OWLACCESS.COM SUPERLATIVES: OFFENSIVE MVP | DEFENSIVE MVP | OFFENSIVE PLAY OF THE YEAR | DEFENSIVE PLAY OF THE YEAR | OFFENSIVE NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR | DEFENSIVE NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR | BIGGEST SURPRISE OFFENSIVELY | BIGGEST SURPRISE DEFENSIVELY | BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT OFFENSIVELY | BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT DEFENSIVELY
BOCA RATON – FAU fielded a young defense in 2016, but it wasn’t inexperienced. The 2015 Owls featured impactful newcomers Ocie Rose, Jalen Young and Azeez Al-Shaair. Those players were a year older this past season, and graduation didn’t leave any glaring needs to be filled by incoming freshmen or transfers. The candidates for this year’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year are likely to become more recognizable in the years to come, which bodes well for FAU. Joining our Chuck King and Jake Elman in offering their superlatives are three colleagues from ESPN West Palm: FAU play-by-play man Ken LaVicka, analyst Kris Bartels and producer (and host of OwlTalk) Brian Rowitz.
Chuck King (OwlAccess.com): Only two true freshmen, linebacker Rashad Smith and cornerback Chris Tooley, were credited with starts this season. Smith and defensive tackle Will Davis were the only true freshmen to record tackles for losses. Smith, who this time last year was committed to Syracuse before ultimately flipping to FAU on Signing Day, became a starter at outside linebacker during the second half of the season, prompting FAU to switch Khantrell Burden to the inside. Smith made 22 tackles in 2016, one of which was a sack. He’s the choice here.
Jake Elman (OwlAccess.com): Linebacker Rashad Smith may have only racked up 22 tackles, but his versatility was key for an Owls defense that often had players leave due to cramps. With Azeez Al-Shaair around for another year, Smith should figure to learn from the older linebacker and improve in 2017.
Kris Bartels (ESPN West Palm): I thought picking a newcomer in 2015 was hard. I had too many players to choose from. That’s not the case for 2016. As a whole, the defense was not very good. The one bright spot that stands out to me is Rashad Smith. As an outside linebacker, he was forced into action because of injuries and he did a pretty decent job. Being a little undersized for an outside backer, he got lost in the run fits. In the passing game, Florida Atlantic did not have to adjust personnel that often because of how athletic Smith was is. He will have a full offseason to put on some size and gain more experience through the spring and summer. He will be a big time player to watch for next year.
Ken LaVicka (ESPN West Palm): Rashad Smith was one of the few bright spots in a defense that never really got it going. Smith should be an easy name to pencil in among the three starting LBs for seasons to come. Though still learning, Smith provides solid football IQ and fantastic pursuit to the football.
Brian Rowitz (ESPN West Palm): Not a big fan of the choices so I’m going to cheat a little bit, re-name the category, and choose the top “New Regular.” That would be linebacker Jacob Douglas. Douglas didn’t put up huge numbers throughout the year but also was never really a huge liability despite being a true sophomore. Douglas did a great job of filling in at one of the most important positions on the defense and really set himself up for the future. His great read late against UTEP helped the Owls offense get the ball back and ultimately win the game.