BOCA RATON – As problems go, this is a pretty good one to have.
FAU linebackers Khantrell Burden, a sophomore, and Rashad Smith, a true freshman, are progressing so quickly that defensive coordinator Roc Bellantoni is looking for new ways to get Ocie Rose on the field.
Yes, that Ocie Rose. The one who scored three defensive touchdowns as a true freshman. The one who earned Preseason All-Conference USA Honors. The one who physically looks like the second-coming of Randell Johnson.
Rose’s issue has nothing to do with performance. It’s about his position.
He’s a nickel back, which means that when the Owls are in their base 4-3 defense Rose is on the sidelines.
Last year, with FAU seriously lacking depth at linebacker, especially after Robert Relf suffered a season-ending injury in the season’s first game, the Owls made up for their insufficiency at linebacker by playing mostly a nickel defense, which placed Rose on the field.
Even with news before the start of camp that Relf’s injury was career-ending, the linebacker unit has improved to the point where Bellantoni expects to employ more base sets. That puts Burden on the field along side fellow linebackers Nate Ozdemir and Azezz Al-Shaair, and renders Rose a spectator.
So the Owls are asking Rose to play more safety.
“If we play base with three linebackers on the field that’s another way to keep (Rose) on the field,” Bellantoni said.
Fortunately for FAU, Rose can be a fit at linebacker, nickel or safety.
“He’s a very intelligent player,” FAU coach Charlie Partridge said. “His athletic skills really proved themselves last year.”
Even if Rose doesn’t see much time at safety early this spring, his familiarity with the safety position gives the Owls another option should something unforeseen happen to starting safeties Jalen Young or Andrew Soroh.
“You never know what’s going to happen six weeks from now,” Bellantoni said. “To have him available to play safety, whether it’s Game One or Game Five, at least he’s been taking reps there.”
One hold-up in the process has been the health of both Rose and Young. FAU has been holding Rose out of contact drills because of a sore ankle and Partridge expects Rose to be limited again in Saturday’s scrimmage – the final such scrimmage before the Owls’ Sept. 3 opener against Southern Illinois.
Getting Rose more live reps tales on greater importance because Young has missed the last few practices.
Partridge said that Young is “a little under the weather” adding that his status for Saturday’s scrimmage is “up in the air.”
Young moved from free safety to strong safety during the spring, where he is replacing Sharrod Neasman, who is currently in the Atlanta Falcons camp.
Last season Bellantoni praised Neasman as the brains that held the back seven of the defense together. Bellantoni believes Young is to have a similar impact this season.
“Jalen is having a great camp,” Bellantoni said. “He is so much better than he was a year ago. He’s more confident. He’s playing faster – like most of the guys. I don’t know if he’ll be an upgrade from Sharrod, but I think there won’t be any drop-off. I think he’s going to be a really good player for us this year.”