Florida Atlantic linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair limited after offseason elbow surgery

Azeez Al-Shaair (2) on the sidelines at the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl in Boca Raton, Florida on December 19, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

BOCA RATON — Azeez Al-Shaair made it no secret that he wanted to stay on the field. Playing three months with a torn UCL in his elbow, as painful as it may have been, had to happen if Florida Atlantic was to continue winning games.

Having risked his elbow for the sake of the team, Al-Shaair, the all-time leading tackler in program history, has earned a bit of rest this spring. Partial rest, at least, as Al-Shaair is only able to participate in non-contact drills after undergoing surgery on Dec. 27.

“The process is supposed to take all this time and stuff like that, but understand I don’t throw a football or anything like that — I just tackle people,” Al-Shaair said Thursday. “It honestly hasn’t been bad at all.”

Al-Shaair was limited for the majority of last spring as well after labrum surgery, though he didn’t return to drills until late in camp. One bright spot the linebacker recently realized was that the process of cleaning up and repairing the elbow was less painful than his shoulder surgery.

Al-Shaair also acknowledged that knowing he’d be on the mend from the elbow injury contributed to his decision to return for his senior season. Had Al-Shaair entered next month’s NFL Draft, he likely would have been a late-round pick at best.

“You also understand that with everything at the combine, I just thought it would be the best decision to come back,” Al-Shaair said. “It wasn’t one thing more than another (which made me come back), just everything collectively would help me make the decision.”

Robison returns: After being suspended from Tuesday’s practice for a violation of team rules, redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Robison was reinstated and split first-team reps with De’Andre Johnson on Thursday.

Soroh finds new home: Senior defensive back Andrew Soroh, who split time between safety and linebacker last year, has officially been converted to a linebacker for the 2018 season. Soroh had 47 tackles last season, seeing increased playing time when the Kiffin brothers — head coach Lane and defensive coordinator Chris — started playing him as a hybrid.

“They called me a couple days ago, let me know that (the coaches) want you at linebacker now that they see some things in me,” Soroh said. “You have to embrace everything, no matter what position I play. I’m just excited to play this game, play this sport.”

Wright out: Sophomore wide receiver Willie Wright remains out of practice with a “medical issue” and is still considered day-to-day. Wright has attended both practices.

McGriff the running back? Junior wide receiver/tight end D’Anfernee McGriff can add another position to his resume, as the second-year transfer has seen snaps in the backfield. With sophomore Tyrek Tisdale out, McGriff could compete for more snaps in the backfield this spring.

Highlight reel: Playing running back, McGriff made a nice catch in the flat on second-team action with Robison, who briefly spent time with that unit. … All-American junior running back Devin Singletary is showing no signs of exhaustion, already showing off his trademark jukes and spins against the first-team defense. … Former “Last Chance U” star and redshirt junior defensive end Tim Bonner enjoyed his second straight strong practice.

FAU receiver, ex-‘Last Chance U’ star John Franklin III hoping to star at NFL combine

Florida Atlantic Owls wide receiver John Franklin III (12) celebrates prematurely as he drops the ball before crossing the goal line against the North Texas Mean Green at the 2017 Conference USA Football Championship at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida on December 2, 2017. North Texas recovered the ball in the end zone. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

BOCA RATON — Referring to former Florida Atlantic wide receiver John Franklin III’s five years in college as a “journey” would be like saying Franklin’s head coach with the Owls, Lane Kiffin, enjoys using social media. It’s a major understatement.

A three-star recruit from South Plantation when he signed with Florida State in 2013, Franklin played two years with the Seminoles — winning a national championship in 2013 as Jameis Winston’s backup — before transferring to East Mississippi Community College, best known for the Netflix series “Last Chance U.” After a year in Scooba, Franklin transferred to Auburn and played quarterback for the Tigers in 2016 before returning home to play for Kiffin’s Owls last August.

“Living it was even more crazy than talking about it,” Franklin told The Post earlier this month. “I feel like everything happens for a reason and throughout all those stops and all those different journeys to those places, I learned a lot and I learned more about me in how I grew as a player, how I grew as a man. Each place taught me something different, and if I had to do it all over again, I would.”

Now, after going viral for allegedly posting a 4.19 40-yard dash time, Franklin is preparing for the National Scouting Combine in Indianapolis and hoping his blazing speed can earn him job in the NFL.

