BOCA RATON — The Lane Train — and all that entails — has left the station for its second trip around the college football world.
Fresh off an 11-3 season which featured a Conference USA title and a Boca Bowl victory over Akron, Lane Kiffin and the Florida Atlantic Owls hit the Oxley Center fields Tuesday morning for one of 15 spring-camp practices.
“I thought the defense had a good day today … good leadership by those guys,” Kiffin said. “Lot of veterans coming back … Same issue (on offense) as a year ago, even though (there are) different players. We had a snap issue much like we did a year ago. Too many turnovers.”
Even with the turnovers, the start of spring camp marked a return to action for an FAU offense that averaged over 40 points per game last year. Former Florida State and “Last Chance U” quarterback De’Andre Johnson was a full participant in his first practice since undergoing surgery for blood clots in his arm last September.
Kiffin told his players early to avoid the “rat poison” and positive talk which came from the Owls’ first winning record since 2008 and first-ever C-USA title.
“(At) 7:45 this morning, we made sure we understood that this was a different team,” Kiffin said, adding he reminded his players their current record is 0-0. “(This has) nothing to do with what that team did. … (That was a) very special season, but that means nothing — like a preseason ranking.”
Kiffin drew from his past experience as a head coach to motivate his players, explaining that his 2012 USC Trojans were No. 1 in the AP preseason polls, but “ended up out of the rankings.”
All-American running back and Heisman Trophy candidate Devin “Motor” Singletary (American Heritage-Delray) was among the players who took Kiffin’s words to heart.
“It was good. Everything that we did, of course, that’s gonna be remembered forever,” Singletary said, pausing. “But it’s 2018! We gotta make a new name for ourselves.”
QB battle: With Chris Robison suspended indefinitely, Johnson took roughly 75 percent of the snaps on Tuesday. Kiffin indicated Robison could be back at any time, but the starting job is Johnson’s for the time being. Former walk-on and Cypress Bay quarterback Conor Miller is the backup until Robison returns.
Hold the line: Joining returning tackles Reggie Bain and Brandon Walton on the offensive line were guards BJ Etienne and Will Tuihalamaka and center Tarrick Thomas. Thomas primarily served as the backup center last season after starting four games in 2016 before suffering a season-ending injury.
Whyte in: Redshirt-junior running back Kerrith Whyte (Seminole Ridge) was a full participant in practice on Tuesday. Whyte was in a boot this winter for an Achilles injury.
Cameron impresses: JUCO transfer defensive tackle Charles Cameron showed no signs of struggling to adjust to the Division I level, blowing past offensive linemen without any issues. Cameron is the only player who signed with the Owls during the inaugural early signing period who is participating in camp this spring.
“He made a lot of plays out there,” Kiffin said of Cameron. “There’s no pads, but he was in the backfield.”