Spring Game another opportunity for FIU and its new play-caller to speak the same lingo

Walter Villa
·4 min read

In a sense, Andrew Breiner is a master of languages.

“I don’t speak Spanish, which I’m learning is a challenge in South Florida,” said Breiner, a 36-year-old native of Dallas who was hired last month as FIU’s offensive coordinator. “But I speak five different football languages because I’ve been in five different offenses. I’m more than bilingual.”

Breiner, who spent last year as the Philadelphia Eagles’ passing-game analyst, is hoping his FIU offense will speak volumes in 2021.

On Friday night, the Panthers held their annual spring game, and it was a chance for Breiner to do what he loves — call plays.

It’s hard to determine much from a scrimmage that was meant to simulate one half of football, but the three quarterbacks competing for the starting job went 7 for 16. In other words, these were not pinball numbers for Max Bortenschlager, who started the scrimmage and went 3 for 5; Haden Carlson, who took second-team reps and went 1 for 5; or Kaylan Wiggins, who finished up and went 3 for 6.

“We have three kids who are smart enough to pick up the new things we’re trying to do,” FIU coach Butch Davis said. “A lot of the things we’re trying to emphasize are totally different than the past four years.”

The guy in charge of bringing in and implementing those new ideas is Breiner, who said the chance to be the play-caller for the first time since his days at Fordham from 2012 to 2017 was an “attractive” inducement.

“This is a great opportunity for me to make an impact,” said the new coordinator, whose name is pronounced BRY-ner.

Here’s a quick look at the offensive personnel Breiner has to work with at FIU, listed from the most stacked position to the ones with the most questions:

Running back: D’vonte Price is as good as anyone in Conference USA, and backup Shaun Peterson had a 6.7-yard average in limited carries. Combined, they have played seven college football seasons.

Behind them are Lexington Joseph and Eric Wilson Jr., who both ran a kickoff for a touchdown last season. Then there’s Katravis Geter, Kejon Owens and Arksansas transfer Malek Williams, making FIU seven-deep at the position.

Wide receiver: FIU’s top three are clearly defined: Bryce Singleton, Shermar Thornton and Tyrese Chambers. Singleton and Thornton have both struggled with injuries the past couple of years. Chambers put up impressive numbers at Sacred Heart but will now try to prove himself at the C-USA level.

Tight end: FIU helped prepare Jonnu Smith for his $50 million NFL contract at this position. Who’s next? It could be Rivaldo Fairweather, who may have the most potential of any TE on the roster, but he’s out due to a fractured arm. He should be back for the fall. Starter Sterling Palmer enters his fourth season, but his key numbers have declined the past two years. Joe Hocker and Daniel Pilgrim are two other young tight ends with potential.

Offensive line: The starters in Friday’s scrimmage were left tackle Miles Frazier, left guard Sione Finau, center Julius Pierce, right guard Dontae Keys and right tackle Lyndell Hudson Jr. It’s a young group, especially Frazier, Finau and Pierce along that left side.

“The biggest thing outside of quarterback is to identify who are our five best offensive linemen,” Breiner said. “Then we want to figure out who is the third tackle, who is the third guard and who goes to center if the starting center goes down.”

Finding that depth could be tricky because linemen Jose Mirabal and Mershawn Miller have put their names into the transfer portal.

Quarterback: As good as Breiner’s play-calling may be, his success or failure may come down to developing a standout quarterback.

Bortenschlager, a sixth-year collegian and a former Maryland Terrapin, may have a slight edge because of his experience. Wiggins has great intangibles and is a skilled runner who needs to prove he can be a big-time passer. And Carlson, a redshirt freshman, earned eyebrow-raising praise from Davis before missing half of spring drills due to COVID protocols.