“(I’m just hoping to show) the transition has been expanded upon, that it was working at FAU,” Franklin said. “Whatever I need to play in (the NFL), I can showcase my ability in front of all those top-level scouts.”

In his first year as a wide receiver after moving from quarterback while at Auburn, Franklin caught seven passes for 95 yards and a touchdown while adding 229 rushing yards on 16 carries. After Dwyer alum/quarterback Daniel Parr’s demotion from the starting job in Week 4, Franklin essentially served as the Owls’ backup quarterback and often operated out of a Wildcat formation.

Franklin says he will continue to play wide receiver at the NFL level, so teams may be willing to look past the 23-year-old’s lack of experience at the position and give him a chance based on his speed. Franklin will have a chance at the combine on Wednesday to tie, or even potentially break, the 4.19 time he ran in a video posted last week.

There’s a history of college quarterbacks transitioning into successful NFL wide receivers, with New England Patriots star Julian Edelman having been a starting signal-caller at Kent State. Former Pittsburgh Steelers stars Hines Ward (Georgia) and Antwaan Randle El (Indiana) both played wide receiver in the NFL after spending time under center in college.

“I don’t try to compare — I pick up little things here and there,” Franklin said. “I’m just trying to perfect my best version of myself. … Even when I started playing quarterback, I figured that at the next level, I’d have to play receiver just because of my skill set and my speed, really. That’s appealing to put outside and use in multiple ways.”

Though Franklin was slowly phased out of the receiving game as true freshman Willie Wright emerged and Kalib Woods dominated after returning from suspension, the fifth-year senior remained a viable threat in the offense because of his legs.

Franklin also agreed with recent FAU signees that Kiffin and his staff give him a good chance of making it to the NFL.

“I feel like that’s a very appealing thing and from my experiences at FAU, that was the first time we practiced a similar schedule (to that of pro teams),” Franklin said. “Just the fact that we weren’t always out there practicing, but we were getting work in and I feel like that correlates to how the NFL is now. … This is a great environment, a great atmosphere and this is how (things would be) at the next level.”

“I don’t think my journey was supposed to be easy, clearly,” Franklin said, “but for some reason I’m still where I am today. There’s a reason behind it — and I don’t know it now — but I know it’s a blessing through the struggles and I think all that was preparing me for (now).”

FAU Signing Day 2018: Five Takeaways from Lane Kiffin’s second recruiting class

BOCA RATON — Lane Kiffin’s first recruiting class at Florida Atlantic proved to be a hit, as the Owls won 11 games and a Conference USA title. Will his second class do as well?

A year after his first signing class included “Last Chance U” stars and former Power 5 players, Kiffin and FAU enjoyed another strong signing day this time around.

With the early signing period and the normal national signing day, Kiffin added nearly 20 players who will be expected to help FAU repeat as C-USA champions.

“Our thought was, let’s make sure that we keep ourselves available and spots open to be able to sign the best players that we can,” Kiffin said. “I think that model worked, we battled a lot of Power 5 schools on a lot of these kids and our coaches did a really good job.”

[RELATED: Updated list of FAU commitments and signings]

Five takeaways from FAU’s signing day:

1. Lane has his quarterback(s)

Jason Driskel and Daniel Parr (Dwyer) may be gone, but Kiffin now has two quarterbacks for the future in Chris Robison and Cordel Littlejohn. Robison still figures to be the favorite in spring camp, but the addition of Littlejohn – especially after redshirt junior De’Andre Johnson was cleared for action – adds an unexpected layer to the quarterback battle. Last year’s quarterback battle alone proved that the least-expected candidate (Parr won the job out of camp, only to lose it early in the season to Driskel) will have a chance to start under Kiffin so long as they perform to expectations.

“We bring quarterbacks in as true freshman and we give them a shot – I liked the Cordel story,” Kiffin said. “This was a school that (Illinois) had and one of those things where he  just becomes available … this is a dynamic player that can run, can throw, and a really special kid.”

2. No major flips

Signing day had plenty of last-minute choices and flips across the country, but nearly every recruit who had announced either a prior commitment to FAU or narrowed the Owls to their top three schools signed with the school Wednesday. FAU did get a surprise signing in Austin (Ala.) offensive lineman Marquice Robinson, who had interest from Auburn and Mississippi State before they shied away because of academic concerns.

