BOCA RATON – Throughout the spring FAU coach Lane Kiffin hasn’t done much to hide his concern about the defensive line.
Simply put, Kiffin’s worried that what he, on Thursday, called one of the “least talented groups coming in” had the bodies to make an impact.
FAU’s defensive tackles feel the pressure.
“It’s a lot of weight on our shoulders but we’re going to take it on – head on,” sophomore defensive tackle Will Davis said. “Defensive line leads the defense. Without us being great the defense can’t be great.”
Having spent the last decade surrounded by the behemoths that the SEC, PAC 12 and the NFL attract, this spring has been a lesson stopping more with less for Kiffin.
Listed at 6-foot, 265 pounds and 6-foot-2, 275 pounds respectively, starting defensive tackles Will Davis and Steven Leggett aren’t exactly tiny, but in the football trenches where they frequently battle 300-pounders, they aren’t exactly immovable objects, either.
With that in mind, new defensive coordinator Chris Kiffin is altering the Owls’ defensive scheme to take advantage of what Davis and Leggett and the rest of the unit does well – mainly speed and quickness.
“I think it fits our guys pretty well,” Davis said.
Only nine teams allowed more than the 245.4 rushing yards per game FAU allowed last season. (New defensive coordinator Chris Kiffin came from one of those schools, Ole Miss, where he was the defensive line coach.)
Opposing ball carriers averaged 5.48 yards every time they touched the ball in 2016.
This spring Lane Kiffin has measured improvement along the defensive line in scrimmage situations, where they limited rushers to less than 3.5 yards per carry.
“We actually have done statistically well in the scrimmages,” Kiffin said. “They haven’t all been tackles. It’s hard to tell sometime where the ball is down and stuff.”
Saturday’s spring game should offer a little more clarity. The Owls will tackle ballcarriers, except for quarterbacks, for at least the first half of the game which will pit the Owls’ offense vs the Owls’ defense using a scoring system similar to the one program founder Howard Schnellenberger used in his spring games.
“We’re still improving as the practices go on,” Leggett said. “We’re still a work in progress.”
On Thursday, the final spring practice prior to Saturday’s game, rising sophomore Kevin McCrary and walk-on redshirt sophomore Dai’Kwon Fuse worked with the second team. Redshirt junior Josh Kendall is also in the mix for a second-team spot, and Ray Ellis, a two-year starter who missed all of last season because of a torn ACL and has not been cleared for the spring, should return for the fall.
With Shalom Ogbonda and Denzel Whitfield, two defensive tackles from last season, pursuing NFL careers, the top five defensive tackles likely to play on Saturday combined for only 44 tackles last season.
“You can see them getting better,” Kiffin said on Thursday, before adding, “It is a big concern for us.”