By Brett Shweky/Sports Director
The Panthers’ defense will undergo a significant change this offseason, as numerous defensive player makers have graduated from the team.
This year’s Spring Training will play a key role in solidifying the holes in the team’s defense.
With the departure of former starting inside linebacker Anthony Wint, the Panthers’ head coach explained how Sage Lewis will make a slight positional change to fill the hole in the defense.
“Right now, Sage Lewis is the guy that we’re looking at,” said Davis. “He’s a returning starter, and we’re moving him from the weak side inside linebacker position to the middle inside linebacker position.”
Last season, Lewis started in ten games for the Panthers and finished fifth on the team in tackling. He concluded 2017 with 55 total tackles and five tackles for loss.
The redshirt-junior out of Opa-Locka, FL. , will have big shoes to fill as Wint led the team in total tackles with 92. Wint had 72 unassisted tackles, along with having eight tackles for loss.
Throughout Davis’ career as a head coach however, he has had numerous middle linebackers go on to have great success.
“I’ve been blessed, I’ve had a lot of really great middle linebackers. From Ray Lewis, to Dan Morgan, to Jonathan Vilma, to some of the players I had at North Carolina. They were all spectacular; they could make all the calls. They were like coaches in the huddle,” said Davis.
Ray Lewis went on to be inducted into the National Football League Hall-of-Fame, while Morgan and Vilma went on to have stellar Pro Bowl careers.
Along with losing Wint, FIU’s linebacking core also lost Fred Russ, Treyvon Williams, and Jordan Guest.
Panthers’ linebacker Sage Lewis discussed the difficulties of him being one of the only returning players to the linebacking corp.
“Being I’m the only returning experienced linebacker, there’s been a lot of teaching involved,” said the redshirt-junior. “But for me right now, it’s all about patience. Working with everyone and trying to be that leader for this defense.
One of the changes to the linebacking core will be the addition of senior Fermin Silva. For last three seasons, Silva has strictly played defensive line for the Panthers.
“You know we’re going to be moving some guys around,” said the Panthers’ defense coordinator and linebackers coach Brent Guy. “We’re trying to see if Fermin Silva can play the linebacker position. You know he has the body type for it, so we’re going to try that experiment.
Having only played defensive linemen, Silva’s early success at the position has caught some of the coaches off guard.
“Fermin surprised us quite a bit. He has the ability to drop into coverage, which before he had never really dropped back that much,” said Guy.
In Silva’s first three years with FIU, he has played in 34 games and has gone on to be an impact player. The last two seasons for the Panthers, Silva has led the team in sacks with 5.0 in 2016 and 7.0 in 2017.
“When I heard he was moving to linebacker, I was excited,” said Lewis on Silva moving to the linebacker position. “It’s good too because we already have that connection. I’m just trying to help with some of the small things. We’re both hungry.”
Outside of Silva and Lewis, the linebacking position will also be impacted by the caliber of play from their younger players. Juniors Tyree Johnson and Danzel King, along with sophomore Brandon James will be critical in the team’s success at linebacker.