Commentary: Owls football should be quick to name its new leader under center for first Spring game

Zack Kelberman

Zack Kelberman. Photo by Michelle Friswell
Zack Kelberman. Photo by Michelle Friswell

Pads are colliding, helmets are cracking, and the pigskin is being passed.

Football season is back in Boca.

Following a lowly 3-9 campaign, the Owls returned to the gridiron for spring practices, which began on March 18 and culminates with the Spring Game on April 20.

FAU lost a few leaders but also welcomed in what head coach Carl Pelini dubbed the best recruiting class in school history.

That class has produced one player who’s making his presence felt in a major way: quarterback Jaquez Johnson.

Johnson, the junior college transfer from East Mississippi, is competing with redshirt junior Stephen Curtis for the starting job, a battle that shouldn’t last much longer.

Curtis started the 2012 season opener against Wagner, but permanently lost his job to Wilbert at halftime of the 7-3 win. He opened the first two days of spring practice under center, and worked almost exclusively with the first-team offense.

But that changed when the pads literally went on and the gloves figuratively came off.

In the Owls’ first fully padded practice, Johnson got his shot with the starters and made the most of the moment, ending with a deep touchdown bomb to wideout William Dukes.

The play caused teammates to erupt in cheers, a small sample size of what Johnson brings to the table.

Despite being listed as 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, Johnson is a dual-threat, capable of burning a defense both on the ground and through the air.

During his final season at East Mississippi Community College in Scooba, Miss., he accounted for nearly 3,400 yards of total offense, including a team-leading 12 rushing scores and 27 touchdown tosses.

Johnson’s skill-set and strong arm translates well in FAU’s pistol offense, which relies on run-pass option plays and finished 107th overall in scoring last season.

Based on talent alone, that statistic stands to improve with Johnson — not Curtis — at the helm.

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Continuity plays a big part in a team’s success, and FAU has plenty to boast about in that department.

Its important offensive skill position players — running backs Jonathan Wallace and Damian Fortner and wide receivers William Dukes and Daniel McKinney — all return with another year of experience.

On defense, its secondary remains intact, with seniors Keith Reaser, Christian Milstead, and Winfred Strickland forming a well-rounded trio.

The linebacking corps may be the most experienced position, as two of its top tacklers — Adarius Glanton and Andrae Kirk — lead the front seven.

But the upperclassmen aren’t the only ones worth mentioning. This is where that hailed recruiting class comes into play.

FAU’s most notable three-star recruit — offensive lineman Austin Bland — is shaping to be a key component of the club.

Bland is likely to be plugged immediately into the lineup with FAU replacing three starting offensive linemen.

The combination of senior leadership and young talent can only help the Owls’ chances to field a successful squad.

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In less than three weeks, we’ll get our first glimpse of the 2013 Owls.

While there won’t be much to take out of the exhibition — the playbook is still being modified — some important questions should be answered.

Which quarterback has the edge? What’s the team’s strongest unit? How many recruits are part of Pelini’s plans?

The coaching staff is constantly preaching competition, and will want to see its entire team play hard in front of their fans.

In last year’s Spring Game, the Owls’ freshly-installed offense put up 27 points, a big accomplishment in the eyes of Pelini and offensive coordinator Brian Wright.

Will they be able to top that number in this year’s edition?

It’s quite possible — probable, in fact. But Johnson needs to be the one leading the way.