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2011 Florida Atlantic Preview - Defense
Florida Atlantic P Mickey Groody
Florida Atlantic P Mickey Groody
Posted May 23, 2011 2011 Preview - Florida Atlantic Owl Defense

Florida Atlantic Owls

Preview 2011 - Defense

- 2011 Florida Atlantic Preview | 2011 Florida Atlantic Offense
- 2011 Florida Atlantic Defense | 2011 Florida Atlantic Depth Chart
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What You Need To Know: The defense wasn’t that bad finishing first in the Sun Belt against the pass, but it got blown away against the better running teams. In an effort to get even more speed and athleticism on the field, the Owls are moving to a 3-4 alignment and now several smallish defensive linemen will be in more natural linebacker spots. There’s plenty of rebuilding to do, especially in the secondary, but safety Marcus Bartels is a great one to work around. The front seven should get plenty of big plays from the linebackers, especially Cory Henry who moves from end to strongside linebacker; he’ll thrive with more room to move. Size isn’t the issue it normally is for FAU, but the front three has to do a better job of holding up.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Marcus Bartels, 104
Sacks: Cory Henry, 5
Interceptions: Marcus Bartels, 2

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: The defensive front was decent at getting into the backfield, but most of the pressure came from the linebackers. In the 3-4 alignment, the front three must play bigger and has to do more against the run after getting pounded on throughout last season.

The key to the defensive front needs to be Jimmy Jean , a 6-2, 290-pound junior who sits on the nose and has to try to be the anchor for the run defense. The veteran got his feet wet from the moment he stepped on the field. He was given the full court press by Louisville out of high school, and he’s a decent talent, but he needs to be even more of a mauler against the run after making 20 tackles. Part of a rotation, he started just five games, but the gig is his as long as he can produce. However, 6-3, 305-pound senior Jarvis Givens brings even more size to the interior. He has the biggest frame on the FAU line, but staying healthy has been an issue. After starting eight times last year and making 26 tackles with two sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss, experience isn’t a problem.

Trying to bring some pressure from the outside is veteran Kevin Cyrille, a 6-4, 275-pound former Western Michigan Bronco who stepped in right away two years ago and was one of the best players at getting into the backfield. He only came up with 32 tackles last season, but he made two sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss as a good-sized pass rusher on the 3-4. He’ll rotate with 5-11, 250-pound sophomore David Baptiste , a smallish pass rusher who came up with nine tackles in a reserve role.

More of a second end than a tackle in the 3-4, 6-5, 245-pound sophomore Andrew Stryffeler will do a little of everything for the line after making six tackles with a tackle for loss in a limited role. He’s a very quick, strong lineman with a great frame, but he’ll be at his best when he gets to try to get into the backfield, while 6-4, 240-pound senior Jamere Johnson is a pure pass rusher who has seen a little bit of time over the last few years and turned into one of the team’s better sackers coming up with three with 29 tackles and six tackles for loss. He’s a 4-3 end, and more of a hybrid outside linebacker, but he’ll line up as an interior defender.

Watch Out For … Even more of a rotation. With only three players up front, the idea will be to keep everyone fresh and keep everyone moving. The twos are almost as good as the ones, and there won’t be much of a drop-off no matter what the combination is.
Strength: Experience. All six of the top players know what they’re doing, and they’re all going to be allowed to turn it loose into the backfield. The defense can easily switch to a 4-3 when needed.
Weakness: Run defense. Considering all the plays made in the backfield, the line got ripped apart way too much by anyone who could run the ball. There’s too much experience, and for the Sun Belt, too much size to not be better.
Outlook: A disaster for years, there were signs of life last year. This season, the Owls should have its best year yet up front. It’ll get destroyed by any offensive line with any semblance of talent, but the front three will be active and tough. It’ll be a positive at times in conference play.
Unit Rating: 5


State of the Unit: The FAU linebacking corps will be asked to do a little of everything. With four being used, there will be plenty of chances to fly into the backfield and plenty of athleticism on the field. The key will be the ability to swarm around and get in on every play. However, there’s a huge hole to fill inside losing Michael Lockley and his 120 tackles, and Malik Eugene and his 105 stops have to be replaced on the outside.

