Owls ‘D’ has tough task ahead



Published Sunday, August 14, 2005

by Hannon Deutsch

Florida Atlantic University’s football squad has already suffered some blows to key players that figure to make an impact this season.

With only three weeks to prepare for a tough opening stretch of nonconference games, the Owls need to come together in a hurry.

“Only two-thirds of the team is ready right now,” head coach Howard Schnellenberger said after the conclusion of Saturday’s three-a-days.

What FAU lacks in experience it makes up in athleticism. Aside from 292-pound sophomore defensive tackle Jason Flemming, the Owls will have to deal with a very undersized platoon that will be battle tested in the first month of the schedule against demanding Kansas, Oklahoma State, Minnesota and Louisville squads.

The lone starter that returns on the line is sophomore end Josh Pinnick (6-foot-5, 240 pounds), forcing a host of talented but inexperienced players to develop chemistry in a hurry. The line took a big blow with a season-ending injury to senior defensive tackle Jason Pugh (pectoral muscle) complicating things even more. Defensive coordinator Kirk Hoza did give praise to junior end Josh Jenkins, freshman Josh Savidge and redshirt freshman Vinnie Henderson for making strides in practice.

“There are guys in every position that have an opportunity to step up with graduating seniors,” Hoza said. “The quality of those kids in time I think will exceed the kids that have left.”

The linebacker corps has great potential in senior Kinyumba Mutakabbir and sophomore Cergile Sincere flanking senior Shomari Earls in the middle. Earls, who led the team in tackles (81) and recorded four sacks to go along with 10.5 tackles for loss, is a potential Sun Belt defensive MVP.

The cornerback duo of Willie Hughley and Lawrence Gordon give Hoza flexibility with blitz packages. Aside from what is arguably the Sun Belt Conference’s two best corners, the rest of the secondary does not have much game experience. Senior defensive back Christian Amaya, a projected starter, did not receive a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA. The secondary also lost the services of Taheem Acevedo (ankle) for the season in spring practice.

“These next two weeks will be the most important of FAU history,” Pinnick said. “There has never been as much tension on this team as there is now. Every person on this squad needs to tighten the bolts down.”

Noteworthy: Sophomore offensive lineman Brandon Jackson (knee) will be out 2-4 weeks...senior linebacker Shomari Earls (strained hamstring) is day-to-day.