Trey Hendrickson had graduated, taking with him his FAU career-high 29.5 sacks, 9.5 of which came as a senior. How would the Owls match Hendrickson’s destructiveness in the backfield?
While there was no true replacement for Hendrickson, the best defensive end in program history, the Owls’ defensive line found a way to excel without him.
For FAU’s defensive ends, it was a group effort.
Five of them combined to total 15 sacks in 2017, one shy of the total the Hendrickson-led crew tallied the year prior. As a team, the Owls recorded 38 sacks in 2017, a full 15 more than they managed in 2016.
True, FAU’s offense posted a staggering amount of points, forcing opponents to abandon the running game early, thereby producing many more sack opportunities. But that shouldn’t diminish the accomplishments of the Owls’ defensive ends.
And that performance should only improve in 2018 as new defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro’s ferociously aggressive defense will provide more opportunities for the ends to attack.
In Hunter Snyder and Leighton McCarthy, the Owls return their two best pass rushers. Injuries have limited Snyder during his career and he lacks the motor that drove Hendrickson, but with a good senior season he could leave Boca Raton as the second-best defensive end ever to play at FAU.
Only a redshirt freshman last season, McCarthy is pure pass rusher who will become a better run stuffer as he adds muscle.
Ernest Bagner and Tim Bonner, junior college transfers prior to the 2017 season, didn’t produce as expected last season but made strides during the spring.
Expect that quartet to create even more mischief in opponents’ backfields this season.
OwlAccess.com Pre-Camp FAU DE Breakdown
Hunter Snyder (6-7, 265, R-Sr.): Snyder tied linebacker Rashad Smith for FAU’s sack title last season with six. His 12.5 career sacks tie for fifth-most in FAU history, and with four sacks he’ll be alone in second. He didn’t get named a preseason All-Conference USA performer, but with a healthy season Snyder will be there at the end of the year.
Tim Bonner (6-5, 235, R-Jr.): Originally a Louisville Cardinal before transferring to East Mississippi Community College, the “Last Chance U” star struggled with the adjustment back to FBS football. Primarily a special teams contributor last season, Bonner only managed eight tackles, though one was a sack. Bonner looked more comfortable during the spring, but has a ways to go to displace Snyder as a starter. He is better suited than Snyder to dropping back into coverage – something Pecoraro’s defense asks defensive ends to do occasionally.
David Belvin (6-3, 260, R-So.): Belvin has yet to contribute as an Owl, but he did flash at times during the spring. He ended spring third on the depth chart and will have to demonstrate the ability to contribute more consistently if he’s going to climb higher.
Anthony Bennett (6-3, 245, R-Jr.): One of the more pleasant surprises of 2017 spring practices, Bennett’s successes didn’t carry over to the fall. He played in nine games, even recording a sack in the C-USA title game, but didn’t make much of an impact. When he’s on the field, Bennett gives his all.
Leighton McCarthy (6-3, 220, R-So.): A quick first step and an uncanny ability to get around the corner allowed McCarthy to climb the depth chart faster than almost anyone expected last season. His 4.5 sacks were the biggest reason C-USA honored McCarthy on its All-Freshman team. McCarthy recorded 48 total tackles in his first year. He’s undersized, but that lack of bulk allows McCarthy to successfully drop into coverage when asked. He nabbed the Owls first interception last season.
Ernest Bagner (6-4, 250, Sr.): His initial season at FAU disappointed, but Bagner became a force during spring practices. There’s a good argument to be made that Bagner was this spring’s best defensive player – regardless of position. He sports a bigger frame than McCarthy, which allows Bagner to be more effective on inside runs. If Bagner’s spring play carries over to fall, the Owls will have a formidable rotation at right end.
Damian Horton (6-3, 250, R-Jr.): Like Belvin, Horton has yet to contribute to the Owls, and time is running out. He worked his way to third on the spring depth chart, which won’t equate to much playing time this fall if he doesn’t produce in fall camp.
Kain Daub (6-4, 250, R-Sr.): The former Florida St. Seminole qualifies as one of last season’s biggest disappointments. He arrived at FAU overweight and out of shape, and struggled to find playing time. Daub is officially listed as a linebacker on the Owls’ roster, but he’s currently better suited to defensive end.
Tre Jackson (6-2, 220, Fr.): Jackson chose FAU over interest from Air Force and Maryland. He recorded 12 sacks as a senior at Winter Garden-West Orange. Jackson’s ability to find playing time this season may well depend upon the health of the players ahead of him on the depth chart.
Jaylon Joyner (6-3, 250, Fr.): Joyner played defensive end in high school but could ultimately move to defensive tackle at FAU. Like many FAU defensive ends, he’s quick off the ball. A redshirt season could be in order for Joyner.
Devin Hayes (6-6, 250, Fr.): Hayes will likely begin his FAU career as an offensive tackle, but many schools recruited him to play defense. FAU counts eight offensive linemen as part of its 2018 signing class. If coaches feel they have the needed O-line depth, they may elect to flip him back to defense.
Haiden Nagel: A walk-on who earned a scholarship in 2016, Nagel recorded 2.5 sacks last season as a senior. Nagel played in all 14 games last season as a reserve.
Nick Internicola: Injuries limited Internicola’s production at FAU. At one point a contender for a starting spot, Internicola played every game last season and is credited with 17 tackles.
Ernest Bagner: He looked like a different player in the spring – confident, decisive and athletic. Bagner only recorded 13 tackles last season. FAU coach Lane Kiffin attributed Bagner’s lack of production to the struggles some junior college players encounter adjusting to the FBS level. If Bagner plays this fall like he did in the spring, he has All-Conference USA – and NFL – potential.
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