New look defense calls for new leadership

Jonathan Jacobskind/Asst. Sports Director

 New conference, new coach, new schemes, but no Johnathan Cyprien.

These are four tribulations the FIU defense is facing as the team concludes the first week of spring practice. Now with Defensive Coordinator Josh Conklin calling the shots for the Panther defense, spring football gives Conklin the opportunity to implement his defensive strategies that is in dire need of a facelift.

In 2012, the defensive unit failed to live up to prodigious expectations after as they surrendering an average of 31 points per game as well as about 400 yards a game. Despite having the liability of improving the FIU defense that needs to be immediate revamped, Conklin has a different mentality in taking the proper time and strategy to setting his system with the right personal.

“It’s a process, we’re not trying to win the Super Bowl on Saturday. We are trying to get ourselves in position to play the best football we can going into next fall and guys are picking up the defense so we’ll just keep adding more as we go (comma, not period) ” Conklin said. “We are talking about an organizational depth chart and it’s not linear, it’s circular and we’re just going to keep plugging guys through and pretty soon it will define itself.”

After failed expectations in 2012 and the move to Conference USA that will feature offenses quite alien to FIU, the Panthers have an even a bigger pill to swallow; replacing defensive cornerstone and bone-crushing strong safety Cyprien. This April, Cyprien will be trading his blue and gold garments for an NFL uniform, as the all-time leading tackler in FIU history is projected to be selected third among safeties.

With Cyprien headed for the pros, Conklin stressed that it leaves a void in team leadership and emphasized the need for some of the returning players to step up and take the reigns as leaders. He had two players in mind.

“With a guy like Cyprien gone, you definitely miss that leadership,” Conklin said. “ Now that he’s gone, I expect guys like Sam Miller and Justin Hailey to step up and bring that leadership. These are guys that have been here for a while and are great football players.’

In 2012, the two defensive standouts combined for 185 tackles and 9 pass breakups with Miller registering just one interception. After a break out year in 2011 where he was a part of one of best secondaries in the nation in 2012, it earned him a spot on the 2012 preseason All-Sun Belt Conference First-Team.

The 5-foot-10, 190-pound senior, who is taking part in his final stretch of spring football of his college career, is optimistic things about the new coaching staff and fully embraces the idea of stepping up as one of the leaders on defense.

“It feels great, it’s a new atmosphere, these new coaches bring a lot of energy to us and its just great to see what we have as a unit,” Miller said. “It feels good to be a leader on this defense. I have to bring a lot of energy and learn from the guys last year like Cyprien and Tourek Williams who were great leaders of this team.”