BOCA RATON – Even with Conference USA’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year lining up one end, no unit was hurt more by graduation than FAU’s defensive line, which lost two players currently in NFL camps.
Complicating matters, both Trevon Coley and Brandin Bryant played defensive tackle, forcing teams that hoped to take the shortest distance to the end zone to find another route.
The Owls are young at defensive tackle, but they don’t lack experience.
“It’s not by biggest concern because I like where those guys are,” FAU coach Charlie Partridge said. “We still have a gap to close to be able to say that they are going to do anything near what (Coley) and Brandin were able to produce.”
FAU will enter camp with three players battling to fill the starting defensive tackle spots.
Junior Ray Ellis heads that trio. A steady force in the middle of the Owls’ defense, Ellis hasn’t made as many spectacular plays behind the line of scrimmage in the way that Coley did, especially during a pass rush, but he’s rarely caught out of position.
“You know what are going to get from Ray,” Partridge said. “You can count on Ray to do his job.”
Shalom Ogbonda is the senior statesman of the group. A redshirt senior, Ogbonda functioned primarily as a roll player for the past few years before elevating his play during the spring in his push for a starting spot.
“He’s athletic,” Partridge said. “He’s a big kid. Extremely intelligent. He knows how to do his job. He knows when to take a calculated risk.”
A sophomore, Leggett is the youngest of the three battling for the starting defensive tackle spot. He played in eight games last season, with one of his 10 tackles being a sack.
While the defensive tackle spots could remain in flux throughout camp, baring unforeseen circumstances the defensive end spots are set.
Hendrickson’s 13.5 sacks were second most in the nation last season and set a program record. On the other side Hunter Snyder surged late in the season and continued to impress during the spring.
With opposing offenses likely to focus first and foremost on shutting down Hendrickson, Snyder and the winners of the defensive tackle battle figure to be the recipients of some unabated lanes to quarterback.
FAUOwlAccess.com Projected Depth Chart
Trey Hendrickson, (6-4, 270, Sr.)
Already owns the FAU career sack record with 20. Extra attention from blockers may keep Hendrickson from matching last year’s sack total but he could open lanes for other rushers. Will be in an NFL camp at this time next year.
Haiden Nagel (6-4, 250, R-Jr.)
Followed a 21-tackle season in 2014 with only six tackles last year. Played in 11 games last season as a walk-on and was reward in January with a scholarship. “He’s had a lot of reps as a defensive end – very solid, very reliable,” Partridge said. “He loves this school. That’s important.”
Shalom Ogbonda (6-4, 290, R-Sr.)
Last of the Howard Schnellenberger recruits, having committed prior to Schnellenberger’s final season. Ogbonda played in 11 games last season, starting four times. Seemed like a role player prior to spring. Now he looks like a starter.
Steven Leggett (6-1, 270, So.)
Even if Leggett doesn’t earn the starting spot he’s still going to see plenty of time as part of the DT rotation. Played in eight games as a true freshman last season, recording 10 tackles, including a sack.
Ray Ellis (6-1, 290, Jr.)
Started five games last year in a season in which he recorded 24 tackles. His lone sack came in 2014 as a true freshman.
Denzel Whitfield, (6-5, 280, R-Sr.)
Hasn’t been much more than a role player during his time at FAU – though last season he did play in 10 games. If he can get into the backfield, Whitfield’s length makes him a challenging obstacle to throw over or around. Tackle total dropped from 19 in 2014 to four last season.
Hunter Snyder (6-7, 260, R-So.)
Recorded 2.5 sacks against FIU and dropped another QB drop against Florida. “He can really run,” Partridge said. “He’s obviously so long and he’s becoming more of a technician.”
Nick Internicola (6-3, 255, R-Jr.)
Missed spring practices recovering from a shoulder injury suffered during the spring. Has been cleared for full contact. A fierce competitor, Internicola enters camp the healthiest he’s been since transferring from Rutgers following the 2013 season.
OTHER POTENTIAL CONTRIBUTORS:
Nick Richardson (6-4, 260, R-So.)
The defensive end position is stacked so Richardson will be in a battle for playing time. He’s yet to see the field for FAU, but still has three years of eligibility remaining, including 2016.
Josh Kendall (6-2, 295, R-So.)
Showed a few flashes of play-making ability in the spring but needs to be more consistent to see the field this year. Will work at defensive tackle.