What to watch for early in the Tag­gart era

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS MONDAY - By Khobi Price

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.

CARLINE JEAN/SOUTH FLORIDA SUN SEN­TINEL

Wil­lie Tag­gart has made sev­eral hires to his FAU staff since the close of 2019.

ERIC ESPADA/GETTY

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.

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