BOCA RATON – For the second consecutive year, FAU enters spring practice with a quarterback battle.This time the newcomer likely has the advantage.
Former Florida St. quarterback De’Andre Johnson signed with FAU in December after throwing for 2,646 yards and 26 touchdowns against only six interceptions this past season at East Mississippi CC. He also led the team in rushing with 846 yards. The 6-foot-1,185-pound Johnson would seem to be the ideal to pilot for new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles’ high octane offense.
It was the hiring of new head coach Lane Kiffin, however, that cemented Johnson’s decision to come to FAU.
“Hiring coach Kiffin was a strong, powerful move and I just wanted to be a part of that,” Johnson told OwlAccess.com after he signed.
Johnson will battle incumbent Jason Driskel in the spring. Driskel threw for 2,415 yards and nine touchdowns against 11 interceptions behind a battered offensive line last season. A rising redshirt junior, Driskel entered last spring in competition with then rising redshirt freshman Daniel Parr.
That battle continued throughout the season, with Parr actually earning a start at Rice. Parr, though, won’t be a factor this spring after undergoing surgery to insert a pin designed to stabilize a fracture in his foot suffered during offseason workouts.
Rising redshirt freshman Steven Frank is more of a traditional pocket quarterback, but he should also receive chances to show what he can do in Briles’ offense.
THE BIG QUESTION: Can FAU hold a practice without an offensive line? The injuries that decimated FAU’s offensive line last season are going to linger into spring. Tackle Reggie Bain hasn’t been cleared to return. Bryan Beck will miss his second consecutive spring following his second knee surgery in as many years. Richard Williams, a potential replacement for Dillon DeBoer as the Owls’ starting center, also underwent knee surgery and isn’t cleared for the spring. For Jack Breshears, it’s shoulder surgery that will keep him sidelined. And guard Tarrick Thomas is further along in his rehab from knee surgery, but he still isn’t expected to participate in drills.
That leaves only five scholarship offensive linemen available for the spring. Walk-on Matt Weiner started games last season, and can play guard or tackle, so he’ll likely be a factor too. But what will the Owls do for the second-string offensive line? There figures to be a bunch of tired big guys every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for the next five weeks.
POSITION BATTLE: The running back unit should be fun to watch. Devin Singletary’s hands make him a threat in the passing game and if Briles’ offense succeeds in isolating him on linebackers, he could run wild in space. Buddy Howell has enjoyed success at every opportunity and is coming off season in which he set the FAU rushing touchdown record. And then there’s Georgia transfer A. J. Turman, who impressed coaches last year on the scout team while sitting out in compliance with NCAA transfer rules.
Kerrith Whyte, Marcus Clark and James Charles are also in the mix. From top to bottom, this is easily the strongest unit on the Owls.
NEW NAMES: As a redshirt freshman Ean Biancardi may not yet be physically ready to compete for a starting spot, but he should see a great deal of action during the spring with all the injuries along the line. …Wide receiver Antonio Hadden redshirted last season. He should receive his share of chances in what figures to be a wide open battle for receiving spots. …Can Stephen Frank take advantage of the opportunity that will be afforded him by Daniel Parr’s absence? And let’s not forget the aforementioned Johnson and Turman.
POTENTIAL BREAKOUT PLAYERS: Briles will be looking for wide receivers who can get open, catch the ball and make people miss. James Brunson came on late last season and the former coaching staff thought he was the best among the unit in open space. The Baylor offense likes to create space. …Fellow wide receiver John Mitchell caught six passes for 62 yards and a score as a true freshman last season. After a year working within a college strength and conditioning program, he could be ready for a huge spring. …We’re still waiting to see wide receiver Ladante Harris showcase his speed. If that doesn’t happen this spring, it may never happen.
KEY LOSSES: Center Dillon DeBoer captained the offensive line. He’ll truly be missed. …The emergence of Singletary rendered running back Jay Warren a spectator during his senior season. …Tyler Cameron caught 20 passes at tight end last season, but were any of them truly memorable? It will be interesting to see how Briles’ offense utilizes the tight end.
FAU begins its spring practice on Tuesday. The Owls will hold their spring game on April 22 at 4 p.m.