With its array of playmakers, the FIU offense has a chance to be pretty good this season, but like is the case in all levels of football, the offense will only be as good as its offensive line.
The last time FIU had that scenario (5 returning OL starters and all being upperclassmen) the Panthers O-line led by center Victor Cernius (left) -- the only FIU player to play in every game during a 4-year FIU career -- went on to set a program record allowing just 9 sacks in the 2004 season. FIU was just 3-7 in 2004, but that Panthers team (then Division I-AA) did knock off No. 5 (Div. I-AA) Stephen F. Austin 31-24 in Texas.
The FIU line that allowed 9 sacks in 2004 featured five juniors in: Cernius, Tim Dierks, Patrick Mullen, John Shanahan and Ed Wenger.
The 2009 projected starting O-line for FIU features 4 seniors (Ula Matavao, Andy Leavine, Mario Caraballo, Joe Alajajian) and 1 junior (Brad Serini).
Three-fifths of the current FIU o-line played in all 12 games last season, while Leavine and Caraballo played in 8 games due to injuries. Entering camp, all 5 starters are healthy and staying so will go a long way toward building that cohesiveness needed in an OL throughout the season.
Leavine and Alajajian made some noticeable gains in the offseason setting team highs in the weight room with Leavine cleaning 365 pounds and squatting 500. Alajajian (right, thanks Alex J. Hernandez photo) might be the strongest player on the team with his 500 pound bench press and 575 squat. Serini (below, left, thanks AJH photo) dropped from being 305 pounds to 280 pounds so that he could be quicker off the ball.
Among the other offensive linemen that could really help out this season are Chris Cawthon, who was having a solid freshman season last year until tearing his knee at North Texas. Cawthon has been rehabbing this summer and according to MC is "getting close" to returning to form.
Stephen Bailey, who redshirted last season to put on some pounds, enters his redshirt freshman season this year with 25 pounds of muscle added on going from 255 to 280. He could figure into the OL play.
MC expects all the freshmen OL to "be in the mix" for playing time. Dave Istanich, Giancarlo Revilla, Austin Tottle, Derek Wimberly and Rupert Bryan. However, if I was a betting man and I'm not -- unless you count a lottery ticket every once in a while -- I would say Bryan could be the first freshman to see the field. Physically, he looks ready, but it will all depend on how quickly he gets La Pierna's offense.
MC also had good things to say about Curtis Bryant -- "he's going to be good" and Luis Pena, who has "been working hard".
Kenny White is not ready to return from his knee injury last season and MC says Cedric Mack at 350, has to drop to 310.
There are no free agent acquisitions in the college game, but if there were FIU got a very helpful one when punter Carlos Munera (right, thanks Sam Lewis photo) was granted an extra season of eligibility by the NCAA.
Some might think of a punter being an afterthought on a football team, but if you have a good one like the Panthers do, the punter can be a pretty effective weapon helping out with hidden yardage -- such as pining a team deep in their own territory. Munera averaged 41.1 yards per punt last season.
With Munera returning, freshman Jack Griffin and senior Dustin Rivest just have to concern themselves with the placekicking duties. Regardless of how talented a leg you have, you can only either kick or punt effectively and not both. It would have been tough for either JG or DR to both punt and kick if that were the case this season.
Griffin arrives at FIU as the No. 3 rated kicker in Florida and No. 14 in the nation. Now he has to prove those rankings were correct. Griffin and Rivest, who set an FIU single-game record with 5 field goals against Arkansas State last season, will duel this month for the kicking job.
My mistake leaving off Marquis Rolle from the receivers preview. I had him written on my notepad, but the name never made it on to the laptop keyboard. Of course, MR deserves to be mentioned among the FIU receivers, especially after some of the catches he made during 7-on-7s this summer.
You have 7 chances to see your Panthers practice before all camp practices are closed to the public. The first 7 practices are open to you beginning with the first one next Monday, August 10 at 9 a.m. The rest of the first week schedule goes: Tuesday through Friday with 8:30 a.m. starts and Saturday is two-a-day with practices at 8:00 a.m. and 3:45 p.m. All practices are at FIU Stadium.
Chris Cawthon cracked the starting offensive line as a freshman last season and did a good job in the first 5 games of the season before getting injured. Cawthon could possibly regain the starting job this month. Freshmen don't normally see much playing time on an OL, but which one of the 2009 frosh OL class will see the field first?