Florida Atlantic came into the spring determined to improve its defense while keeping a high level of efficiency on offense.
So far, mission accomplished.
But to bounce back from a 5-7 season that didn't meet expectations, FAU coaches realize the defensive improvement must carry over into the regular season.
"I'd like to get the rejuvenation of a high level of work that leads to great competition," FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger said. "Then we'll know much more about our football team at the end and then we'll be close to determining our starting groups."
FAU's defense, under new coordinator Kirk VanValkenburgh, has created more havoc and more turnovers (6), through the first two spring scrimmages.
"Obviously, our offense is younger than our defense," Schnellenberger said after FAU's second inta-squad scrimmage. "The whole defense stood out."
On offense, FAU appears in capable hands behind senior quarterback Jeff Van Camp. Van Camp started the final five games last season when senior Rusty Smith went down with a season-ending shoulder injury. In the late-season audition, Van Camp was impressive, passing for 1,372 yards with 12 TDs and just two interceptions.
"It's definitely a different feeling for me," Van Camp said. "You've got to be a different guy. You've got to be more of a leader. Everybody is watching you. There's a little bit more pressure but that comes with the job."
Van Camp said coming into this spring with starting experience has given his teammates confidence in his leadership ability.
"The players kind of respect you a little bit more when you're battle-tested," Van Camp said.NOTES, QUOTES
--RB Alfred Morris has not only starred on the field for FAU, but off the field as well. Morris, who rushed for a school-record 1,392 yards last season, was named FAU's male scholar athlete of the year earlier this month. Morris, an exercise science major, currently carries a 3.13 GPA.
--FAU is recommending a $33 million financing proposal through Regions Bank to build a 33,000-seat on-campus stadium. If approved in late May, the stadium could be built in time for the 2011 home opener.
S Ed Alexander -- Alexander had two interceptions in FAU's second spring scrimmage. Alexander will be counted on to lead an FAU secondary that struggled defending the pass last season.
RB Damian Fortner -- Fortner, a 5-foot-10, 171-pound redshirt freshman from Miami, could provide an interesting change-of-pace back for punishing star tailback Alfred Morris. Fortner rushed for 83 yards on six carries and a touchdown in FAU's first spring scrimmage.
TE Rob Housler -- Housler had four catches for 61 yards and a TD in FAU's first spring scrimmage. With Jamari Grant and Jason Harmon both gone, Housler should get more chances to catch passes in FAU's pro-style offense, which relies heavily on tight end production.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's going to be a new experience for all of us. We have talent, just not much experience." -- FAU redshirt sophomore center Jordan Sessa, one of five new starters on FAU's re-tooled offensive line.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: In its 10th season, FAU has made the climb from program infancy to Division I status. The goal now is contend for the Sun Belt Conference title after a disappointing 5-7 season. There are five new starters to develop on the offensive line and a defense that needs plenty of work after allowing 33.8 points per game last season. The bright spots include quarterback Jeff Van Camp, who looked capable of running FAU's pro-style offensive in starting five games for injured starter Rusty Smith at the end of last season. Also, tailback Alfred Morris gives the offense the potential for excellent balance after rushing for 1,392 yards and 11 TDs last season. Again, FAU will face an early challenge with its schedule, opening Sept. 4 at UAB and then facing Michigan State on Sept. 11 at Ford Field in Detroit.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: FAU returns talent at the skill positions with senior quarterback Jeff Van Camp, record-setting tailback Alfred Morris, receiver Lester Jean and tight end Rob Housler. The question is how quickly an offensive line with five new starters will come together. If the offensive line opens holes for Morris and gives Van Camp time to throw, FAU could end up scoring a high number of points in the wide-open Sun Belt Conference. "I've got to take the kids and get then better individually and then I take the best five and turn them into an offensive line," offensive line coach Dale Williams said. "I know that the talent is here. We just have to develop it."
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: FAU's defense was simply awful last season, giving up 453.2 yards per game. Kirk VanValkenburgh has replaced Kirk Hoza and through the early spring FAU has responded by playing more aggressive up front and forcing turnovers. The Owls had one interception, one fumble recovery and batted down 10 passes in FAU's first spring scrimmage. In the second spring scrimmage, FAU had three turnovers, including a fumble that MLB Mike Lockley picked up and returned 24 yards for a TD. There have been some spirited position battles at linebacker, with Malik Eugene and Yourhighness Morgan battling for the strong side starting job and Lockley and David Hinds fighting for the MLB spot. New FAU secondary coach Dick Hopkins is stressing better communication and better technique. "We have the athletic talent, there is no doubt about that," Hopkins said. "It is getting every guy to do their job, to be where they are supposed to be."
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Punter Mickey Groody and kicker Ross Gornall are back to handle punting and kicking duties. Groody earned FAU special teams MVP honors after averaging 40.6 yards per punt and having 19 punts downed inside the 20 yard line. Gornall made eight of 12 field goal attempts last season, but had four more field goal attempts blocked. Defensive back Tavious Polo is back to return punts and kicks. Redshirt sophomore running back Xavier Stinson will help Polo with kickoff returns.
--Redshirt sophomore Andy Crzurprynski has been moved from defensive tackle to the offensive line to help an offensive front that lost all five starters from last season.
Previous Report: 02/05/2010