BOCA RATON — Entering spring practice, FAU’s defensive line is searching for two puzzle pieces – replacements for the graduated Trey Hendrickson and Shalom Ogbonda.
New head coach Lane Kiffin wasn’t pleased with early results.
“Not real good,” Kiffin said of the Owls’ pass rush.
While the front four did improve toward the end of camp, the position group is still filled with questions entering 2017 – and not all of them have to do with Hendrickson, now with the New Orleans Saints.
During the recruiting process, Kiffin focused heavily on the defensive line, adding JUCO defensive ends Ernest Bagner and Tim Bonner. Coupled with the return of Ray Ellis from a knee injury, FAU’s defensive line could potentially look much different on September 1 than it did on November 26 against Middle Tennessee.
With Hendrickson gone, FAU will have to replace a player that recorded 9 1/2 sacks, 15 tackles for loss, four blocked kicks, a forced fumble, and 50 total tackles – all while constantly being double and triple-teamed. There’s also Hendrickson’s vocal leadership, which can’t exactly be measured in the box score.
Expectations will be high on the defensive line, especially after Kiffin’s disappointment during spring camp.
“It’s a lot of weight on our shoulders but we’re going to take it on – head on,” sophomore defensive tackle Will Davis said in the spring.
OWLACCESS.COM PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
Haiden Nagel, 6-4, 255, R-Sr. One of the few players remaining from Carl Pelini’s final team in 2013, Nagel may have to prove himself all over again now that two FAU has brought in two JUCO defensive ends. Nagel is no Hendrickson, but he did record 4.5 tackles for loss last year.
Anthony Bennett, 6-3, 245, R-So. Bennett won Scout Team Defensive MVP award in 2016, then took advantage of the opportunities presented to him during the spring. A walk-on, Bennett may not receive as many chances in the fall but he could be a name to remember in the coming years.
Ernest Bagner, 6-3, 225, Jr. One of two major JUCO transfers, Bagner wasn’t brought in from California’s Riverside Community College to sit on the bench. Bagner’s specialty is rushing the passer. He quickly becomes the starter here.
Ray Ellis, 6-1, 285, R-Jr. Expected back from a knee injury that cost him the entire 2016 season, Ellis’ impact will be felt as he replaces Shalom Ogbonda at defensive tackle. In 2015, Ellis recorded 24 tackles but went without a sack in 10 games.
Kevin McCrary, 6-2, 285, So. McCrary had one tackle last year and worked with the second team in camp.
Steven Leggett, 6-1, 290, Jr. A starter for the majority of spring practice alongside Will Davis, Leggett was fifth on the team in 2016 with four tackles for losses. In total, Leggett had 30 tackles.
Will Davis, 6-0, 275, So. If Ellis isn’t fully recovered by the start of fall camp, Davis could very well have start against Navy alongside Leggett. Davis impressed in camp and had a sack against Western Kentucky in the 52-3 loss last October.
Nick Internicola, 6-3, 255, R-Sr. The heat is on for Internicola, who had 13 tackles in 2016, after FAU brought in two JUCO defensive ends. Can he stay healthy and keep his starting spot?
Hunter Snyder, 6-7, 260, R-Jr. Coaches rave about Snyder’s potential but he’s struggled to stay healthy. He missed spring practices with a groin injury but could quickly move to the top of the depth chart if healthy. Will the missed snaps in spring, however, leave him behind the incoming defensive ends?
Tim Bonner, 6-5, 225, R-So. A teammate of quarterback DeAndre Johnson’s at East Mississippi Community College, Bonner is in the same situation as Bagner. If neither of these two are getting quality minutes against Navy, something likely will have gone wrong.
Trey Hendrickson – A tremendous competitor, Hendrickson exited FAU as the Owls’ single-season and career sack leader. Now with the New Orleans Saints, Hendrickson freed up other defensive linemen by drawing double teams.
Shalom Ogbonda – The big man in the middle finished his senior season strong. Ogbonda received an invite to New York Jets camp following the draft, but that didn’t last long. He’s still optimistic he’ll catch on with another NFL team prior to the start of the season.
Leighton McCarthy, 6-3, 205, So. McCarthy set the Wekiva High School sack record two years ago with 20 in a single season. In McCarthy, coaches think they have player worth developing. He could become a force in obvious passing downs.
Damian Horton, 6-3, 250, Jr. Horton didn’t get into games last year, but with all the injuries during the spring he managed to climb onto the two-deep.
Romello Martin, 6-2, 290, Fr. A late add to FAU’s signing class, Martin has the size to make an immediate impact but he is still a freshman playing a position that values a couple years in the weight room.
Chase Hooper, 6-2, 270, Fr. A First-Team All-Region defensive tackle from Milton High School in Georgia, Hooper could earn snaps at defensive tackle with a strong camp. Hooper will need to put on weight to compete against bigger linemen.
PREVIOUS POSITION PRIMERS
FAU FOOTBALL CAMP PREVIEW: Quarterbacks
FAU FOOTBALL CAMP PREVIEW: Offensive Line
FAU FOOTBALL CAMP PREVIEW: Running Backs
FAU FOOTBALL CAMP PREVIEW: Tight Ends
FAU FOOTBALL CAMP PREVIEW: Wide Receivers
FAU FOOTBALL CAMP PREVIEW: Defensive Line
FAU FOOTBALL CAMP PREVIEW: Linebackers
FAU FOOTBALL CAMP PREVIEW: Defensive Backs
FAU FOOTBALL CAMP PREVIEW: Special Teams