BOCA RATON – Unlike last season, when the Owls were coming off their first Conference USA championship and were the popular pick to repeat, FAU opened fall camp on Friday without the fanfare that can accompany lofty external expectations.
That suits left tackle Brandon Walton perfectly fine.
“I like being the underdog,” Walton said. “That means we bite harder.”
FAU followed an 11-3 record in Lane Kiffin’s first season as coach with a 5-7 effort that saw the Owls fall short of bowl eligibility.
Kiffin warned players against overconfidence entering last season, but admitted he couldn’t find a way to prevent it.
“I think when there is so much buildup to a team and a lot of preseason All-Conference guys that had great years before, if everything is going good, that’s fine,” Kiffin said. “It’s great, but all the sudden when things don’t [go well] after a few games and now you’re not able to go to one of those big bowl games or even win the conference championship, that’s when teams struggle a lot of times. We didn’t play very good down the stretch in my opinion.”
Kiffin believes that such a season makes it easier to motivate and focus players this fall, especially since many of them recall that winning feeling from 2017.
“I think it’s easier when you don’t play well because guys are humbled and so they are ready to go back to work and don’t think that they’ve got it all figured out and they’ve already done it.” Kiffin said. “Once you think you’ve got it made and you’ve got it figured out, that’s when we’re all in trouble.”
FAU doesn’t have the likes of Devin Singletary, Kerrith Whyte and Azeez Al-Shaair to lead them this year. They’ve moved to the NFL.
But one day into fall camp, Kiffin does see a roster capable of winning because of greater depth.
“I don’t think we’re as strong in the top of our roster as we have been the past two years, but I think we may be stronger at the back of the roster, with a lot of of quality walk-ons that we went out and found, and transfers and things,” Kiffin said. “Hopefully that helps us where we can play more people because that was an issue last year.”
Hard Knocks at the Ox – Friday’s Practice Report
Position Spotlight: Kiffin is attempting to rebuild a depleted wide receiver unit by throwing a slew of new players into the mix. The leader of this group has to be John Mitchell, and he played like a go-to guy on Friday. Mitchell made several leaping catches, including one over James Pierre, that were reminiscent of the kind of plays Kalib Woods made before his breakout season. …Walk-on Ronald Patterson made some impressive catches and has the chance to remain on the two-deep. …It’s easy to see why players and coaches are so high on freshman Eyin Cole. He’s big and skilled, but also raw. …USF transfer DeAngelo Antoine could quickly ascend the depth chart at slot receiver.
Trending Topic: The morning started with overcast skies and a mist, but the sun’s emergence midway through practice wasn’t exactly a welcome sight. As many as one dozen players, mostly on the defensive side of the ball, struggled with cramps in the final hour.
QB Battle: Justin Agner took the initial first team snaps during team drills on Friday, but Kiffin seemed to change which quarterback worked with the starters first every time the Owls change a drill. Agner, Nick Tronti and Chris Robison all spent about the same amount of time with the first team. One quarterback who didn’t get any first team snaps – or any snaps at all for that matter – was redshirt freshman Cordel Littlejohn, who wasn’t present. Littlejohn didn’t enter the transfer portal and is expected to be back on the field before the Aug. 31 season-opener at Ohio St.
In The Trenches: The highly anticipated debut of former Auburn tackle Calvin Ashley will have to wait at least one more day. Expected to be the Owls starting right tackle, Ashley missed Friday’s practice with what Kiffin characterized as an illness.
Playmakers: Free safety Teja Young intercepted two passes, with both coming off deflections. …Defensive tackle Jaylen Joyner picked up a botched hand-off and was on his way to the end zone when the whistle blew.