BOCA RATON – FAU’s secondary experienced deja vu at the beginning of spring practices.
Explosive offensive plays, many the result of poor tackling, reminded onlookers of the defense that allowed an average of nearly 40 points last year.
Come the spring game, however, the secondary looked like a completely different unit.
Players such as Ocie Rose and Herb Miller moved to positions that may have be better fits, while young players increased their focus on the fundamentals. Passes that should have been intercepted were picked off instead of dropped and the secondary was in better position to contain what, in the past, would have become big plays.
FAU didn’t lose many key contributors from last year’s secondary, but addressing a position group that seemed lost and broken last year was vital on the recruiting trail. Kiffin signed players who can contribute now from the JUCO ranks and project players that may need a year to develop.
If there’s any added optimism for the secondary, it’s that they can’t do much worse than giving up nearly 80 points to a team lacking a quarterback – as they did in last year’s season finale at MTSU.
OWLACCESS.COM PRE-CAMP DEPTH CHART
Raekwon Williams, 5-11, 185, Sr. Williams achieved numerous career-highs last year, including 48 total tackles, nine pass deflections, and even recording his first career interception against Charlotte. FAU has high hopes for the senior in his final season, and Williams looks to build an NFL resume.
Chris Tooley, 5-11, 178, So. Tooley played four games as a freshman, recording 10 tackles. He and linebacker Rashad Smith were the only defensive freshmen credited with starts.
Andrew Soroh, 6-2, 210, R-Jr. Soroh improved statistically and had two interceptions last year, but was also burnt badly at times in coverage. Lane Kiffin was impressed with the redshirt junior, who spent extra time in the classroom with Monte Kiffin this spring.
Rodney Washington, 6-1, 188, Jr. Brought in from California’s Contra Costa College to help limit the explosive plays, Washington should figure to get plenty of snaps early. Washington also has linebacker experience, though he’s likely to stay in the secondary for now.
Jalen Young, 5-11, 185, Jr. With Trey Hendrickson gone, Young said he wants to be the face and leader of the Owls’ defense. For that to happen, Young will need to improve on his coverage skills – many of his 100 tackles came because quarterbacks felt comfortable throwing his way – and recklessness; Young missed the spring game because of a separated shoulder.
Ocie Rose, 6-2, 190, Jr. With a backlog of players at the nickel, FAU experimented with Rose playing safety this spring. Rose took a step back in 2016 as he battled an ankle injury and was slow to adjust to Chris Kiffin’s new defensive scheme, but looked more comfortable as the spring went on. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Rose return to nickel.
Shelton Lewis, 6-0, 185, Jr. The nephew of former NFLers Tony Jones and William Trent, Lewis had 35 tackles and a sack last season. Lewis showed improvement in coverage this spring and intercepted several passes.
Korel Smith, 5-10, 175, R-Fr. Smith redshirted last year and had an interception off Jason Driskel in the spring game.
Herb Miller, 6-2, 190, Jr. After being moved inside to the nickel during camp, Miller impressed and looks to replace Ocie Rose – now getting snaps at safety – as the starter. Miller had 26 tackles and a fumble recovery last year.
Quran Hafiz, 6-0, 185, Fr. Joining quarterback De’Andre Johnson as newcomers participating in spring camp, Hafiz should get significant snaps this season. A strong fall camp could potentially lead to him starting against Navy.
Richie Kittles – Following spring camp, Kittles transferred to North Carolina A&T. Kittles finished the 2016 season strong, but couldn’t break through on the depth chart this spring.
Tevin Homer – He didn’t start a game, played in only eight, played almost exclusively on special teams and recorded only two tackles, but Homer managed to turn this talent into a free agent deal with the Washington Redskins.
Zyon Gilbert, 6-1, 180, Fr. A participant in the Alabama/Mississippi All-Star Game, Gilbert, a two-time All-State cornerback, hopes to replicate his high school success in Alabama at FAU. Of the true freshmen, Gilbert is the most likely to make an impact this season.
Jovon Burriss, 6-1, 190, Jr. A transfer from Fullerton College, Burriss played alongside new FAU wide receiver DeAndre McNeal. Burriss profiles as a safety but he can play corner, too. Like most of the JUCO transfers, Burriss figures climb the depth chart quickly.
Da’Von Brown, 6-0, 185, So. Brown earned reps at several secondary spots this spring after redshirting last year. Will his strong spring showing be enough to keep him in the rotation come September?
Dishaun Moss, 5-10, 175, Fr. Taking the short drive up from Fort Lauderdale-Cardinal Gibbons to play for the Owls, Moss was named the team’s Defensive MVP last year. Will he show enough in camp to warrant snaps this year?
Ahman Ross, 5-11, 195, Fr. Ross arrives in Boca Raton from Jacksonville-Bolles where he dazzled his senior year, recording 97 tackles, three sacks, three forced fumbles, and six interceptions as a safety. If he can give the Owls anything close to that as a freshman, it will be a welcome sight.
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