Well, maybe not this year.
“Our defense, I think, has gotten a lot better,” said Kiffin, comparing this year’s unit with last year’s. “This system gives people problems. It’s a very unique defensive system that [new defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer] does. Not a lot of people around the country do it, so you don’t get to practice and play against it.”
On Sunday we looked back at the five questions we posed for FAU’s offense prior to the start of camp, learning that many of those queries remain unanswered.
Did the FAU defense fare any better during fall camp? Glad you asked…
FIVE FAU DEFENSE POST-CAMP ANSWERS
1. Do the Owls have depth at linebacker?
FAU lost senior leader Azeez Al-Shaair midway through last season to a torn ACL. Junior outside linebacker Rashad Smith enjoyed a breakout season in 2018, and Al-Shaair’s injury gave Keke Leroy valuable game experience. Smith and Leroy shined during spring practices, and they continued to impress atop the depth chart this fall. Behind them, Hosea Barnwell looks like one of FAU’s most improved players. He’s always getting his hands on passes. JUCO transfer Caliph Brice delivered a strong start to camp before a knee injury sidelined him for 10 days. He’s back running with the second team and looks like a prime contributor. Brice’s absence allowed FAU to take an extended look at true freshman Antarrius Moultrie, who struggled with assignments at times but appears to be a future player. Is this the Owls’ deepest position? Far from it. But there are some good players here. Maybe one more new guy needs to make his presence felt as the season progresses.
2. Can defense keep building momentum?
The defense will have to carry the offense this season – at least in the first half. It’s going to be a lot to ask for the Owls to shut down Ohio St. and UCF in the early games, but after that the FAU defense should keep the Owls in games, giving them chances to win. New defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer’s blitz packages gave the Owls’ offense fits all spring. Even with the loss of Charles Cameron, the defensive line still has the personnel to rotate two deep, and in some cases even deeper. That being said, the defense looked good last fall but couldn’t carry through into the season. This, however, seems like a different group.
3. Can Tim Bonner Finally Reach His Potential?
The defensive end and former Last Chance U star has all the physical tools to dominate in Conference USA play. He entered fall camp as a starter at defensive end and, unless something changes radically this week, will start on Saturday against Ohio St. He’s been solid this fall. He hasn’t yet shown enough to project him as a star, but Bonner has been consistent. He’ll probably have some pretty big games this year. If Bonner remains healthy, he could earn an opportunity at the next level.
4. Can the Owls Generate Turnovers?
They did throughout fall. Spencer’s defense confuses offensive line protection packages, allowing rushes free shots at the quarterback. It also unexpectedly places defenders in passing lanes. FAU defenders nabbed their share of interceptions in the first two fall scrimmages and grabbed even more during weekly drills. But does that say more about defensive play or quarterback play? Hey, at least the defense made its share of plays.
5. Will Fans Have to Look Away When Special Teams Take the Field?
It’s still too early to tell. The Owls suffered a blow when incumbent punter Sebastian Riella left the second scrimmage because of a knee injury that could keep him out for a lengthy time. That leaves punting duties on the foot of Australian freshman Matt Hayball. He’s got a good leg but lacks consistency – and life gets different with live defenders coming after punts. FAU cut back on the amount reps it gave kicker Vladi Rivas during fall camp, believing that too many reps last year led to a groin injury that lingered throughout the season. Rivas grew more accurate as camp progressed and appears to have held off a challenge from Furman transfer Aaron Shahriari. Dante Cousart is back to catch punts and Willie Wright to return them. The Owls have speed at the kickoff return spots and could surprise a team or two in C-USA with big returns. Still, these first couple weeks might not make anyone forget about 2018.