prototypical pocket-passer size, James models his game after several dual-threat quarterbacks.
“Growing up, my guy was Russell Wilson, Wisconsin Russ and then Seattle,” said James. “Also, Kyler Murray because his dad trains me back home and someone who I have a similar build and playing style is Dak Prescott, being a bigger guy but he’s still able to move and make plays with his arm.”
After Duke transfer Gunnar Holmberg was named the winner of last year’s three-way race between James, Holmberg and Haden Carlson, James spoke about the disappointment of not being named the starter — but staying mentally engaged in case his number was called.
“Obviously it’s a little disheartening, when you put everything into it, you want to get the call from Coach Mac saying you’re the guy,” said James. “But in many ways, being a backup you have to be just as ready and when I got the chance, I was able to go in there and help the team and take it from there the rest of the season.”
This time around, James is able to look back on some of the deficiencies that he feels hampered him last season, leading to 11 interceptions and a sub-60% competition rate.
“Consistency is a major thing for any player, but especially a quarterback and I’m working on being that everyday,” said James. “I feel it’s evident that I’ve had the arm talent, but working on being consistent with my feet and it affecting my accuracy, I felt like I was making the right reads but I’ve been working on being consistent in putting the ball on the receivers.”
James’ positive demeanor is a byproduct of his personality, a trait that plays a large part in cultivating his leadership style on the field for the offense.
“I’m naturally a lead by example guy, but I also can be rah-rah and kind of do my part to keep the guys’ spirits up if someone drops a pass or misses a block,” said James. “That’s something that I’ve tried to work on this offseason as far as the emotional intelligence aspect and understanding that certain guys you have to be more uplifting and others you have to be more aggressive with.”
As tends to be the case with most non-South Floridians who join the roster, James laughs in admitting that living in Miami has shaped the native Texan — to an extent.
“Yeah, I’m wearing a lot of short-sleeve and cut off shirts, we had an awards banquet the other day and I had a button down with four buttons undone,” said James. “I’m definitely comfortable with the Miami vibe and being here at FIU.”
Front Office Promotions
A look across various college football support staffs and you’ll see a role that just a few years ago was solely reserved for the professional game — general manager.
Over 30 programs have added either a general manager or director of player personnel role to their staffs in the last year, very much a direct byproduct of the transfer portal — and the player movement that has ensued.
While FIU doesn’t have someone with that direct title, a trio of Panther staffers are serving in handling all things program and player operations.
Miami native Cam DiFede was promoted to Director of Player Personnel & Recruiting after serving as an assistant in that role. DiFede was previously with the Panthers during the Ron Turner era as an intern and spent three seasons at FDU-Florham in an on-field coaching role.
Ryan Webb moves from Assistant Director of Operations to Director of Operations, coming to FIU last season after working under MacIntyre as an equipment intern at Colorado.
“Cam has done an phenomenal job recruiting here, we had an excellent class last year and he spearheaded and organized it,” said MacIntyre. “He’ll be more with player personnel and team management, kind of like the NFL and Ryan Webb has done a great job on the football ops for us along with Katie Bason, who is our chief of staff, so also very excited for Ryan and the hard work he’s put in.”
As the team winds down the spring culminating with Saturday’s Spring Showcase, they’ll look to avoid further injuries after seeing two players suffer season ending injuries this month.
Running back Lexington Joseph went down in the latter stages of the practice at Charles Hadley Park, leaving the field in a knee brace — and having surgery for a torn ACL earlier this week.
“Number one, I’d like to come out of the rest of the week without any injuries, you always hear us coaches say that but it’s the truth,” said MacIntyre.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Amari Jones suffered an Achilles injury and was seen in moving around practice with the assistance of a wheeled scooter. Both players are expected to miss the duration of the 2023 season.
“Flex has a redshirt year, so he’ll be back in an FIU uniform but it’s obviously disappointing because we want to see him this year and he wanted to be out there this year, but he’s a great leader for our team and he’ll continue to be that.”
Cornerback Adrian Cole has been sidelined for the duration of the spring coming off of shoulder surgery, but is expected to be ready by fall camp.
- Defensive tackle Jack Daly brought Tuesday’s practice session to a close — intercepting an attempted screen pass and returning it for a touchdown.
- With the hiring of former Miami assistant Demarcus Van Dyke being processed, safeties coach Nate Taye has been in charge of the defensive backs. Typically vocal, Taye was heard especially emphasizing the need for communication amongst the defensive backs during WR/DB drills.
- Wideouts Jalen Bracey and Eric Rivers caught touchdown passes during the drills, with Bracey splitting a double team to catch one touchdown — followed by a one-handed TD grab.
- With Joseph’s injury, the Panthers have now lost 10 starters from last year’s team, seven to transfer, two via graduation and and one to injury.