Yourhighness Morgan has the game to go along with the best name in college football. The 6-3, 245-pound junior is built for the inside, and he showed off a little bit of what he can do with 47 tackles last season with a sack and 4.5 tackles for loss. He only started in six games, and was dinged up for a time, but he has all the talent and all the tools to be a Sun Belt star.

Morgan will work as the fourth linebacker on the inside, while veteran backup David Hinds will take over for Lockley in the middle after making 24 tackles. Great against the pass, he broke up four passes showing off the quickness to hang around on short routes, while his 6-2, 220-pound size is just enough to hold up.

6-3, 238-pound sophomore Cory Henry is a more of a hybrid of defensive end/linebacker than a true linebacker, but he’ll start out on the strongside and needs to be a rock against the run as well as a pass rusher after making 27 tackles with a team-leading five sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. He’s the one who’ll be turned loose into the backfield on a regular basis, and he should be an All-Sun Belt performer with more responsibility. His game is about his athleticism, while 6-2, 250-pound junior Martin Wright is more of a plugger. The former defensive lineman made 17 tackles with 1.5 sacks last year.

6-3, 210-pound sophomore Randell Johnson is more of a safety than a true linebacker, but he’s tough against the run. Hurt for a bulk of last year and playing in just eight games, he still made 41 tackles with a sack and 5.5 tackles for loss. He has unlimited range and could be used at time as a pass rushing specialist.

On the way is Conard Johnson , the team’s top recruit and a dangerous playmaker who should quickly become a terror in the backfield. With 6-0, 224-pound size, he’s a smallish plugger who scoots well and hits like a ton of bricks. He can play inside or out and he could be the team’s statistical star sooner than later.

Watch Out For … The four linebackers make things happen all over the field. The switch to the 3-4 will highlight the athleticism of several players brought in for their speed, and the goal is to get them to swarm, swarm, swarm.
Strength: Athleticism. The Owls used several of the current linebacker as undersized ends, or at least that was the idea, and now the production should be better with the right players in the right positions.
Weakness: Stopping the run. The linebackers are tough and they have decent size, but they’ll have to prove they can hold up against the better running teams. FAU got blown away last year by anyone who could power the ball, and this group has to show right away that things have changed.
Outlook: Considering the Owls lost their top two tacklers, the linebacker situation isn’t all that bad. Henry could be even more of a terror with more room to move, while Morgan, if he stays healthy, should be an all-star. There will be times when this group dominates on athleticism alone.
Unit Rating: 5

Defensive Backs

State of the Unit: The secondary gave up a few too many big plays, but for the most part it came up with a good 2010 allowing under 200 yards per game. There weren’t enough picks and the group had to spend too much time cleaning up messes against the run, but it was one of the stronger FAU secondaries in recent years. There’s work to be done to replace some of the key parts, but there’s good speed and potential at all four spots.

The main man once again for the secondary will be free safety Marcus Bartels, who followed up a 112-tackle 2009 with 104 tackles, five tackles for loss, two interceptions and seven broken up passes. He’s only 5-9 and 170 pounds, but he’s a great hitter, has a nose for the ball, and he’s not afraid to get his nose dirty. With so much turnover, he has to do even more to help out against the pass. 6-1, 189-pound junior Bentley Harstad is more of a corner than a safety, but he has the speed and the size to be a decent understudy to Bartels. Harstad got a start last year and ended the year with 13 tackles and a big interception for a 38-yard score in the opener against UAB.

Stepping in for Ed Alexander will junior Demetrius Williamson after making 20 tackles in eight games. At 6-0 and 195 pounds he’s a tall, thin defender who needs to try to hold up against the run on a regular basis. Extremely smart, he’s not going to make a slew of mistakes and he should quickly become more of a leader now that he has a bigger role.

