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31 posts from August 2012

August 11, 2012

Saturday (not so) early...

The title refers to the blog post, made after lunch The Saturday morning practice definitely was early. Like if this were the old Saturday morning cartoon days, FIU would've been on the field before the first In The News.

(Digression: Between Schoolhouse Rock, In the News and ABC's Time for Timer, the segments that ran between classic Saturday morning cartoon days of the 1970s acted as if viewers actually had young, fertile minds that could handle two minutes of relevant information between half-hours animated fun of wildly variant quality cut by commercials for toys and breakfast food)


This morning was special teams work time with the scrimmage tonight. Jack Griffin's kickoffs landed perfectly, either in the end zone or pushing the returner to the sideline inside the 10. Griffin's kickoff length got some help from new rules pushing the kickoffs up to the 35 from the 30 to cut down on the dueling kamikazes collisions that are kickoff returns.

Several returned kickoffs -- last year's non-T.Y. Hilton regulars, Wayne Times and Richard Leonard; Kedrick Rhodes; Sam Miller; and freshman Nick England. Without Hilton, who plays his first preseason game for Indianapolis Sunday, FIU needs someone to burst forth as a guy who can create field position on returns if not quick touchdowns.

Whatever you thought of Dolphins coach Tony Sparano, he nailed it when he'd talk about "hidden yardage" -- the other guy's penalty that gives you an extra 10 yards to prolong a drive where you don't score, but you suck time and swing the field; your own penalty that wipes out a great punt or a great return; this block, that missed tackle, etc. Saturday, Mario Cristobal said FIU's equation is 80 yards of hidden yardage=7 points. There's a lot of hidden yardage in special teams.

Freshman Johnnie Durante, a two-way player who made First Team All-Dade last year at defensive back, has been working with the wide receivers this week.

I'll be blogging again very late tonight or early tomorrow after the scrimmage (and, possibly, after late dinner with the wife). 

August 10, 2012

Friday Football Fun at FIU

Alliteration abounds!

Saturday's scrimmage will be 120 plays, divided evenly among 1s vs. 1s, 2s vs. 2s, 3s vs. 3s. They'll roll out most of the offense.

Safety Jordan Davis, a freshman out of Tampa Alonso, will have knee surgery in the next few days to determine the extent of his ligament damage.

One of the most interesting drills Friday, especially on a team with some big receivers with hops, was the fade pattern drill. It took the quarterbacks a few rounds of throws but eventually, both Jake Medlock and Lorenzo Hammonds got the touch (suddenly thinking of Dirk Diggler singing).

Kicker Jack Griffin got one through from 53 yards out, missed and hit from 48. Last year, Griffin's long was 46 yards.

Mario Cristobal likes the way freshman wide receiver Raymond Jackson looks so far. He said Jackson was brought to his attention by New Orleans O. Perry Walker High coach Emmanuel Powell when Cristobal went to look at defensive lineman Marques Cheeks. Upon being told Jackson was playing quarterback, wide receiver, linebacker and safety and was drawing attention, but would like to go to FIU, Cristobal asked where he was. Powell replied, "He's right behind you," prompting Cristobal to turn around and try to look beyond a big guy wearing a beard and jacket who he assumed was a coach..and turned out to be Jackson.

Another Louisiana native, defensive tackle Isame Faciane, got kept after practice for a one-on-one with Cristobal at the middle of the field. Both have looked happier.

"I want to see more out of Ice," Cristobal said. "That's a big talented guy. I know what he can be. He knows what he can be. I know there's a lot on his plate with school and everything else. We demands the most out of these guys. We don't compromise academnics and we don't compromise what they have to do out there in practice. I just think when you have the opportunity to coach a talent like that. You just can't settle for what they do well and OK and average days. You have to push that young man to be elite and that's what we're going to do."

Reminds of something defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said about defensive end Tourek Williams Thursday. The difference between Williams this year and Williams of past years, Orlando said, "His mindset is to be That Guy with it. Maybe in the past, it would be, 'I can do this, but I can do it 65-70 percent of the time.' Now, he's saying, 'I can do this every play.'"

