Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore DE E.J. Jones
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Ted Czepiga
Best pro prospect: Junior FS Taheem Acevedo
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Bartels, 2) Acevedo, 3) DT Jervonte Jackson
Strength of the defense: Safety
Weakness of the defense: Experience, proven pass rush Defensive Line
Six sacks. Six. And not all of them came from the line. FAU has to generate some semblance of a pass rush from the front four and has to be far better against the run. It's not a big line; it's a line that relies on its quickness and athleticism. If it's not getting in the backfield, it's useless. It's a ridiculously young and inexperienced group with three sophomores and a redshirt freshman starting, and there's even more youth and more inexperience among the reserves.
The key to the unit: Generate some sort of pressure from the ends. E.J. Jones and Michael Hancock are athletic enough to be turned loose as speed rushers.
Defensive Line Rating: 3.5
- DE E.J. Jones, Soph. - 18 tackles, 1 TFL
Expected to be a better pass rusher in his second year as a starter, Jones is coming off a nice first season with five starts showing decent skills against the run. He's like a linebacker playing the end with the speed and quickness to eventually become a consistent playmaker.
- DT Jervonte Jackson, Soph. - 38 tackles, 1 sack, 4 TFL, 1 broken up pass, 3 quarterback hurries
He has All-Sun Belt potential if everything comes together. He's a solid 280 pounds with the athleticism of an end. He's the anchor of the run defense and isn't bad at getting into the backfield.
- DT Patrick Fatu, RFr.
It'll be Fatu's job to take over on the inside looking to be good enough to allow the Owls to use a true 4-3. He's expected to be a run stopper to allow Jervonte Jackson to see single blocking on the left side.
- DE Michael Hancock, Soph.
The former tight end will look to make some noise at defensive end. He's a fascinating prospect at a wiry 6-7 and 215 pounds. He'll be a nightmare to throw over and has the athleticism to grow into a good pass rusher.
- DE Josh Jenkins, Sr. - 9 tackles. 1 TFL
Jenkins has to be healthy after only seeing time in five games last season. He has the speed to potentially be a great pass rusher on the right side behind Michael Hancock, but at 210 pounds, he has to prove he can handle himself against the run.
- DT Vinny Henderson, Soph. - 4 tackles
Henderson is a tall 252-pound tackle with good toughness and the quickness to become a good interior pass rusher. He saw a little bit of time last year and should be ready to be a big part of the rotation on the right side.
If Cergile Sincere doesn't work his way up the depth chart to get back in the starting mix on the outside, there's no experience whatsoever. Check that; Ed Bradwell has two career tackles. That's not to say the corps will be horrible; it's just young. Ted Czepiga is a good hitting prospect in the middle while George Allen is a small, quick option on the outside. Sincere has to find playing time somewhere to provide some semblance of experience.
The key to the unit: Live through the growing pains. There are plenty of good athletes and lots of potential, but there will be some major problems early on.
Linebacker Rating: 4
- George Allen, RFr.
Expected to be a disruptive force on the outside, Allen is a fantastic tackler who should shine right away taking over on the strongside. While he's fast and physical, he's only 6-0 and 200 pounds.
- Ted Czepiga, Soph.
A star high school running back who ran for 3,345 yards, the 215-pound sophomore is more than fast enough to have the range to play in the middle. He's a sure tackler and should play bigger than his size.
- Edward Bradwell, Soph. - 2 tackles
The weakside linebacker is usually the smallest, quickest of the corps, but the 220-pound Bradwell is the biggest of the linebacker options. While he's fast, he has to prove he can be a playmaker in pass coverage.
- Cergile Sincere, Jr. - 70 tackles, 2 sacks, 5 TFL, 2 broken up passes
It'll be a shock if Sincere isn't back up the depth chart soon after starting every game last season and leading the team in sacks and finishing third in tackles. He's a good-hitting playmaker who could move to safety to get him time somewhere on the field if he's not the starter on the weakside.
- Dustin Forston, Soph.
The Ole Miss transfer will be pushing hard for time right away in the middle. He's not as big as Ted Czepiga, but he can hit.
- Markee Drummer, Fr.
Most of the Owl linebackers are part defensive back, but Drummer is part linebacker, part defensive end despite only being 205 pounds. He's 6-4 and too good an athlete to keep off the field early on. He'll be used as a pass rusher right off the bat.
The pass defense wasn't bad mostly because teams spent so much time running the ball. Even so, there's the potential for the secondary to be the team's strength with a several good safety options helped by the return of Taheem Acevedo from an ankle injury. The corners are untested and will be one of the key areas of the defense's concern early on after losing Willie Hughley and Lawrence Gordon.
The key to the unit: The corners must play like experienced veterans right away, while the safeties have to make up for all the inevitable corner mistakes.
Secondary Rating: 5
- CB John Jones, RFr.
A star high school receiver who averaged 26.8 yards per catch with 16 touchdowns, Jones spent last year learning how to become a corner. He has the speed and the athleticism, but expect several bumps in the road early on as passing games look to single him out.
- FS Taheem Acevedo, Jr.
Expected to be a key playmaker in the secondary last season, the 201-pound junior suffered a gruesome ankle injury in spring ball and missed the entire year. He's back healthy and should be one of the team's top tacklers.
- SS Kris Bartels, Jr. - 82 tackles, 1 interception, 5 TFL, 2 recovered fumbles
Bartels came from out of nowhere to take over the starting strong safety job early last season and finished as the team's second leading tackler. He's only 5-10 and 190 pounds and he doesn't have great range, but he's always around the ball.
- CB Rickey Bethel, Sr.
The JUCO transfer missed all of last season and is now back to take over Willie Hughley's cornerback job. While he's only 5-10 and 176 pounds, he extremely fast and can hit like a safety.
- FS Greg Joseph, Soph. - 67 tackles, 2 interceptions, 4 TFL
The team's fourth leading tackler was buried on the depth chart coming out of spring ball thanks to the return of Taheem Adevado from an ankle injury. He's one of the team's most physical safeties despite only being 185 pounds.
- SS Troy Pindell. Sr. - 27 tackles, 4 interceptions, 3 broken up passes
He only saw a little bit of time after starting the first two games last season at strong safety, but the 198-pound senior still led the team in interceptions. He can play either safety spot and can be a key special teamer.
- SS John DeShields, Sr. - 2 tackles
The former North Carolina Tar Heel has spent most of his time on special teams, but he'll push for a little time behind Kris Bartels at strong safety.
The key to the unit: Find a couple of steady kickers and get far, far more production from the kick returners.
Special Teams Rating: 3
- PK/P Warley Leroy, Soph. or Keegan Peterson, RFr. or Nick Lomartire, RFr. or Mike O'Neill, Jr.
Warley Leroy is the only kicker with any experience hitting one of three attempts and not getting any extra point chances. The situation won't be settled until fall.