Spring is here. The best time of the year. Pitchers and catchers have already reported to their major league camps and the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues will open shortly. The college baseball season is underway and, oh yeah, how about the first look at the 2010 Panthers football team.
Although most of the highly-regarded 2010 FIU signing class will not participate in spring football (except running back Jeremiah Harden and punter Josh Brisk), the 15 practices FIU has lined up, including the Spring Game, will be the first of many opportunites for some Panthers to start winning jobs.
There is plenty to look for during the 15 spring practices (which as of now are open to you). We will get to all of it throughout the spring here. [With the exception of this Friday through Sunday practices, because yours truly will be in Arkansas for the Sun Belt Basketball Tournament].
But as you get ready for the first practice on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. at FIU Stadium, here are 5 areas to look for this spring.
BETWEEN THE LINES
The FIU lines needed some beef last season and from everything I've been told, the Panthers offensive and defensive linemen have had another strong off-season in the weight room. T.Y. Hilton has made substantial gains where he's up to 175 pounds.
Outside of Brad Serini and Cedric Mack, there are no other seniors on the offensive line. The O-line has a new boss in Alex Mirabal (right, thanks AJH photo), who coached the tight ends the past 3 seasons. Mirabal will bring a fire to coaching the linemen and besides the added muscle, maybe that's what this unit needs to perform better this season. Serini and Mack will have to help their fellow younger linemen if FIU plans on being an explosive offense this season. If the line can't block, the Panthers will have a tough time moving the ball this season. Dave Istanich and Rupert Bryan got some valuable playing time last season as freshmen. Both held their own against bigger opponents. Now it's time for some of the other young OL to get going before the big boys of the 2010 class arrive. Derrick Wimberly, Austin Tottle and Giancarlo Revilla among others will get a long look in the spring to see who will become regulars with Serini and Mack.
The D-Line will have just one senior in Thatcher Starling. So it will be imperative for the younger linemen on both sides to really emerge this season. Tourek Williams, Andrew Mattox, Josh Forney, Andre Pound, Kasey Smith need to take that next step. The expected returns to health of James Jones and Jonathan Jackson -- whether it's in spring or fall camp in August will also give the D-line a boost.
GET YOUR DEFENSE HOT
"Get Your Chili Hot"....FIU hopes translates into get your defense hot as well. New defensive coordinator Geoff Collins moves down the Turnpike from Orlando and arrives with an MC-like energy and enthusiasm to coach a defense that needs to improve.
Among the necessary ingredients to a better FIU D are: a suffocating run D, more consistent pressure on the QB and tighter coverage in the secondary. Everywhere GC has been the defenses have improved. Are the Panthers the next improved D on GC's resume? It all starts with the play of the D-line. Also some of FIU's young linebackers (Kenny Dillard, Pooh Bear Mars, Markeith Russell) should progress this season to fight for playing time alongside Aaron Davis and Little Canada. At safety, Terrance Taylor has all the tools to join Jonathan Cyprien as one of the best safety tandems in the conference.
The year long wait of sitting out due to NCAA transfer rules is over for QB Wesley Carroll (left) and Harden, who were teammates at St. Thomas Aquinas High. WC is like a kid in a candy or toy store with the weapons he has. JH is expected to be a difference maker with the ground game. Again, a lot of both players 2010 seasons will depend on the O-line's progress. Although, WC is not Wayne Younger with his feet, WC can move, throws real well on the run and has good touch on his passes. Harden looked like a man among boys while running the ball on the scout team in practice last season. With some help from his teammates, he can do the same in 2010.
JUST GIVE THEM THE DAMN BALL
T.Y. Hilton, Junior Mertile, Greg Ellingson, Wayne Times, Dudley LaPorte (right), Willis Wright in the fall -- yes, I would say Wesley Carroll can be one happy quarterback with the type of targets he has to throw to. And if everyone is healthy, you can expect Goodbye to see some single coverage, which he will no doubt exploit. DLP returning from a foot injury could have a monster season. Will be interesting to see how quickly the FIU receivers and their new QB get used to each other.
FIU has new kickers for the 2010 season. Jack Griffin is the leading candidate for the placekicking duties, although don't be surprised if MC brings in some competition this spring or in fall camp. Brisk has some huge shoes to fill with Carlos Munera graduated. CM made an art of punting last season and really set up the FIU D well in field position. These two positions will definitely have all eyes on them, because they will be just as important as the lines, especially late in games.
FIU hoops got some bad news today as starting senior forward J.C. Otero (right, thanks AJH photo) has a torn knee and is out for the Sun Belt Tournament. J.C. tore the knee late against Western Kentucky last Saturday. The Panthers will miss J.C.'s passing and shooting abilities in Hot Springs.
Will have a LIVE HOOPS BLOG of Saturday's opening game of the SBC tourney between FIU and Denver. Tip-off time is expected to be at 9:45 p.m. (Eastern). Game probably won't start until about 10 or 10:15 p.m., because there are other games being played on the same court before FIU's game. Regardless, expect the LIVE BLOG to begin at 9:43 p.m.
Score an E on the GPP, I placed a photo of Pablo Bermudez in the last blog when I meant to get one of Lammar Guy on there. The caption of the photo I received said Lammar Guy and the only visible number on the jersey is a "2" so I thought it was 42 (Guy) and instead it was "12" Bermudez.
A photo of Guy has replaced the Bermudez photo on the previous blog.
And to the reader making the asinine racial comments -- those have been deleted.
LonePanther: Hey Pete, still predicting a W for our opener against Rutgers this season?
PP: Can't tell you on March 2. Check back in late August for my season predictions. Was off last season, I had FIU at 6-6, but they went 3-9 so I'll have to put in some extra study time in the film session on the team before making the 2010 guesses.
Yes, FIU could easily be 0-4 to start the season, but what's not to say they knock off Rutgers and/or Maryland and begin 2-2 or 1-3. The Panthers could be much improved or might still need more development -- we won't know for sure until the season is underway. Injuries happen here and there and maybe this is the year the football injury gods do not frown upon FIU, unlike last season.
As far as the Sun Belt schedule, that's the conference FIU is in and that's the level of competition FIU is currently at. With lesser FIU teams the past few years, FIU has hung around with many of the SBC teams. If the Panthers are improved, then they should be able to beat any SBC team.
c-UM: PETE, what is your outlook on the "concessions" at the games? Can PG not cough up minimal money to bring in a serious pan con bistec guy? He should atleast try to reach out to the Gazituas (ex-player; owners of Sergio's) and see if they could help out with that.
PP: Outside of the chicken sandwich at the baseball stadium, the concessions need an overhaul. Not sure what it would cost to revamp the food at the FIU stadiums and arena. But send an e-mail or a phone call to the FIU athletic department with your ideas. Click here for all the info you need: FIU Athletics FIU reads this blog. Also have the Gazituas contact the FIU athletic department and see what happens.
Great ideas are floated around all the time, but if you good people don't take action -- like the FIU Alumni Association has with the Annual Panther Previews and tailgates -- then nothing will ever have the chance of being accomplished. Click on the link above to take action.
chrisfiu: Pete, what happened to the win-a-blog contest held in December? Was that blog ever posted? I don't recall reading it, maybe I missed it...
PP: Never heard back from Fomenter. So nothing was ever posted. I know 2nd place winner NYCFIUFan received the 2009 Sun Belt Football Yearbook via U.S. Mail.