Some of the questions from last year, and the year prior for that matter, linger into this fall camp. Others are specific to some of the newer players on the Owls’ roster. On Wednesday we examined the five questions FAU will attempt to answer on the offensive side of the ball during fall camp.
As the Owls enter Lane Kiffin’s third season, here are the five defensive questions the Owls will try to answer over the course of the next month in preparation for their Aug. 31 season opener at Ohio St.
Five FAU Defense Fall Camp Questions
1. Do the Owls have depth at linebacker?
Replacing Azeez Al-Shaair, now with the San Francisco 49ers, is a bit of a fool’s errand. The Owls’ career leader in tackles also served as the defense’s locker room leader. Akileis Leroy showed promise in the spring at Al-Shaair’s the middle linebacker spot. He’ll have the advantage of lining up next to Rashad Smith, who could emerge from this season as Conference USA’s best linebacker. The remainder of the unit lacks depth. Maybe JUCO signee Caliph Brice is the piece FAU needs. Fortunately for the Owls, they’ll spend most of their time in the nickel formation so they’ll only need two linebackers on the field at once.
“Rashad’s a great one, but after that, not a lot of experience,” Kiffin said.
2. Can defense keep building momentum?
Aside from the first scrimmage, the defense proved to be ahead of the offense much of the spring. That was also case in 2018, but once the season started the unit fell off badly, prompting Kiffin to replace defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro with Glenn Spencer. “Band of Brothers” is a slogan FAU fans will hear often this fall as Spencer and Kiffin attempt to get the players play for each other and hold each other accountable. Depth could be an issue at linebacker and corner back, but that stems from lack of game experience. The athletes are there.
“I said it a year ago, I think again our defensive line should be a strength of our team,” Kiffin said.
3. Can Tim Bonner Finally Reach His Potential?
The defensive end has drawn plenty of media attention during his first two years at FAU, but that’s mostly been because of his role on the Netflix docu-drama Last Chance U. Bonner’s only made 33 tackles over his first two eassons. Last year alone 10 Owls recorded at least 36 tackles. Lightning-quick at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, Bonner has all the tools to be an impact player. He would seem ideally suited for Spencer’s LEO role, which is a hybrid DE/LB, but Bonner didn’t work there this spring. The last most FAU fans saw of Bonner he was getting kicked out of the Owls’ spring game for fighting. With Marcel Southall and Damian Horton enjoying surprisingly strong springs, Bonner needs to prove he’s worthy of media attention.
4. Can the Owls Generate Turnovers?
Throughout last season Kiffin constantly stated his defense should be forcing more turnovers, yet FAU only nabbed 14 turnovers last year. That’s 12 fewer than the previous season. Yes, the Owls played two more games in 2017 than they did in 18, but that doesn’t explain the drop-off. Generating pressure on the QB and creating turnovers go hand in hand. FAU appears to have the athletes in place to do both. And in the spring Spencer’s scheme change indicated more turnovers could be in the offing. Will the Owls return to their 2017 level or was 2018 more of the norm?
5. Will Fans Have to Look Away When Special Teams Take the Field?
Yes, this isn’t a defense question, but it has to be asked, right? Incumbent kicker Vladi Rivas wasn’t ready for prime time as a redshirt freshman. He battled a groin injury in 2018 but didn’t show much of an improvement during spring scrimmages. In 2019, 10-for-17 with a long of 44 yards on field goals won’t cut it. FAU’s punt team wasn’t much better – unless it was quarterback Chris Robison doing the punting. The Owls won’t be an elite team in Conference USA without solving these problems.