What to watch for early in the Taggart era
BOCA RATON — With 2019 — and the 2010s — in the rearview mirror, Florida Atlantic is fully entrenched in the Willie Taggart era.
After a decade that had more downs than ups in the beginning stages, former coach Lane Kiffin led the Owls to their most successful run in program history to close out the 2010s.
Now, it’s on Taggart to build on the momentum from the Kiffin’s three seasons at the helm, which included two Conference USA titles and two Boca Raton Bowl victories.
The Owls have the pieces in place for Taggart to have his most successful run as a head coach. He’s brought in a staff that has a solid mix of proven-winners and younger coaches looking to establish themselves.
Taggart will have the chance to develop many of the underclassmen that Kiffin recruited who didn’t receive a significant amount of playing time yet.
And, almost as important as anything else, he’ll inherit a stable quarterback situation for at least the next two years.
Here are five things to keep an eye on as Taggart prepares for his first season as the Owls’ head coach:
Rounding out the staff
Taggart said he wanted to have his staffed filled out by the beginning of the year and he made multiple splashes to close out 2019.
Former USF coach Jim Leavitt will take over the defensive coordinator position, while Taggart promoted tight ends coach Clint Trickett and hired former Texas assistant coach Drew Mehringer as co-offensive coordinators.
Taggart filled multiple staff positions before 2020, but there might be a few more openings.
Recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach Lance Thompson isn’t listed on FAU’s official 2020 roster, even though he’s under contract until 2021. The same applies to defensive back coach Jason Jones.
The Athletic tweeted safeties coach Wes Neighbors is expected to follow former FAU defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer to USF.
Using 2020 to gain clarity on the long-term quarterback situation
Taggart witnessed firsthand the talent level he’ll inherit at quarterback.
He was on the sidelines cheering FAU on while Chris Robison carved up SMU’s defense for 27 of 37 passing for 305 yards and two touchdowns during its 52-28 Boca Raton Bowl victory.
He saw the change of pace and physicality Nick Tronti, who finished the 2019 season with 239 rushing yards on 51 attempts, can provide.
But Taggart’s long-term quarterback situation is less clear, with both Robison and Tronti having two seasons of eligibility left.
Taggart said he understands the importance of bringing in a young quarterback his staff can develop. He said he plans on signing a quarterback this year after not doing so during his two recruiting cycles at Florida State.
Taggart’s answer at the position for the future could already be on the roster. Javion Posey, who moved over to wide receiver during the 2019 season, might be a good fit for Taggart’s “Gulf Coast Offense” because of his dualthreat ability.
Will Taggart go back to calling plays?
Taggart told Yahoo Sports he expects to have more control over FAU’s offense.
He didn’t call plays during his first season with the Seminoles and said that was something he was uncomfortable with.
It’ll be important to keep an eye on how much playcalling Trickett and Mehringer are a part of with both also being position coaches as well.
Rebuilding the trenches
FAU prioritized line play on both sides of the field during the Early Signing Period with six of the nine players the Owls signed being offensive or defensive linemen.
FAU will need to continue to rebuild the trenches during National Signing Day on Feb. 5, especially on the defensive side, with eight of the Owls’ defensive linemen expected to be ineligible to return next season.
Seniors Collin Dell and Marcel Southall are the only defensive tackles listed on FAU’s current 2020 roster, while senior Ryan Veingrad and sophomores Marlon Bradley and Latrell Jean are the only defensive linemen listed on the roster.
A need out wide
The Owls’ are going to lose a significant amount of talent at the receiver spots.
Three of their top five receivers in receptions, Tavaris “Pico” Harrison, Deangelo Antoine and Dante Cousart, aren’t eligible to return next season.
John Mitchell, John Raine and Willie Wright will be looked upon to carry the heavy lifting at the receiver positions, while Brandon Robinson, who had five receptions for 78 yards and one touchdown in FAU’s bowl game, is a name to keep an eye on.
Willie Taggart has made several hires to his FAU staff since the close of 2019.
Chris Robison of the Florida Atlantic Owls rushes for a touchdown in the first quarter against the Marshall Thundering Herd at FAU Stadium on Oct. 18, in Boca Raton.