With spring game set for Saturday, FIU depth chart taking shape

With FIU’s football practices set to culminate with Saturday’s Spring Showcase, here’s a position-by-position look at the Panthers with a little more than four months to go before their 2024 season opener at Indiana.

Quarterback: Keyone Jenkins is the clear starter, and Haden Carlson is the only backup with college experience. Amari Jones is back from injury, and true freshman Clayton Dees will get time to develop.

Running back: This should be quite a battle among Shomari Lawrence, Kejon Owens and Lexington “Flex” Joseph.

Lawrence led FIU in rushing last year (566 yards, 4.5 average). Owens rushed for 453 yards and led FIU with a 5.7 average. And Joseph, who missed last season due to injury, led FIU in rushing in 2022 (535 yards, 5.0 average). Joseph has practiced all spring, and he should be cleared for contact at the start of fall camp.

“Shomari is a different back this spring, the way he’s hitting the seams,” FIU offensive coordinator David Yost said of Lawrence’s improvement.

In addition to those three, Nate Henry, a walk-on from Miramar High who took a redshirt year in 2023, has earned coach Mike MacIntyre’s praise.

Receiver: Kris Mitchell transferred to Notre Dame after setting FIU’s single-season receiving record with 1,118 yards. He leaves a huge void, especially since Jalen Bracey (graduation) is also gone.

The two established receivers returning are Eric Rivers (32 catches, 11.6 average) and Dean Patterson (28 catches, 15.1 average).

MacIntyre also praised younger players such as Kyle McNeal, Ja’Coby Matthews and Nazeviah Burris.

Luby Maurice Jr. and Ross Fournet have made plays, according to Yost.

Tight end: Rocky Beers led FIU at his position last year with 18 catches, and he has had a strong spring. Josiah Miamen (14 catches) has been injured, opening up a chance for converted wide receiver Dylan Redmon, who has earned MacIntyre’s notice.

Yost also mentioned Braiden Staten and Rowdy Beers, Rocky’s brother.

Offensive line: Center John Bock II is practicing with the team, but he will miss much of the season due to an NCAA banned-substance suspension.

MacIntyre said redshirt freshmen Jaheim Buchanon and Mykeal Rabess have made “big jumps” this spring.

FIU’s best O-lineman, according to MacIntyre, is JaDarious Lee, who is alternating between right and left tackle along with Travis Burke.

Naeer Jackson, who has starting experience, is “progressing” at guard, Yost said. Buchanon has been playing center, and Jackson Schultze has been moved inside.

Yost also mentioned Daniel Michel and Ben Shellenback as having impressed this spring.

Defensive line: Defensive coordinator Jovan Dewitt said FIU got opposing quarterbacks “off their marks” 168 times in 12 games last season. Yet they only got 16 sacks.

This year, new nose tackle Cole Gustafson should make a difference clogging up the middle. Keegan Davis is having a strong spring. Claude Larkins, Marquez Tatum, Giovanni Davis and Steven Shannon were also mentioned by Dewitt.

Linebacker: Donovan Manuel, who led FIU with 121 tackles last year, graduated. But Reggie Peterson, who was second with 104 tackles, is filling the leadership void.

Elijah Anderson-Taylor has impressed after losing 15 pounds of fat and gaining eight pounds of muscle. “He looks completely different,” Dewitt said, “way more sideline to sideline.”

Defensive back: FIU’s DBs, who combined for just four picks last year, are looking for more big plays. Dewitt said Brian Blades II needs “less PBUs [pass-breakups] and more INTs [interceptions].”

Dewitt has been impressed with true freshman Shamir Sterlin. “He’s supposed to be at prom,” Dewitt said. “He’s doing an unbelievable job.”

Mister Clark, a redshirt freshman, has flashed this spring, showing a knack for the ball.

Veteran CJ Christian as well as Larry Preston, JoJo Evans and Preston Thompson are also competing.

Special teams: Chase Gabriel (9 of 12 on field goals) and punter Daton Montiel return.