That's indicative of the tone around camp this year. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out.


August 09, 2012

Thursday at La Cage Aux Pantheres

Thursday's practice included the Board Drill, the most physical of the one-on-one drills, third down and red zone situations.

The head coach said: "Today, we brought about as much pressure as you can bring. Both in the run and the pass. So many people get caught up in running pressure ong passing downs, passing plays that a lot of times people forget when you're running pressure and people run the football, you've got to be able to tackle on the run like that. That's a different animal, too. We worked a bunch of that today. We made it very difficult for the offense to create numbers that were positive (as far as players in "the box"). Especially the defensive backs, as much as we put them on the island today, those guys looked pretty good. Then, we missed a couple of big plays, a couple of plays we should make. We rebounded later. But, early on, it was definitely better (for the defense)."

To Channel 7, Cristobal lauded Jake Medlock with, "He's had a heck of a camp against a defense that we expect to be one of the better ones in the country."

Freshman wide receiver DeAndre Jaspher wore a cast after surgery on a broken left hand that'll sideline him until about a third of the way into the season.

Saturday's scrimmage won't be open to the public. They're trying to keep the new offensive scheme under wraps.

August 08, 2012

Committment...Or, "new players;" Hobbs preseason All-Conference USA soccer

The football team's got the day off. FIU got a verbal commitment for 2013 from Miami Columbus High linebacker Jordan Guest, who attended Monday's practice. Guest, unrated by Rivals, Scout or ESPN, is 6-3 or 6-4 and looks like he'll be 200 to 210 easily.

Check out today's story on Sam Miller and Richard Leonard at http://www.miamiherald.com/sports


State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota pitcher Robby Kalaf has joined former Valrico Bloomingdale High teammate and pitcher Cody Crouse as a verbal commitment to FIU. Crouse, a a 6-6 right handed senior at Valrico this season, committed in July for 2013.

 Kalaf, a righty, went 2-4 with a 3.92 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 11 innings for State last season.


Wednesday was the first day of official practice for two fall programs with new head coaches, former volleyball assistant Trevor Theroulde and Kenny Arena assuming the positions.

Conference USA coaches voted senior defender Anthony Hobbs to the preseason all-conference team. 


August 07, 2012

Day 5: Pads

Sorry about the lateness of this blog post. Ever had one of those days when you couldn't hit the ground with your hat? Repairs, parking, snail-driving gray hairs creeping along 107th Avenue in their Toyota sedans in the Turn Only lane have continued a trend that had me quoting 1930s boxing manager Joe Jacobs ("I shoulda stood in bed") back around the first time a running back got devoured on the handoff today.

Head coach's view: "After four hard days of practice and with the academic obligations we currently have, we cam eout iwth agreat attitude, an incredible amount of enthusiasm and they fought through a lot of plays. We even went extended plays today. We've been going anywhere from four, five, six-play series. Today, we took them on some occasions up to 10, 11, 12 plays. They responded well."

Freshman linebacker Patrick Jean took some first team reps today in team drills as Winston Fraser sat out some time so coaches could get a look at Jean. Jean and Leroy Owens, who seemed to be in on the tackle or around it on 70 percent of the team drill snaps that were 2s vs. 2s, not only have emerged early on the field, but Mario Cristobal sees them being accredited leader status by the other freshmen.

"Again, credit to the older guys like Winston Fraser and Jordan Hunt for tutoring those guys," Cristobal said. "They naturally love the physical part of the game. They showed it today. They threw some bodies around and made some plays."

During one 7-on-7 period, Quarterback Jake Medlock went with the first group, then stood on the side as Lorenzo Hammonds was with the first team receivers and backs through the rest of the drill. The carrot of playing time, perhaps even starting, is being left out there for Hammonds and freshman E.J. Hilliard. But Hilliard's a freshman and Hammonds, a redshirt freshman, is still getting the complete offense down. Hammonds made a lovely throw deep up the right sideline that Jairus Williams outjumped Richard Leonard to get during individual drills.

