The linebacker united received an unexpected – and unwanted – head start last season when a knee injury prematurely ended Al-Shaair’s senior year.
Andrew Soroh and Akileis Leroy filled Al-Shaair’s void for the final six games, but with Soroh now a Kansas City Chief, the responsibility fell solely on the shoulders of Leroy during the spring.
“Azeez told me last year, Bro don’t think of it as big shoes to fill, just think of it as, OK, now I have more to improve on,” Leroy said.
Leroy no longer had Al-Shaair to lean on, but he did have Rashad Smith positioned next to him. FAU’s best defensive player last season, Smith admitted he struggled with the playbook the first couple days of spring before rounding back into form.
Smith led FAU in tackles and interceptions last season, but the quiet senior will need to adopt more of a leadership role in 2019.
“I try to talk but I’ve just got to lead by example, if anything,” Smith said. “I can’t not do something and then say to somebody else to do it.”
SPRING GRADE: B. Smith’s spring didn’t match his production from last season, but he didn’t exactly stand out last spring either. There’s no reason not to expect Smith to repeat – or exceed – last year’s performance come the fall. Leroy delivered blows and Hosea Barnwell enjoyed a solid spring.
SPRING STANDOUT: Leroy. He isn’t Al-Shaair – at least not yet – but Leroy was one of the best defensive players this spring. He’s fast and continues to deliver crushing blows in the secondary. Leroy adapted well to new defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer’s scheme, and the tandem of Leroy and Smith will be fearsome come the fall.
SPRING DISAPPOINTMENT: The Owls are thin at linebacker. In Smith, Leroy and Barnwell the linebacker unit has three experienced players and really not much behind that. Former running back Chase Lasater ended spring on the two-deep but wasn’t a big factor in the scrimmages. Early enrollee Diamonte Howard will benefit from his first spring, but he might not be ready to meaningfully contribute during his true freshman season.
SPRING SURPRISE: Walk-on Jakai Linwood spent most of his time working with the third or fourth strings, but he seemed to make one or two loud plays each scrimmage. After Leroy, Linwood may be the biggest hitter in the unit. The freshman isn’t yet ready to make a major contribution, but it will be interesting to see whether he can continue to develop as an Owl.