When the FIU football team takes the field at FIU Stadium Tuesday morning for the first of its 15 spring practices, first-year Panthers coach Ron Turner will get his initial chance to evaluate his new team on the field. After FIU graduated 30 seniors last season, Turner inherits a very young team in all three facets of the game.
One priority for Turner in spring football, which runs through April 20, will be to set the expectations for his team both on and off the field.
“I think the biggest thing [in spring] is to establish our identity,” Turner said. “We want to build the culture and the attitude the way we want it to be built. From the Xs and Os of our offense, defense and special teams to how we practice, the speed, the tempo, to the expectations of our student-athletes and what is expected of them football-wise, classroom-wise and off the field. It takes time to get that message across. We want to leave spring ball with everybody having a total, 100 percent understanding of what our objectives, goals and what our vision is of how this program is going to operate.”
Turner and his offensive coaches will begin to implement their new offense in the spring. Unlike the spread offense that FIU featured the last several seasons, the Panthers will have more variety on offense this season according to Turner.
“We want to be a well-balanced, aggressive offense,” Turner said. “We are not a spread offense like so many people are in college. We are not strictly a pro, two-back offense. We are going to do a little bit of everything. Have a lot of variety and show a lot of different looks, but ultimately we are going to be aggressive. You have to be able to run the ball to win, but I also know you’ve got to be able to score points to win. You can’t score points by putting together consistently 80-yard drives and holding the ball for 12 plays. You got to have big plays, explosive plays and that will be a big part of what we do. We will change up our tempo and huddle at times, no huddle, hurry-up no huddle. Always with the mindset that we are looking for big plays, explosive plays.”
During the spring, two key cogs of the offense in quarterback Jake Medlock and running back Kedrick Rhodes should be good to go after dealing with injuries last season. Turner praised Medlock and Rhodes for their off-season work and, as upperclassmen, expects them to be leaders of the offense.
Another area of focus in the spring will be trying to find the right mix on the offensive line. The Panthers graduated starters from a year ago and bring back three linemen also with starting experience in David Delsoin, Donald Senat and Jordan White. Although the depth might not be there, Turner believes there is certainly talent on the green offensive front.
“Our depth in the offensive line is not where it needs to be,” Turner said. “That’s an area of concern. The offensive line players we have, we think there are some good young players. They just haven’t gotten playing time yet, but I think they are talented and could be good players. We need to continue to build depth at the offensive line in the next couple of years.”
The Panthers and new defensive coordinator Josh Conklin will be looking at players to fill several spots on defense replacing starters who graduated. Among some of the positions the Panthers need to address are on the defensive line and at safety where NFL-bound defenders Tourek Williams and Johnathan Cyprien played, respectively.
“We are going to be young on defense,” Turner said. “We are going to be young everywhere. But the good news is I think we have some talent. We have some speed. We have some guys that can do the things we want to do. We are just going to be young and inexperienced. We just have to make sure we don’t ask them to do too much. We want them to play hard, play fast and be physical. Well, you can’t play fast if you are thinking too much so we are going to have to do a good job with that fine line of doing enough to allow you to be successful, but not too much that you slow these guys down.”
FIU will also start installing its coverages and returns on kick and punts in the spring. Turner expects new special teams coach Kevin Wolthausen to tinker with the depth chart until he is comfortable with the players on each return and coverage unit.
“We need to get to know our team well enough to know who will be on the punt team, the punt return team, the kickoff team and all that,” Turner said. “We have a depth chart on that right now, but I’m sure that is going to change drastically, probably daily. We will be moving guys around to different positions until we find who is a good fit.”
FIU sportswriter Pete Pelegrin wrote this preview of FIU football. All practices are open to the public.