Photo Credit: FAU Athletics

Under defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, the Florida Atlantic Owls defense was near unstoppable.

As a unit, Spencer’s defense created more turnovers than anyone in the nation. In 13 games, the Owls forced 33 turnovers — three more than second-place Clemson. Among the leaders was cornerback Meiko Dotson, who tallied nine interceptions for the Owls.

Dotson, however, is no longer with the Owls. In April, Dotson transferred to Florida State, where he will finish his college career.

A Whole New Year

In 2020, however, the defense faces more question marks than answers at the current point. Of FAU’s 15 leaders in snaps last season, according to Pro Football Focus, only three remain – Zyon Gilbert, Ahman Ross, and Leighton McCarthy. The Owls also see a new man in charge of the defense. Veteran coordinator Jim Leavitt takes over for Spencer, who joined South Florida.

“I don’t even think about that, to be honest with you. I love the guys we got,” Leavitt said on a conference call with the media. “They’re working hard. We’re getting better. We have some young guys, but we got some older guys too. We got some guys that a while.”

Despite the inexperience across the defense, Leavitt is hoping to replicate the success when it came to forcing turnovers.

“The big thing is it’s not luck,” Leavitt explained. “It’s a conscious effort; it has to become a habit. Every time you’re on that field, you have to look at opportunities to get takeaways. I’m learning from these guys.”

It Starts Up Front

The former South Florida head coach will have to answer questions on the defensive line. Leighton McCarthy is the only starting defensive linemen from an FAU defense that generated 28 sacks last season. Marcell Southall played 266 snaps on defense — the second-most among returning defensive linemen.

“Your defense is only as good as your d-line is going to be,” Leavitt said. “It is really a group effort. We need them all. You throw out a defensive lineman’s name and he is going to play. Those guys have to rotate. You have to have a two-deep. We usually have six or seven guys that we are going to play a lot. They are going to rotate as starters.”

Following FAU’s first scrimmage, head coach Willie Taggart dropped the names of some defensive linemen that he has been impressed by through fall camp.

“All of training camp, Alvin Dempsey’s been showing up for us,” Taggart said. “Evan Anderson — I think he’s going to be a big-time player for us. He’s a big body in there; it’s hard to move him. … Jaylen Joyner, he’s stepped up. Along with Marcel (Southall).”

A Staff With a Track Record

What the Owls lack in on-field experience, they make up for in coaching. Kevin Patrick is one of the nation’s most respected defensive line coaches. In previous stops with North Carolina State and South Florida, Patrick has helped strong NFL talent in the likes of Jason Pierre-Paul and Bradley Chubb.

“We had a great d-line coach [last season], but since he (Patrick) has come here, he has shown me a lot of new things that I needed to know to be able to play this position, since he has played outside – d-end,” said defensive lineman Latrell Jean. “He has shown me a lot of good moves that I can really use to perfect my game and really work on and perfect my hips and everything that I need to know.”

Jean also provided information on how the defensive line can help create turnovers and produce similar results from last season:

“Pressing the pocket, knocking the offensive line off the line of scrimmage,” he continued. “Really, just putting pressure on the quarterback to force him to throw interceptions. Making it hard for the running back to find a crease. Just really pressing the o-line and getting them off their tracks, to force the running back to make a decision.”