When the 1s faced each other in team drills, the defense again could claim overall victory. Justin Halley looked better in run support than he had last year. But the offense didn't get squashed. The line sprung Kedrick Rhodes on some good inside runs of 7 and 10 yards and Medlock made some nice throws, including one on the run to Glenn Coleman at the right sideline. Medlock also showed some maturity in one throwaway and another check down completion to Ya'keem Griner.

When the 2s faced each other, the interior defensive line detonated plays before they could happen.

By the way, as a courtesy to your fellow fans, shower and Old Spice (or Secret) before you come to La Cage Aux Panthere this season. Not like it was Soldier Field windy before, but with the enclosure of the north end, there will be even less wind. Same chewy humidity. More sweat. More funk.

Not this kind of funk...



August 06, 2012

Day 4: Early Up, Early Out

Threatening weather reports prompted an early start to Monday morning's practice. I wonder if anybody was still trapped in online registration limbo when the team took the field. More red zone and third down work Monday, important areas of focus for any team and quarterback, but Alabama-high on the To Do list for a team that had red zone trouble the previous year and has an inexperienced quarterback.

Full pads go on Tuesday before a day off Wednesday. They'll have a full scrimmage Saturday night that might or might not be open to the public (my money's on not). 

"These next few days, we'll do a lot of crossover training," FIU coach Mario Cristobal said. "Tomorrow, we're going to teach all our offensive kids to tackle. We don't want interceptions or fumbles, but they're bound to happen. When they do, let's not have them go 80, but get them on the ground right there."

Also, they'll find out who can pass, who can punt, who can long snap in addition to the players they already know have those additional qualities. The conversation swung that way when I asked about long snappers. Few fans ever think about long snappers until a series of bad snaps aborts field goal attempts or punts in a close game. Coaches, on the other hand, want to think about long snappers just long enough to make sure they're more dependable than the living room TV. John Denney's in his eighth year with the Dolphins, his fourth Dolphins head coach, because he's had maybe two bad snaps in his career. Mitch McCluggage is back as FIU's long snapper. Jonathan Cyprien and Shae Smith are backup long snappers. They also have Matthew Cowart out of Hollywood South Broward as a freshman long snapper.

Another freshman making a good early impression is wide receiver Nick England out of Suwanee Collins Hill. England made some nice catches over the middle in 7-on-7 and team drills Sunday. With FIU using so many three-wide sets, it's entirely possible he could scale the depth chart to playing time level.

See today's story on Justin Halley at http://www.miamiherald.com/sports.


August 05, 2012

Day 3: Sunday in shoulder pads

The first full pads practice will be Tuesday. Today, the team worked shoulder pads, as they will Monday. 

Today saw some red zone work, an area that FIU did well in last year as far as getting points (86.7 percent of the time, 2nd in the Sun Belt) but not necessarily touchdowns (48.8 percent, 8th in the Belt). Those who read this blog during last season know that one of my pet peeves with FIU most of last season was the thin usage of tight ends Jonathan Faucher and Colt Anderson, two of their best athletes, in the red zone. It wasn't a coincidence that, late in the season, they got to the end zone on almost every red zone visit they threw to the tight end. Just based on that and having a 6-3 quarterback who consistently can see over defensive linemen on a short drop, I'd bet on Ya'keem Griner, Zach Schaubhut and Junior Delpe to get some play from 5 to 10 yards out.

I wouldn't be surprised if there was some extra work put in on center snaps the next few days.

Freshmen linebacker Patrick Jean, linebacker Leroy Owens and defensive lineman Fadol Brown are making strong bids for second-string playing time. Freshman defensive back Jeremiah McKinnon picked off two passes Sunday, one in team drills against the third team, another in individual drills. Again, caveat: it's not real until somebody gets hit in the mouth.

FIU coach Mario Cristobal will be on Channel 7 Sunday Sports Xtra tonight at 11:30.

Check out today's story on Kedrick Rhodes at http://www.miamiherald.com/sports.


August 04, 2012

Football Practice Day 2: More Underroo Olympics; Thomas commits

Not much to report from Saturday morning's session at La Cage Aux Chats.

