BOCA RATON – Pay attention to FAU’s quarterback battle if you’d like. The battle between Chris Robison, Nick Tronti and Justin Agner for the starting spot (it appears to be Robison’s job to lose) will be of interest until it’s settled – and maybe beyond.
Watch to see which of FAU’s new receivers can emerge as playmakers. But with starter Pico Harrison and key newcomer Eyin Cole both sidelined this week and their status remaining uncertain, the group may paint an incomplete picture.
Monitor the running back battle to see who is going to replace Devin Singletary and Kerrith Whyte. Early in camp, however, it appears that James Charles, BJ Emmons, Malcolm Davidson and true freshman Larry McCammon are more than capable of carrying the load.
Study all those offensive positions, but realize players in those units will have little effect on Saturday’s scrimmage if the offensive line doesn’t show marked improvement over this week’s practice performances.
Consider one telling full-team scrimmage period from Thursday, the Owls second day in full pads.
It began with defensive end Leighton McCarthy batting down a Nick Tronti pass at the line of scrimmage. Defensive end Tim Bonner followed with a strip-sack of Tronti on the next play. Then Keke Leroy sacked Tronti. The possession ended with a Armani Adams picking off a pressured Tronti.
All of those plays came against the starting offensive line.
Justin Agner didn’t fare much better. After cornerback Meiko Dotson knocked down his first pass and wide receiver Jordan Merrill dropped his second one, pressure forced Agner out of the pocket for a short gain before linebacker Caliph Brice ended the period with a sack.
“It’s never perfect,” starting guard Nick Weber said of the first week of practice. “It hasn’t been great. We’re still working every day to get better. We’re going to put it all together soon.”
FAU hoped to have Auburn transfer Calvin Ashley preparing to start at right tackle, but illness prevented that from happening, yet. Once Ashley does hit the field, NCAA regulations require that he’ll have to spend two practices wearing only a helmet and shorts, and two more in shoulder pads only before donning a full practice uniform. If Ashley doesn’t participate on Saturday, he won’t be in full pads until Aug. 15, giving him two weeks to prepare for the Aug. 31 opener at Ohio St.
Complicating matters for FAU, the entire current second-team line has only a few plays of game experience.
It’s difficult to predict how much better the Owls’ offensive line would be with Ashley manning the end. But it’s clear at the moment that the Owls’ new defensive scheme is giving the offensive line fits, sending pass rushers running free to pester quarterbacks and swallow running backs before they approach the line of scrimmage.
“We have a really great defensive scheme and there’s a lot of movement, stuff like that, a lot of different looks they give us,” Weber said. “Plus we go up-tempo so you really have to be locked in. It just takes chemistry and time to really build and get all those looks right.”
Defensively, the Owls are doing a better job of forcing turnovers than they did in the spring. Safety Teja Young seemingly snags at least one interception per practice and Armani Adams, his partner at safety on the second team, continues to draw praise. Saturday’s scrimmage might give an indication as to the progress of former Miami safety Jeff James, a newcomer who’s been spending more time on the main field of late.
Earlier this week coach Lane Kiffin said he’s looking forward to seeing how some of the newcomers respond to their first fall scrimmage. With Harrison sidelined, wide receiver DeAngelo Antoine, a USF transfer, has been working as a starting outside receiver, while UCF transfer Rasaan Lewis is also impressing.
At linebacker, Brice finished the week strong and has the look of an impact addition.
Brice and his fellow defenders will see their first extended tackling sessions of the fall on Saturday. Kiffin expects the Owls scrimmage to be full tackling for at least the first half of the day.
The scrimmage begins at 2 p.m. on Howard Schnellenberger Field and is open to the public.