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10 posts from March 2007

March 31, 2007

Defense does not rest; Offense wakes up

The youth fair is going on less than half a mile from FIU Stadium, but the team's first spring scrimmage Saturday morning provided its share of entertainment. More on that in a bit, but first.....

Fiu        There certainly was no cotton candy in the first scrimmage under MC.

The FIU defense was very physical and showed the Golden Panthers still have some playmakers even after the departure of the 3 studs (Barnes, Bostic and Bouie).                                                                             

                          Like lastFair year, the defense was again spending the day in the offensive backfield. They got 16 sacks and a handful of tackles for loss. Jonas Murrell and Jonathan Betancourt each had 3 sacks. The secondary was strong, except when tight end Moses Hinton dragged tacklers about 6 yards each time on 2 of his 3 catches. Moses is healthy again and should have a good year in the new offense.

Speaking of which, the new offense was unveiled and although they couldn't score a touchdown (No, this is not 2006 all over again, trust me on this) there was some creativity to the play calling (A'mod Ned executed a nifty halfback pass for 20 yards to Elliott Dix) and the passing game looked pretty good for the first scrimmage. McCall and Fraites combined to go 17 of 24.

Oh, and there was this strange sighting -- maybe you guys can help me understand this -- FIU quarterbacks actually lined up about 5 yards behind the center to take a snap......I think I've seen a lot of teams work out of this formation.....I think it's called something like "rifle, or maching gun....maybe SHOTGUN". Yes folks, there will be a shotgun in the offense this year and not just during the 2 minute drill.

New offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach James Coley is a sharp guy with a diverse offensive background. His play calling showed that.Sh_2

  The offensive line is still a work in progress, but it can only get better. Julian Reams had a nice 22-yard run, but other than that the running game was stuck in neutral.

Once again, discipline was stressed.

Fullback John Ellis got a first down on his own after what looked like a busted screen pass. After gaining nine yards basically by himself, MC instructed the offensive line to give Ellis a pat on the back. MC said to the o-line "Get over there and congratulate him, he made you guys look good".

An offensive lineman and a defensive lineman had a little tussle after a play. MC got the two players together to shake hands and then had them take a lap around the field while holding hands.

Players were running in and out of the huddles to the sidelines and special teams were practiced on 4 -- that's right 4 -- different times on Saturday.

Kicker Dustin Rivest had a big day converting 6 of 8 field goals, two from 42 yards out.

After one week of practice under MC and his coaching staff, I have to say this is a completely different program.

March 30, 2007

TV or not TV?

Many of you have wondered how many FIU games will be on television this season.

The Sun Belt's complete television schedule has not been released yet. I called the conference office and was told they are expected to release the tv schedule "sometime" in May.

ESPN/ESPN2 did not pick up any FIU games, but there may be a shot that Sun Sports could televise the FIU/um game.

Last year, FIU was on tv 8 times with most of those on ESPN Plus and CSS. Those two stations may pick up Golden Panthers games again this season.

March 28, 2007

156 days until Happy Valley


  Not exactly a bad way to start a college coaching career going against the one of the all-time winningest coaches. Just 156 days before Joe Pa greets Mario in Happy Valley.

The 2007 schedule is out and it's another mountain for the Golden Panthers to climb.

Home (in Orange Bowl) against Maryland, Troy, Cajuns, FAU and North Texas.....Away at PSU, in OB for um, at Kansas, at Middle Tennessee, at Monroe, at Pig Sooey, at Arkansas State.

With four straight out-of-conference games to start (PSU, Mary, um, Kansas) we should learn fairly quickly how far the 2007 Golden Panthers have to go.

One thing is for sure after seeing the type of practice (Tuesday) that is going to be run this season, FIU will be prepared and won't be outworked.

Is all the talent there yet? Probably not. But a couple more recruiting classes like last month's and things should start turning around.

There's no sense in making any predicitions on the number of wins this season, especially without seeing the entire team practice yet or seeing who will be playing where.




March 27, 2007

Spring practice No. 1


Well one thing is for sure after the first spring practice, MC and his new coaching staff won't be needing any of this (picture on left).

Cristobal, his coaches and players were all flying around all the drills today. And it wasn't all about yelling or screaming. From where I was sitting on the sidelines you could hear the coaches teaching along with exhibiting some discipline when plays or drills weren't done right.

There were several ex-Golden Panthers in attendance and they all were saying the same things: They couldn't believe the energy in today's practice from both the players and coaches. Plus, the 2007 players worked on several drills that most of the ex-Golden Panthers said they hadn't seen since high school.

Special teams was a big emphasis today. The coaches stopped practice 3 times to work on special teams drills.

