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OwlBytes: 2024 FAU Spring Practice March 14th - Linebackers & Notes

The first week of Spring Practice continued this Thursday at the Schmidt Practice Fields, with the team mixing and matching players at different positions to work with different coaches throughout separate time periods. For today, the linebackers will have the spotlight.

"I don't want to downplay the improvement we've made from the year before to this past season, but we won four games so we've got to be even better," said defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Roc Bellantoni. "We need to tackle better, we need to get more takeaways; we had 18 takeaways, one or two less the year before, we need to have 30 this year. We need to get more possessions for our offense. I want to see that happen in spring ball and that happened today, so that was good to see."

Below is a quick glance at the makeup of the position for the Spring.

Key Returners: Jackson Ambush (Gr. 5-11, 225), Desmond Tisdol (Gr. 6-0, 234), Eddie Williams (Sr. 6-1, 200), Zyere Horton (R-Soph. 6-3, 225), Courtney McBride (Jr. 6-3, 235), Justice Cross (R-Soph. 6-2, 210), Jarrett Jerrels (Jr. 6-2, 218), Makai Sawtelle (R-Soph. 6-2, 211), Morven Joseph (Jr. 6-3, 222), Rhys McDonald (R-Fr. 6-1, 215), Jadyn Church (R-Fr. 6-0, 205), Zachary Marino (R-Fr. 6-2, 220)

Key Losses: Jaylen Wester, Xavier Peters, Jahbari Hill.

Newcomers: Char'Quez Lee (3-Star Recruit/Miami Palmetto), Jarvis Johnson (Recruit/Westminster Christian, won't arrive until the summer)

Here is the second of our parliament Owl position previews, beginning with three names from the linebackers, and some notes from today's media availability.

On The Lookout

  • Expected to Lead Jackson Ambush: It wouldn't be a surprise to see Ambush (pictured top) reign as the leading linebacker, described by Bellantoni as the "heart" of the defense. Transferring from Albany the year prior, it didn't take long for him to adapt to his surroundings as he almost immediately became one of the best defenders on the team. Appearing in all 12 games, he led the Owls in tackles with 89 (41 solo), 6.5 TFL, a sack, a pass deflection, and an interception. His ability to make plays in the clutch shined during FAU's AAC opener against Tulsa, where he made the game-saving tackle to secure the win. Another player who would be expected to tag-team with Ambush is Desmond Tisdol (pictured below, right). He came along as the second-best tackler behind Ambush with 70 tackles (36 solo), 5.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, and a pair of pass deflections. One of his best games came on the road against UAB, where he had a double-digit night with 12 tackles, including two TFLs, one of which was a sack for a loss of a yard. With both defenders having another year of eligibility to use, there should be no doubt that they want to end their collegiate careers strong.

  • Keep An Eye On Char'Quez Lee: One of the newcomers to the linebacker unit, Lee is a player that Bellantoni believes has a "bright future" in the defense. Originally an East Carolina commit before switching his allegiance to FAU as a 2024 signee, Lee comes out of Miami Palmetto High School as he helped the team finish 9-2 with 40 tackles as a senior, including six for a loss, one of which was a sack for a loss of four yards. With both head coach Tom Herman and defensive coordinator Roc Bellantoni having had him on their radar during their recruiting trips last year, there may be a possibility that he could be the next man up to handle starting duties when the likes of Ambush and Tisdol depart from the team after 2024. Another player to keep tabs on would be Jarrett Jerrels (pictured above, left). Being placed on scholarship last summer after playing as a walk-on since 2020, Jerrels showed plenty of progress in his fourth year with the team. He played in all 12 games, making 33 tackles (18 solo), two TFL, a pass deflection, and an interception. He was most aggressive with his tackling last November at UAB, making a career-high seven tackles (two solo) against the Blazer offense. It is possible that he would want to continue building off his 2023 campaign and become a more vital piece to the Owls' defense.

  • Dark Horse Candidate Jadyn Church: Church (pictured below) is a player who has a chance to make some noise in a position stacked with talented defenders. Joining the Owls last summer, he had a reserve role as he redshirted for the 2023 season. He has the ability to play at both middle and outside linebacker, tallying 79 tackles including 3.0 for a loss at Tampa Bay Tech and added a fumble recovery and a pass defended in 14 games. He may be on the outside looking in, but he can make the most of it by impressing Bellantoni and the coaching staff throughout the spring sessions.

OwlBytes for March 14th

  • Familiarity For The Better With the team returning both coordinators for the first time since 2015, the time to learn an entirely different playbook won't be needed as players can focus on getting better under the current system. "With everyone coming back, they all know what to expect from me, I know what to expect from them, I know how they're going to respond to things, they know how I'm going to respond to things…the level of growth has been really fun to watch this offseason," Bellantoni said.

Ambush said it feels like second nature to already be familiar with the game plan. "Having a new playbook, you're just learning a whole new language…it's really easy whenever you can just keep going over that playbook over and over again and we all appreciate Coach Roc for helping us out," Ambush said.

  • Retooled Offense With an offensive unit that looks quite different from the year prior, offensive coordinator Charlie Frye has placed his priority on making sure the run game is as effective as it can be. "We've got a lot of weapons and the diversity of those weapons. Some of the backs got tree trunks; they're going to try to run you over. Some of the backs got that quick twitch where they're going to try to make you miss. So a combination of the running back room with the objective of not getting their a** back up front is what we're trying to do in the run game," he said.

With the number of departures and newcomers that has occurred to the team, Frye has seen a different dynamic with the positions that have experienced the most change since the end of last season. "You've got to formulate a plan of getting those guys up to speed…I've been very pleased with their attention to detail in the first two days with their willingness to learn. You can see the guys are hungry and they want to learn, and we're going to see when we can go and put the pads on," Frye said.

Video Play

Defensive coordinator Roc Bellantoni, offensive coordinator Charlie Frye, linebacker Jackson Ambush, and defensive lineman Latrell Jean headline Video Play.

After taking a rest for Friday, the team will be back on the field for Saturday's session.

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