Plenty of Panthers linebackers return, but FIU does lose two stalwart linebackers. Let's take a look at the 2010 LBs.
Before that, your OFFICIAL NATIONAL SIGNING DAY COUNTDOWN stands at: 16 DAYS.
Despite a defense that had its rough games last season, the FIU linebackers for the most part held their own and other LBs emerged showing the promise that had plenty of you good people excited when they inked their LOI on signing day.
Another year of experience paid off last season for Aaron Davis (left, thanks Alex J. Hernandez photo), who really came on in 2009. One of AD's best games came against Louisiana on that Halloween noon scorcher of a game at FIU Stadium. AD had 9 tackles and 2 tackles for loss in the tight 20-17 FIU win. The following couple of weeks he put up 13 tackles against Middle Tennessee and then 13 more tackles against North Texas. AD finished 3rd on the team with 59 tackles.
Unless Jarvis Wilson moves back to LB from the D-line under new DC Geoff Collins, then Toronto Smith (above, right, thanks AJH photo) will be the lone senior on the LB corps. Little Canada was having a solid 2009 season until hurting his knee. LC really took to the middle linebacker spot. His experience and leadership will be vital for what will be a young and relatively inexperienced LBs unit this coming season.
With a full healthy season, the thought here is that Winston Fraser can put up numbers similar to AD and maybe even Scott Bryant-type numbers and might be the best FIU LB. WF's size, instincts and quickness is what you want out of an LB. Hopefully, WF stays injury-free in 2010 to show his total potential.
The losses of seniors Bryant and Tyler Clawson to graduation will hurt. Those two LBs knew exactly how to play the position inside and out and provided tremendous help to the underclassmen LBs last season.
The next wave of FIU LBs ready to take the next step this season are sophomores: Kenny Dillard, Pooh Bear Mars and Markeith Russell. With year 1 of college football under their belts expect to see more out of the trio this season.
One LB that FIU really missed in 2009 was Franklin Brown (right, thanks AJH photo), who will be a redshirt sophomore this season after missing all of last year with a groin injury. In 2008 during his freshman season, you good people saw what a playmaker FB is on D. Who could forget his game-clinching INT against Arkansas State? Once he's ready to go in 2010, FB adds another top defender to the FIU D.
Since there is a greater need to build depth and size along the D-line and the fact that you can never have too many defensive backs in the Sun Belt, as of this post FIU has commitments from 2 LBs.
Tampa Bay Tech's Greg Hickman (6-1, 255) and Hollywood Hills LB Caleb Vincent (6-2, 225).
Hickman has all the tools to become one of the top playmakers on this D.
$.03 for 2010: Another season and off-season for the underclassmen-heavy LB unit should help in 2010. Senior Toronto Smith and junior Aaron Davis have to ensure the younger LBs mature quickly for the Panthers. The FIU LBs have plenty of talent, but how much will a lack of experience hinder their progress. The LBs -- like the rest of the D -- will be learning a new defense this spring and into the fall. If they are healthy, keep an eye on Winston Fraser and Franklin Brown -- the Booker T. duo have the ability to be among the top LBs in the conference.