Also, there were 3 walk-ons auditioning for the kicking jobs after practice. Like Mario said during the kicking auditions: "Every single day will be an audition for this team. The best thing in the world is competition. Competition will fix every thing."

Some standouts from day 1: Julian Reams had some nice runs during goal line drills. Lionell Singleton intercepted Paul McCall during 7-on-7 drills and had a clear path to the end zone. Kent Henderson and Robert Mitchell were strong in pass coverage especially during red-zone drills.

It's only the first practice, but from the looks of day 1 this team seems to be headed in the right direction as MC says below:

"We know we got tons of work to do. You don't go 0-12 and magically turn it around with a
couple of hard practices. We're trying to find out who are the guys we can count on. The thing
we are doing is we're being very, very real and very direct. There is no sense in sugarcoating anything

at all. If you are not getting it done we gotta find a way to help you and make you get it done. And if not somebody else will."



March 26, 2007

Talkin' Baseball

Just got back from covering Miami's professional baseball team (Marlins) this weekend. Taking a look at what Miami's college baseball team (Golden Panthers) did and gotta hand out congrats to third baseman Bryan Pullin for setting the FIU career hits mark and pitcher Corey Polizzano -- Sun Belt pitcher of the week.

Polizzano allowed only one run while walking six against Troy......shows the freshman made some good pitches when he had to.

Could these two players' accomplishments be the lone highlights of the season?

Don't want say this weekend's 3-game series against the Cajuns is big, but ULL Is the best team in the Sun Belt and FIU has been inconsistent all season.

The Golden Panthers will be at the halfway point of the season after Wednesday's game against Harvard and so far there are no signs of a postseason breakthrough.

March 23, 2007

Friday Night Lights

The Spring Game has been moved from Wednesday, April 18 to Friday April 20, because a lot of the players have class on the last day of the spring semester -- April 18.

The spring game will begin at 7 p.m. on April 20 and is open to the public. Regular spring practices are closed to the public.

Talking to Mario this morning about what he wanted to see at the spring game besides progress from his offense and defense........Mario said: "A packed stadium".

Got "rocky" special teams....get Apollo

FIU has a new special teams coach, Apollo Wright from Villanova.

Wright was the running backs coach for five years with the Wildcats before taking over the special teams last season. Speaking with Villanova coach Andy Talley this afternoon, he said Wright was instrumental in developing Philadelphia Eagles All-Pro running back Brian Westbrook (a Villanova alum).

Wright also was a strong recruiter of Alabama and Florida for the Wildcats and as we know the theme of the new sports administration at FIU is all about "recruiting".

Mario is huge on special teams and you can bet this year's special teams will be a whole lot better than 2006.


March 21, 2007

Under center

Paul McCall is expected to get the first shot at the quarterback job when spring practice opens next Tuesday.

Paul is a smart guy (electrical engineering major) and has a leg up on his competition by being the first quarterback to be exposed to the new offense Mario is going to run.

Speaking to Paul at FIU's NFL Pro Day earlier this month, he told me he likes the new offense and that it is going to be a little more uptempo than the pro style offense FIU had the previous 5 years.

Obviously, he wasn't going against Penn State or Arkansas when he practiced last season, but Paul showed he can move in the pocket and scramble.

He'll need to have a big spring, because after seeing game film of the 3 freshman quarterbacks coming in, don't be surprised if one of the 3 freshman takes the first snap at Penn State.

March 20, 2007

New WR coach

Just in time for the opening of spring practice on Tuesday afternoon, former Miami High head coach Frank Ponce has joined Mario Cristobal's staff at FIU as receivers coach.

Speaking with several Dade County high school football coaches, they all say the same things about Ponce: a good offensive mind and a guy who will be a good recruiter especially in Dade since he's been coaching high school football since 1992 in four different Dade high schools.

Ponce certainly has some talent to work with in: Ash Parker, Jeremy Dickens and John Houston Whiddon and plus Mario is bringing in a pretty good receiving class: Marquis Rolle, James Rucker, Greg Ellington and Jason Frierson.

Now who's going to throw these guys the ball?

March 19, 2007

Spring football

   With just a little more than five months before the 2007 season opener at Penn State, coach Mario Cristobal will get his first chance this spring to see what kind of players were left over by former FIU coach Don Strock.

   It should be an interesting two and a half weeks of spring practice as there will be plenty of competition for starting jobs before Cristobal's heralded first recruiting class steps foot on FIU in August.

   From what I understand starting jobs will be up for grabs at almost all positions. Just because a player may be an upperclassman won't secure a starting job. Remember this is a new coaching staff and they are going to go with who they feel will give them the best chance to win.

   I want to thank coach Cristobal for not making the first spring practice at dawn like the previous five spring openers.

   3:30 in the afternoon sounds a lot better than 6 a.m.

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