Florida Atlantic Spring Football: 5 Things We Learned
Florida Atlantic football recently concluded its spring session with the annual spring game on April 23, in which the offense prevailed 18-13.
The team was faced with a lot of questions heading into the spring.
Who will replace Jeff Van Camp at quarterback?
How will the defense adjust to its new 3-4 scheme?
Will the offensive line show any improvement after a disastrous 2010 campaign?
With spring football in the books—and a few months from training camp—here are five things we learned.
1. The Quarterback Competition Is Far From Over
FAU hasn't had a quarterback competition in five years. But that's all changed in one offseason.
With the departure of senior quarterback Jeff Van Camp, a new quarterback competition is brewing between redshirt juniors Graham Wilbert and David Kooi.
The highly touted quarterback competition that began at the start of spring football hit a standstill following FAU's Spring Game on April 23.
Wilbert, who was the presumed front-runner for the starting job, sustained an injury to his index finger when his hand smacked into the hand of defender David Hinds as he followed through on a pass just before the end of the first half.
An X-Ray revealed that Wilbert's finger wasn't broken just badly bent. He will miss four to six weeks as offseason conditioning gets underway but he should be healthy by the start of training camp in August, said Coach Howard Schnellenberger.
The battle for the starting quarterback job is as unclear as ever with Wilbert's injury.
What was thought to be a two-man race for the starting job, between Wilbert and Kooi, will turn into a three-man race between Wilbert, Kooi and redshirt freshman Nick Bracewell, hinted Schnellenberger.
"It's needless for us to talk about who's number one for a long time," he said.
2. The Defense is Adjusting Nicely to 3-4 Formation
Another story heading into spring is the switch from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense, one that will utilize the Owls’ strength at the linebacker position.
While it wasn’t the prettiest transition, the players adjusted better as the spring wore on.
One of the main goals in this 3-4 defense will be to get more aggressive play our out of the players, which includes forcing turnovers, something that FAU's defense was no stranger to in the spring.
In the first scrimmage, the defense's only win out of three team scrimmages, they forced six turnovers on an unsuspecting Owls offense en route to a 38-24 win.
Coach Howard Schnellenberger is quite pleased with the defense's transition.
“The players on the defensive side feel good and feel more confident than they did a year ago,” he said. “They got a taste of the 3-4 and made some adjustments, but they are only going to get better and better...We have seen them get through it the first time and have some plays on tape, but we need to go through that about three more times before the first game.”
3. Depth at the Running Back Position
Starting running back Alfred Morris missed most of the spring session nursing a sore back after he aggravated it in the weight room prior to the start of practices.
With Morris on the sidelines, redshirt sophomores Damian Fortner and Travis Jones showed a glimpse of what lies in the future once Morris graduates after next season.
While Morris missed time on the practice field, he did in fact help coach up Fortner and Jones.
Both Fortner and Jones, who are the likely candidates to replace Morris after this season, saw an increased share of repetitions with the first team offense in practice and scrimmages and both have shown that, while they are both quite effective, they are also quite similar in their style.
"We complement each other," Jones said of their dual threat in the backfield.
The Owls offense gets off the bus running and depth at the running back position is one of the bigger strengths for the offense.
"If somebody is out we're not going to miss a beat," Fortner said. "Somebody can step in. We're all working together. We're a big family."
4. Offensive Line Showed Improvement
The offensive line went to hell and back last season.
Every player played starter for the first time last season after a wave of injuries flooded training camp and the unit didn't exactly flourish.
One of the areas of focus in the spring was on building depth on the offensive line.
While two members of the starting unit missed a large portion of spring drills, the offensive line did make progress and has showed signs of developing depth.
Coach Howard Schnellenberger was pleased with the improving play of the offensive line.
“We’ve got some that are just now getting good enough to play and have a lot of upside," he said.
A big strength for the unit is their youth. FAU is returning every starter from last season and that poses a big confidence boost for the Owls but they still have a long way to go as spring practice progresses.
With just three seniors on the offensive line, FAU's front consists mainly of juniors and sophomores, nearly all of whom have experience. Center Jordan Sessa, who was projected to start only to have a sprained right knee sideline him for the season, is the only projected starter without experience.
"It's of real big importance," Sessa said of the returning players. "Especially for the offensive line because we all have to work as a unit. When you have everyone coming back you know how the guy next to you plays, you know how he works and everything. It really helps to bond everyone together."
5. Randell Johnson Has Receovered from Back Surgery
Linebacker Randell Johnson is still feeling the effects of the three broken bones in his back that he suffered last season, but that hasn't stopped him from regaining top shape in the spring.
After a start that was at times spectacular, Johnson's season ended against Louisiana-Lafayette when he broke the bones in his back while trying to make a tackle.
The injury took nearly eight weeks to heal, though he was still sore after practices and scrimmages.
Johnson will be a key factor in the defense's switch to a 3-4 defense alongside linebackers Martin Wright, Yourhighness Morgan and David Hinds.
He made his impact known in the team scrimmages, forcing several turnovers and, aside from some soreness, there is no evidence of his injury.
"Randell did a good job," said defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach Kurt Van Valkenburgh. "He had a couple of turnovers and was really good at the point of attack, which is where he needs to be."