On the offensive upside, even when cranking out plays at Xerox rate, there looked like only one case of obvious even-five-beers-in-Bob-could-see-it miscommunication. I thought the defense generally had the better of it, as it should be given all factors (early in real camp, everybody back, know the scheme, blah, blah, blah). But, again, no pads on yet, so it's like judging a building by its miniature model.

It's not real until somebody gets smacked in the mouth. Before that, this is more educational...


Among those who dropped by practice were Belen cornerback Xavier Hines, who verbally committed to FIU Thursday, and Carol City defensive back Simeon Thomas, who did so Saturday. Scout.com and Rivals.com rank Thomas as a three-star recruit.

Remember what I said about length on defense two days ago? Thomas is listed variously at 6-3 or 6-4. I'd go with 6-4. Either way, he's all arms and legs, the kind of defender who's a problem to get around so you have to go right at him. He looks like he'll fill out big enough to be a linebacker, but could also drop back and be a rangy safety. He allegedly ran a 4.6 at FIU's camp recently.

Hines said of choosing FIU, "I feel at home here. It's down the street from my school. It's in an area my mom and my family can watch me play (he lives 10 minutes away)."

Also, he said, he doesn't like cold weather.

"It wasn't that tough (to choose FIU)," Hines said. "Ever since the beginning, I had FIU in mind. My father just wanted me to try a lot of different places first before I gave a committment here." 


August 03, 2012

Fall Football Practice, Day 1 (officially) -- 2 hours in FIU Underroos

Coming to you live from the GC at Camp Mitch via colada, it's the report from Day 1 of FIU fall football practice!

That exclamation point ends the hype part of this report.

(Quick aside: just ran into running back Kedrick Rhodes in the GC. His increase in muscular thickness is even more visible out of uniform.) 

There's only so much you can tell from the first day of practice of any sport. A football practice involving helmets, jerseys, shorts but no pads or real contact -- "running around in the underwear" as some football coaches say colloquially -- buries itself under Inconclusive.

As far as accuracy, I thought the quarterbacks looked fine for the first day. I thought the receivers could've helped them out more, but, again, it's Day 1. You see some of the same passes slip through fingers in three weeks, then you reach for the Pepto-Bismol.

First team receivers: Wayne Times, Glenn Coleman, Jacob Younger. Second team: Willis Wright, Jairus Williams, Dominique Rhymes. James Louis, who transferred from Ohio State last year, wasn't at practice. Word is he's got some schoolwork to do. Tight ends: redshirt freshman Ya'keem Griner and Zach Schaubhut, who made some nice catches. 

The best throw and catch of the day came on the same play. Freshman E.J. Hilliard arched a 15-yard out to the far sideline almost over cornerback Richard Leonard. Leonard skimmed the ball a second before Wright adjusted to make the grab and tap down. Lorenzo Hammonds made some nice throws, too. But there's no quarterback competition or controversy. This is Jake Medlock's job to lose and he certainly did nothing to do that today.

"We were more efficient with the ball in the passing game than typical on Day 1," Mario Cristobal said. "That's good to see. And I saw it from at least the first three quarerbacks. They took teh bulk of the reps -- Jake taking the first set, Lorenzo the second one, E.J. the third."

Freshman Favian Upshaw also took reps at quarterback. Cristobal said they structured practice so that the younger players got as many reps as the veterans to get them up to speed. Clearly, there's a feeling that, despite the plethora of returning talent, this freshman class will refuse to be shelved.

"We are forced to create extra periods for three and some of the fours because those guys are talented enough to contribute," Cristobal said. "We just have to see if they can get all the mental stuff."

Look especially at the freshmen linebackers to get into the mix.

Not into the mix will be tight end Bryan Attaway from Kingsland (Ga.) Camden County High; defensive back Denzel Conyers from Gulfport Boca Ciega; and Pembroke Pines Flanagan wide receiver Jeremy Smith. Academic issues eliminated these 2012 recruits.


