Al-Shaair is Conference USA’s preseason Defensive Player of the Year. He’ already the Owls’ leading tackler in program history, and his 147 tackles last season were third-most nationally. Al-Shaair is a monster on the field and an inspiration off it.
With Al-Shaair’s star shining so brightly, the play of outside linebacker Rashad Smith sometimes gets lost in the shadows.
Smith’s contributions, however, shouldn’t be overlooked.
Last season as a sophomore Smith’s six sacks tied with Hunter Snyder for the Owls’ lead. He came one tackle shy of 100, and his 12 tackles for loss led FAU.
Like Al-Shaair, Smith has knack for finding the football. He broke up five passes last season, a total that trails only cornerback Shelton Lewis among Owls.
In Smith and Al-Shaair, FAU boasts the best linebacker tandem in Conference USA.
The Owls don’t have a proven third linebacker, but they really don’t need one, either.
FAU’s base 4-3 defense calls for three linebackers, but the Owls spend nearly all their time in the nickel defense, taking one outside linebacker off the field and replacing him with an LB/CB hybrid.
Such an alignment puts added pressure on Al-Shaair and Smith in the running game, but they’ve certainly proven they can handle it.
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Azeez Al-Shaair (6-2, 225, Sr.): What more can be said about Al-Shaair? He may well graduate as the best defensive player in FAU history. Every tackle he makes establishes a new record. He tore a ligament in his elbow during the third game of the season, missed only one game, then underwent offseason Tommy John surgery to repair the elbow. Al-Shaair missed all of spring while recovering, but he’ll be ready once the season begins.
Kris Harris (6-0, 230, R-Sr.): Harris played sparingly last season, but still recorded a respectable 20 tackles, some of which came on special teams. He played well in the spring, but if Al-Shaair is forced to miss any time this season, there’s a good chance Rashad Smith slides over to start in the middle.
Hosea Barnwell (6-0, 215, Jr.): He recorded 25 tackles last season, his first with the Owls, but struggled during his biggest assignment – a loss at Buffalo in which Al-Shaair sat out. Barnwell enjoyed what appeared to be a breakout spring in 2017, but hasn’t been much of a factor since.
Rashad Smith (6-1, 220, Jr.): A versatile linebacker who has improved every season, Smith recorded 99 tackles last season as a true sophomore. He has good range and makes plays in the backfield. Smith has All-Conference USA potential.
Andrew Soroh (6-2, 220, R-Sr.): A safety most of his career, FAU experimented with Soroh at linebacker last season and moved him there full time during the spring. Soroh has a couple season’s worth of starts to his credit, and when he delivers a hit the ballcarrier knows it. The challenge for Soroh will be finding playing time.
Khantrell Burden (6-1, 225, Sr.): Burden is coming off his best spring and looks like a capable backup. If FAU returns to its base 4-3, which Lane Kiffin and defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro might elect to do in the season’s second game vs. Air Force’s ground attack, Burden could be the guy who draws the starting assignment as the third LB. He’ll also continue to contribute on special teams.
Herb Miller (6-2, 190, Sr.): Equally adept at covering a receiver/tight end and delivering big hits, Miller recorded 35 tackles last season and also intercepted a pass. He has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. With another strong season he’ll be looking at an NFL career.
Korel Smith (5-10, 175, R-So.): A strong spring allowed Smith to take over the backup nickel role, though Quran Hafiz is right behind. He’s good in coverage but his lack of size is a negative in run support. It doesn’t, however, prevent Smith from sticking his helmet into the hole. Smith played in all 14 games last season, recording 19 tackles.
Quran Hafiz (6-0, 185, So.): Hafiz started one game as a true freshman and played in 13. He’s credited with 36 tackles, with four being for loss. He’s certainly talented and loves to hit. Hafiz may eventually become a full-time safety. That fact that he starts the season third on the depth chart is a testament to FAU’s depth at nickel.
Chase Lasater (6-2, 235, R-Fr.): FAU didn’t sign a linebacker to its 2018 signing class, but did elect to move Lasater, a member of its 2017 class, to linebacker. He’s not likely to be a factor this season, as the Owls are stacked, but he’s physical enough to grow into the position.
Teja Young (5-11, 170, Fr.): FAU is listing Young as a CB/Nickel on its preseason roster. He’s a little undersized to play nickel, but Young’s athleticism will quickly get him on the field. His major contributions in 2018 will probably come as a returner.
Akileis Leroy (5-11, 235, So.): Leroy played in all 14 games, mostly on special teams. He was credited with six tackles as a true freshman, and could climb the depth chart at middle linebacker this season. Leroy may still be a year away from significant contributions of defense, but could surprise in 2018.
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