Robinson has reportedly righted the ship and could be an interesting option to earn playing time in 2018 if he qualifies academically.

“I want a shot at playing in the NFL, and Coach Kiffin and his staff have a lot of experience at getting guys to that level,” Robinson told the Decatur Daily at his signing day ceremony.

3. Defensive line surprisingly earns heavy focus

Maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised that Kiffin prioritized the defensive line when Hunter Snyder, Ernest Bagner, and Steven Leggett all will graduate after this season, but FAU added two JUCO defensive linemen in Charles Cameron (Copiah-Lincoln, Miss.) and Marcel Southall (Tyler, Texas). Given how Jeremiah Taleni – a proven starter at Pittsburgh who arrived as a grad trasfer – was the only transfer lineman to really contribute last season, Kiffin’s decision to stockpile talent with shortened eligibility in the trenches is a curious choice.

4. FAU quietly upgrades wide receivers

No wide receivers may have been among the players to sign with FAU on Wednesday, but former West Virginia wideout Jovan Durante and ex-Auburn Tiger Kyle Davis are both among the official signing class after transfers in the past six months. FAU also added JUCO wideout Nero Nelson (Copiah-Lincoln) and DeSean Homes (College of the Canyons) during the early signing period.

Kalib Woods and Kamrin Solomon may be gone, but Kiffin and new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis Jr. will have plenty of tools to play with at wide receiver – and don’t forget, catch/yards/touchdown leader Willie Wright is only entering his sophomore season.

5. Linebackers, secondary among positions left out

Not every position was going to be addressed, but the failure to add another linebacker was notable. Three-year starter Azeez Al-Shaair is entering his senior season and Rashad Smith is a rising junior. The same arguably goes for the secondary, where Armani Adams, Meiko Dotson and athlete-turned-cornerback Teja Young (Palm Beach Lakes) were the Owls’ only signings this year.

Signing Day 2018: Florida Atlantic has benefited from recent last-minute flips

Florida Atlantic Owls running back Devin Singletary (5) is congratulated by Florida Atlantic Owls head coach Lane Kiffin after a touchdown against the North Texas Mean Green at the 2017 Conference USA Football Championship at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida on December 2, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

BOCA RATON — For any Florida Atlantic fans concerned about how Lane Kiffin’s second signing day will go, one thing should ease your nerves.

In recent years, when signing day finally arrived, the Owls have had success convincing some of their main targets — some of whom have become the team’s top players — to flip at the last minute.

[RELATED: Check out FAU’s 2018 recruiting class as it currently stands]

For proof, look no further than running back Devin Singletary, who two years ago this month was all set to sign with Illinois. Singletary, then a two-star prospect by Rivals, was set to go to a Power 5 program led by former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith … until he flipped to FAU and then-Owls coach Charlie Partridge on signing day.

“It feels great to stay home,” Singletary told The Post after making his choice. “Why not? Why change my climate? I’ve been playing in this my whole life.”

Staying in his “climate” has paid off for Singletary, who after only two seasons is FAU’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns with 44 and counting. This past season, Singletary was also named the first All-American and first Conference USA MVP in school history.

FAU landed another key, Power 5-bound prospect via signing-day flip in that same recruiting class, when Homestead linebacker and three-star recruit Rashad Smith — all set to sign with Syracuse and then-new head coach Dino Babers — decided to stay in the Sunshine State by signing with the Owls. Smith had previously flipped from FAU to Syracuse the previous month before changing his mind on signing day.

One of only two freshmen to start a game on defense in 2016, Smith led the Owls with six sacks this past season and enters next month’s spring camp fully entrenched as one of two starting linebackers alongside Azeez Al-Shaair.

The flips weren’t limited to Partridge’s classes, though, as three-star wide receiver Willie Wright — originally headed for Memphis — signed with FAU last year. Wright became the first true freshman in FAU history to lead the team in catches (56), receiving yards (657) and receiving touchdowns (6).

FAU’s 2018 recruiting class will continue to take shape before Wednesday’s National Signing Day, but if recent history is any indication, some of the more productive freshman this upcoming season will have made a last-minute choice to play under Kiffin.

And if those players do flip, expect them to do so with a sentiment similar to what Singletary said two years ago.

“I know we’re going to be able to do a lot of great things,” the running back said. ‘This program is definitely about to explode very soon.”