When Maryland defensive coordinator Brian Stewart studies for Florida International, Saturday’s season-opening opponent, he rarely queues up film of the Panthers. Instead, the tape rolls on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And the Indianapolis Colts. And the Chicago Bears.
Therein lies the mystery surrounding Florida International, a young group with zero starting experience at running back and offensive line and just five returning starters overall. So game film on what the Panthers will do this weekend at Byrd Stadium basically does not exist. First-year coach Ron Turner overhauled the system, installing a pro-style, West Coast offense brought from his NFL days over the past eight years as an assistant with Tampa Bay, Indianapolis and Chicago. At least, that’s what the Terrapins have heard.
“We haven’t seen them or done any of those things, so we just have to go with what Ron Turner’s done in the past,” Stewart said. “You put all that stuff together, come up with what you think comes up the best way would be the things you see a lot of.”
Even if Turner had been around last season, the Panthers will look fairly different in week one. Leading rusher Kedrick Rhodes was dismissed from the team after being charged with two misdemeanors and one felony surrounding a firearms incident. Wide receiver Glenn Coleman, the team’s leading returning receiver, was not listed among the top eight wide outs on FIU’s first depth chart.
“That’s what I talk to them all the time,” Turner said Wednesday in a telephone interview. “I say, ‘I’m going to focus on the guys who are here.’ Somebody got themselves ineligible academically or somebody’s hurt or somebody got suspended, let’s not worry about them. Let’s focus on the guys who are here in this room. If we do that, we’ll have enough to go out and play the way we’re capable of and do some good things.”
The one key returner comes at quarterback. Junior Jake Medlock, despite missing three games last year, threw for 2,127 yards and 13 touchdowns. He was intercepted just twice. Even without Coleman, the Panthers have two wide receivers in Willis Wright and Dominique Rhymes who stand taller than 6 feet, and could give Maryland’s shorter cornerbacks some trouble.
“That definitely helps,” Turner said of Medlock. “Jake’s done a great job of being a leader. He’s been learning the system as well, so it’s totally new to him. But he’s done a good job of studying it, learning it, picking it up. Each day he feels more comfortable with it. You can see the leadership coming out. Having someone at that position is critical.”
>> Stewart said he hopes to rotate at least five players along the defensive line. Keith Bowers, Darius Kilgo and Quinton Jefferson are the starters, and with transfer Zeke Riser (ankle) missing from the two-deep, the backup roles will likely fall to Alex Walker and Andre Monroe, currently listed as co-backups behind Bowers at defensive end.
>> What’s it like having cornerbacks face wide receiver Stefon Diggs every practice? “Good and bad,” Stewart said. “Hurts your ego. Diggs keeps the competitive edge going. He’s an extreme competitor. You watch in practice, you can see that. The other thing is, he knows when to use that change in speed. Running down the field, slowing across, slowing down, speeding up, accelerating and breaking.”
>> Cornerback Will Likely, one of two freshmen on the two-deep and arguably the most impressive first-year player during preseason camp, should see more playing time against spread offenses as Maryland’s fourth cornerback, Stewart said. This means Old Dominion on Sept. 7 and West Virginia on Sept. 21.
“It’s good to have a fourth corner you can put on, and play man all across the board,” Stewart said. “This kid eats, breathes football. Everything’s important to him. He’s here a lot. I wouldn’t be surprised if I turned around and he’s sitting in the defensive back room watching film.”