After months of waiting, FAU fans will finally get to see Lane Kiffin in action.
Hired as the team’s fifth head coach in December, Kiffin and the Owls will begin their spring practice Tuesday as they look to record their first winning season since 2008 — and their first non-losing season since 2013. Charlie Partridge is gone after going 9-27 in three years and Kiffin, whose most recent head coaching job was at USC, will be tasked to usher in a new era of FAU football after spending the past three seasons as offensive coordinator at Alabama.
Here are five key questions facing the Owls entering camp.
Who’s the quarterback? Rising junior and incumbent starter Jason Driskel will face a challenge from newcomer De’Andre Johnson, who transferred from East Mississippi Community College after being dismissed from Florida State in 2015. Johnson is currently enrolled at FAU and taking classes in the spring semester (defensive back Qu’Ran Hafiz is in the same situation and is the only other member of the 2017 recruiting class to be at spring practice), so he will be able to participate in spring camp .
Sophomore Daniel Parr, a Dwyer product who was hailed as the future of the Owls under Partridge, will miss valuable reps as he recovers from foot surgery. Parr started last season’s 42-25 win at Rice, but it was Driskel who played the bulk of that game and started each of the team’s remaining three games. Barring something devastating, however, the quarterback job is Johnson’s to lose.
Who will be the leader on defense? With Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year Trey Hendrickson heading for the NFL, the defense is in need of new leadership. Linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, who led the Owls in tackles a year ago and was second to Hendrickson in tackles for loss, figures to be the best bet as he enters his junior season.
Al-Shaair will not be practicing this spring, however, as he returns from offseason shoulder surgery. Junior safety Jalen Young (Seminole Ridge) will look to build off a season where he had 100 tackles. While the Owls’ secondary struggled in 2016, Young was a key contributor on the field and on the sidelines with his teammates as a vocal leader.
Can the running game thrive again? American Heritage alum Devin Singletary enters spring practice in a competition with Gregory ‘Buddy’ Howell Jr. for the starting job. While Partridge originally intended to run a two-back system last season with Howell and Jay Warren, Howell took the majority of the snaps before Singletary came onto the scene and rushed for 874 yards on 7.7 yards per carry in the final six games. Singletary finished with 1,021 yards.
Kerrith Whyte (Seminole Ridge) will also receive snaps in the running game, but the competition is squarely between Howell and Singletary at the start of camp.
What about the other Kiffin? Chris Kiffin, the Owls’ new defensive coordinator, will most likely be bringing his and Lane’s famous father’s Tampa 2 scheme to Boca Raton. Many of last year’s key contributors not named Trey Hendrickson return — Al-Shaair, Young, Ocie Rose, Andrew Soroh, Haiden Nagel — but a name all FAU fans should watch for is defensive tackle William Davis. After Shalom Ogbonda’s graduation, a hole opens up on the defensive line and Davis, who had three tackles and a sack last year against Western Kentucky, should be a prime candidate to win that spot.
What will life with Lane be like? Rightfully, everyone wants to talk about Lane Kiffin and what he’ll be doing as the Owls’ head coach. Will he delegate day-to-day duties to his coordinators and assistants and be the CEO who oversees the whole program — on and off the field — like his ex-boss Nick Saban? Or will he be the Kiffin who while head coach at USC and Tennessee was said to be only interested in running the offense.
With that said, Kiffin should still have plenty of say — and have plenty of fun — playing around with the different offensive weapons he inherits from Partridge. It’s not unreasonable to think that several school records — most notably Alfred Morris’ 1,392 rushing yards in 2009 — could be shattered in the Kiffin era.
FAU’s first two spring practices, which are Tuesday and Thursday, will be open to the public. .