For the first time in four years at FIU, we saw last season what a difference "El Monstruo" made on defense. Not counting Audric Adger's 4-sack impersonation of Antwan Barnes in the season finale win against North Texas, the Golden Panthers didn't muster much of a pass rush last season.
"The weight room will help some," said MC, of trying to establish a consistent pass rush. "This is the first real offseason that these guys have had here and coach Moore and [assistant strength] coach [Ty] Wise get after those guys. Coach Moore made it very clear and we made it very clear as a staff also: we're going to be stronger or else you're going to run. We don't want big stiff guys that look pretty for the beach and we don't want little skinny-minis that run fast, but can't hold up on a double team and blocks."
Like we mentioned in the previous post with the offensive line, the success of the offense begins on the line of scrimmage. The same can be said about the defensive line. Linebackers and defensive backs can only hold their pass coverage so long before the opposing quarterback finds an open receiver. The same goes for stopping the run. If the D-line doesn't make plays in the backfield or handle the opposing O-line's blocks, then the linebackers and defensive backs can't find any room to make plays.
"What was clearly evident up front defensively in the passing game is that we need to get to the quarterback which we did the last game and you saw the difference," MC said. "North Texas was probably the hottest offense in the Sun Belt going into that last game. We literally only gave up 12 points that game. They had a 1-yard drive to start the game."
"We move a lot up front," MC added. "A lot of that has to do with footwork, technique work. Being that our players have a better understanding of our scheme, you should see a pretty significant jump in our defensive play up front. We're expecting to get better with the addition of some of the freshmen that are coming in. Guys that can get to the quarterback. Guys that can run around really well."
"Daniel Chacreton is finally healthy," MC said. "He played with a sprained ankle last year so it's hard to tell how good he can be. He's a good player. He's a kid that's going to work his butt off. Last year he was working off one leg. Jarvis Penerton needs to step up and have a big year. Ricky Booker expect him to step up. He's had a hell of an offseason. He pushed hard at 255, 260 pounds. He can run, got a hell of a motor and he gets after you good. He's a hell of a player, a Big East type of kid. Bryan Frye has gained 15 pounds of muscle on his body -- long, lean guy that can run all day. Jonathan Betancourt (knee) could be back by the second week of spring."
The FIU linebackers showed some promise last season. With the addition of just as talented linebackers this fall, expect to see this position take a major step forward in 2008.
"Scott Bryant (right) is a good football player," MC said. "He's another guy that had a great offseason. It's his turn to kind of step up and lead. Ryan Martinez did a nice job stepping in there after walking-on from New Jersey. Toronto Smith (shoulder) will probably miss the entire spring. He had shoulder surgery after the season. Matt Garris (shoulder) started playing good football there at the end and then he got hurt. He'll miss all of spring as well."
FIU lost Lionell Singleton and Cory Fleming in the defensive secondary, but there are some re-inforcements back this spring and more arriving in the fall.
"Jeremiah Weatherspoon is back on for the spring," MC said. "Dez Johnson, Anthony Gaitor, Robert Mitchell (foot) will all be playing corner. So will [freshman] Marcelus Manear. Ash Parker, Weatherspoon and Kreg Brown will be at safety. Brown started playing good football last year."
Now the $25 billion dollar question, who's going to kick for FIU this season and can he be consistent?
"We're looking for somebody to win that kicking job," MC said. "Dustin Rivest and Chris Abed will compete in the spring. Julio Moraga will join the team in the fall. Abed tore his quad two weeks before Penn State last year and was never the same during the season. Chris Cook has a hurt back so he is day-to-day. He's going to try in the spring, if not Dustin can punt."