BOCA RATON – FAU coach Charlie Partridge isn’t taking for granted that a full offseason in Boca Raton will automatically allow Jalen Young, Ocie Rose, Herb Miller and the rest of the young Owls to improve upon the successes they enjoyed last year as true freshmen.
“First year young players going into their second year, with the DBs feeling like they have it figured out when they still have so much room to grow, concerns me a little bit,” Partridge said.
So does having to find a replacement for lockdown corner Cre’von LeBlanc, currently in the New England Patriots camp.
Miller emerged from a crowded cornerback battle in last year’s fall camp to become an opening-game starter opposite LeBlanc.
Young began the season as the starting nickel back, then moved to safety, where he helped anchor the back of the defense. Young’s move opened a spot for Ocie Roce to start, and he made plays throughout the season, finishing tied for second on the team with three touchdowns.
Rose and Young impressed league coaches so much that both were selected to the C-USA Preseason All-Conference team.
Partridge isn’t looking for the trio to repeat their performances from last season. He wants them to see growth.
“The Herbs and the Jalens and the Ocies, they’ve still got so much more to go to reach their ceiling,” Partridge said. “I don’t want them to get complacent. That’s probably my biggest concern on defense.”
Entering camp in a three player battle for the two starting cornerback spots, Miller has the most incentive to avoid complacency.
After battling injuries much of last season junior Raekwon Williams emerged from spring practice as the clear leader among the three, leaving Miller battling sophomore Shelton Lewis for the second starting spot.
“He got better every day and every week during the fall,” Partridge said of Lewis. “We saw it coming. We really did. It didn’t stop in the offseason or in spring ball.”
FAUOwlAccess.com Projected Depth Chart
Raekwon Williams (5-11, 180, Jr.)
Owls’ best pure cover corner is also their best in run support. Williams played in all 12 games last season, starting twice, but didn’t record an interception.
Kemar Downer (5-11, 170, So)
Fast and long, Downer has the pure athleticism to turn the three-way cornerback battle into a four-way competition. “I’m anxious to see what he does in this camp,” Partridge said.
Herb Miller (6-2, 185, So)
Started 10 games last season, recording one interception. Has the kind of size and length that can frustrate even bigger wide receivers. Needs more consistency. “He’s got a very high ceiling,” Partridge said.
Shelton Lewis (6-0, 171, So.)
Most of his contributions came on special teams last season. Owls like what they have in Lewis. Even if he doesn’t win the battle to be a starter, Lewis should see significant time in the Owls’ defensive backfield this season.
Ocie Rose (6-2, 190, So.)
Freelancing ways made coaches’ hearts stop at times last season, but also yielded some big plays. Intercepted three passes and recovered two fumbles. FAU would like to see Rose make more plays within the defensive scheme this season. “He’s got a lot of gifts,” Partridge said.
DJ Juste (6-2, 195, Sr.)
Has yet to make the kind of impact at FAU that many expected. After beginning his career as a quarterback, the Owls also tried him at wide receiver and defensive back. Has the kind of athleticism that could produce a memorable senior season. “Hopefully he continues to be a guy we can rely on to spell Ocie if it’s a big nickel game,” Partridge said.
Jalen Young (5-11, 175, So.)
Huge freshman season helped stabilize the back end of the Owls’ defense last season. Young’s 69 tackles were the third most among Owls last season. Recorded three interceptions and one forced fumble last season.
Jake Stoshak (6-0, 190, R-So.)
Recorded 10 tackles against Miami in the season’s second game last year, but played mainly on special teams the remainder of the season. That could be where his biggest impact is in 2016, too.
Andrew Soroh, (6-2, 205, R-So.)
Has big shoes to fill replacing Sharrod Neasman, who is currently in Atlanta Falcons camp. Everything began to click late last season, then in the spring took a massive leap forward, earning the trust of coaches. “It started to show in the fall in third down packages,” Partridge said. “He was doing things that we had not seen him do. We got a little excited and it carried over into the spring.”
Lester Thomas (5-10, 165, Sr.)
Began last season as a starter but may not be much more than a role player this season. Thomas recorded 18 tackles last season but was prone to allowing the big play. Will be pushed in camp by some of the younger players.
OTHER POTENTIAL CONTRIBUTORS
Reggie Brown (5-11, 185, R-So.)
The cornerback was slowed last season while continuing the recovery from 2014’s knee surgery. Played in 10 games as a true freshman, recording five tackles.
Tevin Homer (6-2, 195, Sr.)
Walk-on made his biggest contributions on special teams last season, recording one tackle. Expect Homer to reprise that role again this season, doing so more prominently.
Alfred Ansley (5-11, 185, R-Sr.)
Can play both nickel and safety. Will provide depth at both spots. “Hopefully he’s going to be a special teams warrior for us,” Partridge said.
Anthony Hamilton (5-10, 195, R-Sr.)
Walk-on missed all of last season while recovering from an injury. Played frequently in 2014, recording 20 tackles. Owls aren’t quite sure what they can get out of Hamilton this season, but they like his work ethic. “He approaches everything the right way,” Partridge said.
Marquese Dudley-Gordon (6-0, 205, R-So.)
Potential breakout player in fall camp. Played sparingly last season. Will work primarily at nickel. “I’d love to see him take the step forward,” Partridge said.
Richie Kittles (5-11, 195, R-Fr.)
Will work at safety during camp, where he could be primed to surprise. “I’m anxious to see where he goes because he looks good physically right now,” Partridge said.