Spring is in the air, and that means it's time for spring football practice. FAU opens up spring camp on Wednesday under new head coach Charlie Partridge, and there are plenty of questions as the new staff gets adjusted. The Owls will host two open practice sessions for fans on March 22nd and April 5th, but in the mean time, here's a spring primer to get your football fix.
Two Position Battles:
Linebacker: If there is one outlying concern heading into next season, itís depth at linebacker. Yes, Andre Kirk, a second-team all-conference selection from last season returns, but outside of him, FAU doesn't have another linebacker on the roster that has started a game.
Sure, there are key reserves in the locker room like Freedom Whitfield and Robert Relf, but both players hobble into camp after suffering abnormal injuries last season (Relf shattered his ankle, and Whitfield injured his neck against Auburn). Both players are expected to practice this spring, and thatís a good thing, because FAU will need all the help it can get.
The only other linebackers that have seen game action are David Lozandier and Andrew Curtis, and those two have combined for just 14 career tackles, which isnít a telling sign. Throw in a new position coach in Roc Bellantoni, who took over the unit when Jovan Dewitt left last month, and yeah, there are some reasons to be concerned about the linebacker situation.
Center: For the first time in two seasons, FAU will open spring camp without Mustafa Johnson calling out the blocking schemes. That means someone else will have to snap the ball to quarterback Jaquez Johnson, and that person has yet to come forward. FAU welcomes back a few bodies along the line who have played center in practice, but not one individual has really worked with the first-team unit.
Karl James and Austin Bland are expected to contend for the starting gig, but both players have a lot to prove. Bland was a highly-regarded three-star recruit coming out of high school, but redshirted his freshman season. James started his career on the defensive line, before moving to the other side of the ball last spring. It will be interesting to see if either individual stands his ground, or if the coaches will have to move players around to find an answer.
1. Will Jaquez Johnson pick up where he left off? This time last year, it wasnít clear who exactly Quez Johnson was. He was a junior college transfer, who was expected to compete with Melvin German, but no one knew his potential. Quez Johnson (pictured) exceed expectations as the starter, and proved he can lead the offense. Now entering year two of Brian Wrightís offense, itís time for him to raise the bar. Keep in mind, Greg Hankerson is in his wings.
2. Which side of Crevon LeBlance will emerge? LeBlanc has almost become FAUís version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. When heís on, heís on. When heís not, heís not. LeBlanc excelled at the nickel position as a freshman, but faded as a sophomore after injuries bogged him down in camp. He will have an opportunity to start at corner or in the nickel this fall, and the defense needs a playmaker like him to lead by example.
3. What will happen to D.J. Juste? The sophomore started last season as Carl Peliniís ďveerĒ quarterback, to only later disappear. Juste ran the ball seven times in the opener against Miami, before touching it a mere six times after that. He moved to cornerback mid-season, and earned praise in practice from the coaches, but never worked into the rotation. Heís too athletic to not be on the field.
Five Names to Know:
1. Shalom Ogbonda DT - Bradin Bryant will miss spring camp with a knee injury, which means Ogbonda will have a chance to play on the interior of the line next to Trevon Coley. The time is now for the redshirt-sophomore and former three-star recruit.
2. Lestar Thomas S - Thomas played in a few packages as a true freshman, and started the Marshall game in the nickel. With Jeremy McKnight lost to graduation, it appears that itís Thomasí spot to lose at free safety.
3. Kalib Woods WR - The talk of the scout team last year was Woods, and in the limited time the media was allowed at practice, he didnít disappoint. The redshirt-freshman is tall, lanky, and can make plays. Heís basically a younger version of William Dukes.
4. Dustin Bowens TE - Like with Woods, Bowens earned some praise on the scout team last fall, but the tight end position is more of a pressing need. FAU graduated two seniors, essentially thrusting Bowens into the spotlight for spring camp.
5. Reginald Bain OL - Mike Marasille and Vinny Davino are still recovering from knee injuries, which means spots along the offensive line are open. Bain, who enrolled early as a true freshman after winning a state title at Miami Central, will have a chance to get valuable reps this spring. Early word out of winter workouts, is heís ready to compete.