In a pass-happy Conference-USA the FAU secondary was able to do more than hold their own last season. They dominated.
With record-holder for most interceptions in school history D'Joun Smith returning, as well as the reliable and consistent duo of Christian Milestead and Damian Parms, the secondary will look to reach new heights this year.
"Smith is one of the best corners in all of college football," said Dukes. Additionally, the secondary may have just gotten better as the players and coaching staff have raved about incoming freshman Raekwon Williams.
"Raekwon is going to be very good," said an excited Smith. "Him and MarQuese Dudley-Gordon are two of the incoming freshman that have gotten a lot of reps with the ones and twos at various times. Their progressing very fastly, [sic]" said coach Partridge.
With Smith being placed on the Jim Thorpe Award preseason watch list he may not see many passes thrown his way and may have to rely on others to make the plays he made last year, but it isn't a concern for him. "I trust my boys out there to make that play," said Smith.
Whereas last year's secondary played a lot of man-to-man defense. Smith said we should expect to see a lot more balanced scheme with zone coverages under new defensive coordinator Roc Bellantoni.
Conference USA first teamer Andrae Kirk will be leading the linebacker core, and the unit looks to be in safe hands under him. "Captain Kirk is gonna bring those guys with him," said Smith referring Kirk's nickname after being a captain last year.
The question remains who those guys will be. Rorbert Relf and Freedom Whitfield have both taken snaps with first team so they appear to round out the linebacker core but the situation still remains fluid.
"I feel like we're pretty solid. Robert Relf is going to have a great year. He has been working very hard. David Lozandier understands the defense. Freedom Whitfield understands the defense. There's not gonna be a drop in terms of production from last year. I'm ready to go with those guys," said Kirk.
The only position group on defense that raises a concern is the defensive line. But with experienced returnees Brandin Bryant and Trevon Coley holding down the defensive line those concerns could potentially be put to bed rather quickly.
"We have eight defensive lineman we feel like we can rotate," said a confident Coach Partridge.
"This is gonna be one of the best D lines FAU has ever seen," Bryant added. "This is the most depth we've had as a unit so I wouldn't put a question mark for the pass rush at all."
The return of sophomore Shalom Ogbonda, who has seen more time in the early two deep, and the potential addition of Rutgers transfer Nick Internicola vying for playing time, Bryant may be right. But until the games start this position remains somewhat up in the air in terms of what we can expect from them.
With the secondary leading the way in a pass-happy conference I expect the defensive line to take bumps early but hit their stride once conference play starts as the secondary leads what has the potential to be a great defense. If the offense picks up where they left off last year the Owls will be right in the hunt for a conference title.
"We got real good unity. We all gotta be as good as each other," said Smith. As for unit goals for the year: "We going for the NCAA record, 50 turnovers in a year." With Smith leading a great secondary this year, who knows, they just might.
"We're deep and better than ever," continued Smith. "They better be ready!"