The corner situation will be a bit fluid with several decent speedsters in a rotation. Sophomore Keith Reiser started two games last year and was a key reserve the rest of the way finishing with 26 tackles with a pick. At 6-0 and 175 pounds he isn’t all that big, but he’s a star corner prospect who was wanted by everyone in the Sun Belt and given a look by NC State. Now he needs to be a No. 1, shut-down corner, while sophomore Treon Howard has to hold up on the other side. At only 5-10 and 150 pounds, he’s rail thin, but he’s extremely quick. Now he needs to do something against the pass with 17 tackles and a tackle for loss, but with no broken up passes despite starting a game and being a key reserve throughout the year.

Sophomore Winfred Strickland is a promising corner who made nine tackles before getting hurt. The 6-0, 185-pounder can fly, and he’s just physical enough to potentially be used at safety or in nickel situations. He’ll work in the corner rotation along with Curtis Cross , a 5-10, 170-pound senior who made five tackles in a limited role. He’s been around long enough to know what he’s doing.

Watch Out For … Williamson. Now that there’s a spot open, the junior should be ready to step in and come up with a huge season. He’s like a corner playing at strong safety if can hold up.
Strength: Quickness. This won’t be the most physical secondary around, but everyone can move. Staying with the faster receiving corps won’t be an issue, and helping out against the run, or at least getting to the ball, won’t be a problem.
Weakness: Size. It’s not like there needs to be a thumper in the secondary, and Bartels is certainly physical, but the FAU defensive backs look like they could be broken in two. They’re all fast, but they’re all very, very thin.
Outlook: Last year’s secondary was experienced, active, and productive, and while this year’s group will fly and should get to the ball, there aren’t going to be a bunch of big hits. Big plays will be at a premium most of the interception production from last year’s secondary gone.
Unit Rating: 4.5

Special Teams

State of the Unit: The punting game has been strong, but that’s about it with issues with the coverage teams, a replacement needed at placekicker, and little to count on from the return game.

Gone is Ross Gornall, a decent short-range kicker who hit 8-of-13 field goal tries but missed three inside the 40. Junior Vinny Zaccario started off his career at Memphis before transferring to FAU, and now he finally gets a shot to show what he can do. He doesn’t have a huge leg, but he should be decent from inside the 40.

The star of the special teams will once again be punter Mickey Groody , a veteran who bombed away averaging 45.7 yards per pop last year with 16 put inside the 20. While he put nine in the end zone, he was an effective weapon for a team that needed his help on field position. He’ll be one of the best in the Sun Belt once again.

The return game didn’t provide a whole bunch of pop averaging 6.5 yards per punt return, but Willie Floyd averaged 21.7 yards on kickoffs. As a team, FAU averaged a mere 19.9 yards per kickoff return.

Watch Out For … Zaccario. Gornall wasn’t bad, but he had a bad habit of getting kicks blocked and he wasn’t consistent. If Zaccario can hit anything from beyond 40 yards, he’ll be an upgrade.
Strength: Groody. He got three kicks blocked and he air mailed way too many for touchbacks, but he’s one of the team’s best players and a vital player for an offense that’s inconsistent even on its best days.
Weakness: Coverage teams. The return game has been awful for years and way, WAY too many kicks get blocked, but the coverage teams are the biggest issue. They allowed 9.4 yards per punt return and 22.6 yards per kickoff return.
Outlook: Awful for years, the Owl special teams needs to be a bigger focus. Considering five games last year were decided by four points or fewer, the team can’t afford to be so bad here. Groody is fantastic, but everything else needs a ton of work.
Unit Rating: 4

- 2011 Florida Atlantic Preview | 2011 Florida Atlantic Offense
- 2011 Florida Atlantic Defense | 2011 Florida Atlantic Depth Chart
- Florida Atlantic Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006