August 02, 2012

Belen's Xavier Hines commits; FIU gets 3 points of love in USA Today preseason poll; more ESPN3 time

Belen cornerback Xavier Hines gave FIU three defensive back commits -- two for the class of 2013 -- in the last two days Thursday afternoon. Hines was a Second Team All-Dade 8A-6A selection last year. He's ranked as a three-star recruit by Rivals.com and a two-star recruit by Scout.com. ESPN has no ranking on him.

Wednesday, North Miami seniorTroy McCollum and Krop sophomore Jovon Durante, a wide receiver and cornerback, pledged themselves to FIU. What's clear about the Panthers recruiting, both in this freshman class and the one for 2013, is they're getting guys with more height and wingspan on the defensive side of the ball. McCollum's in the 6-0 to 6-1 range and Hines is 5-11 to 6-0. Among freshmen defensive backs Davison Colimon (listed as a linebacker going into camp), Jeremiah McKinnon, Deonte Wilson and Johnnie Durante, there's not a one who is under 6-0 -- officially. Defensive coaches enjoy hearing a player described as "long" the way people with cultured ears enjoy hearing Stevie Wonder. Take a look at last year's interceptions leader Justin Halley, a rangy 6-2.

Anyway, here's some video on Hines.


And, just because I mentioned him, Stevie doing a song he origianlly wrote for Jeff Beck...


The 59 poll voters among the nation's college-affiliated football coaches certainly respect FIU. The Panthers lost the best player in the program's relatively brief history and have a redshirt sophomore with two starts at quarterback, yet for the first time ever got points in the USA Today/Coaches preseason poll.

FIU's 3 points got them in the Others Receiving Votes listing, tied for 43rd with Missouri and Tennessee. Among the coaches doing the voting are Louisiana's Mark Hudspeth, Central Florida's George O'Leary, South Florida's Skip Holtz and the University of Miami's Al Golden, folks who butt heads against FIU either on the field or, increasingly, the recruiting trails.

Two 2012 FIU opponents were in the poll, which was topped, predictably by LSU and Alabama. Both were in the Others Receiving Votes group outside the Top 25. Louisville's 46 points were the 27th most and UCF's 5 points were tied for 41st with Rutgers, which had pursued FIU coach Mario Cristobal in January.


Or, at least, streaming time. The home opener against Akron, 6 p.m. Sept. 8, and the 7 p.m. Sept. 29 game at Louisiana (which doesn't want to be called Louisiana-Lafayette) both will be on ESPN3.

August 01, 2012

Flaig, McCollum, Durante (The Younger) all commit; at Troy now at 1 p.m.

Hearing FIU's got a verbal commit from Vero Beach offensive lineman Chris Flaig, a 6-5, 300-pounder under pursuit by a few other Florida schools and, reportedly, was visited by University of Miami offensive line coach Art Kehoe. Flaig plays tackle, but also can do long snapping. He's rated at two stars by both Scout.com and Rivals.com.

6-0 North Miami High cornerback Troy McCollum verbally committed to FIU Wednesday afternoon over a long list of suitors. Scout.com lists him as a two-star recruit, while Rivals.com and ESPN have him as a three-star recruit.

"The facilities are great, new dorms and the assistant coaches where down to earth. There's a family atmosphere," said McCollum, who says he plans to major in engineering or sports exercise.

Asked to expand upon the coaches being "down to earth," he said, "They joke around with you and are cool with you. They don't act like they scared to talk to you."

McCollum said he knows current FIU defensive back Junior Mertile, freshmen wide receiver De'Andre Jasper and Johnnie Durante. 

Speaking of Durante, his younger brother, Krop sophomore Jovon Durante, has made a very early verbal committment to FIU for 2015. The talk on the younger Durante, a defensive back and wide receiver like his brother was at Krop, is he might be one of the top 10 players in the state by his senior year. Nothing's certain, of course, but his older brother was a First Team All-Dade large school selection last year. Jovan's got a little bit of giddyup -- as a freshman this spring he made the Class 4A state final in the 200 meters.



FIU's road game Oct. 20 against Troy is now a 1 p.m. Eastern time game to be shown on the Sun Belt Network (Comcast Sports Southeast).

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