BOCA RATON – Linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair says a better understanding of the FAU defensive scheme will allow him to play unabashed vigor.
“This kind of feels fluid,” Al-Shaair said following Saturday’s scrimmage – the first for the Owls since the opening of camp. “Last year, I feel like I was a little bit more timid.”
Let that statement sink in. The USA Today Freshman All-American selection who led the Owls with 94 tackles used the word “timid” to describe his play last season.
It only took about 30 practices for Al-Shaair earned a starting spot with the Owls last season. He played last season mostly on instinct – as did fellow freshmen Jalen Young, a safety, and nickel back Ocie Rose.
Now, armed with a full year’s worth of defensive scheme knowledge, the young Owls are concerned less about where they are supposed to be because pre-snap positioning and keys are now second nature. In fall camp, they can apply greater focus to making plays.
“[Last year] my head was kind of spinning,” said Al-Shaair, who, at 223 pounds, is 20 pounds heavier than he was at this time last season. “Now I feel like it’s easier just being out there. I can see a certain play coming.”
Rose, who added 10 pounds of muscle since last season and looks more and more like former FAU and current Buffalo Bills linebacker Randell Johnson every day, spent at least as much offseason time focusing in the mental side of his game as he did on improving his considerable physical talents.
“My big emphasis was to actually learn the game more and really take coaching in a better way, and actually learn my plays and know all my keys and get everything down pat,” Rose said.
Greater familiarity enables increased complexity when it comes to defensive schemes.
“Last year we kept things as simple as we possibly could to allow them to rely on instinct and not think too much,” FAU defensive coordinator Roc Bellantoni said. “This year they know the basics of the scheme better so we are allowed to do more scheme things, which is nice – to have different options.”
Some of those schemes may send Al-Shaair into the offensive backfield more frequently.
Here’s a thought that shouldn’t sit well with opposing quarterbacks:
“I feel like I will be able to get in the pass rush a little more,” Al-Shaair said. “I’ve been working on my moves. (Former FAU defensive tackle Brandin Bryant) had been teaching me some stuff before he left [for Seattle Seahawks training camp], so I feel like that helped me a lot.”