FAU football coach Willie Taggart impressed with newcomers; focused on improving "the little things"

Reese Furlow
Special to The Post

The first spring scrimmage for Florida Atlantic football wrapped up Saturday afternoon with coach Willie Taggart impressed by the incoming freshman class, but he knows more work needs to be done on offense and defense.

Taggart was most impressed by the offensive linemen and pass catchers. He also singled out returning quarterbacks Nick Tronti and Willie Taggart Jr. for praise. 

“[Je’Quan] Burton at receiver made some big plays out there for us," Taggart said. "I thought Willie Jr. made some plays for us, especially in the red zone. … Nick made some throws. They all made plays here and there."

Tronti, Taggart Jr., coach Taggart's son, and Javion Posey all played last year and are joined in the quarterback room by Penn State transfer Michael Johnson Jr. 

More:New FAU football coordinators Mike Stoops and Michael Johnson looking to instill good fundamentals

More:After extended wait, Willie Taggart happy to be coaching Florida Atlantic football in spring practice

Along with Burton, other newcomers that stood out to coach Taggart included freshman receiver Jahmal Edrine, out of Fort Lauderdale, who did "some good things," USF transfer Johnny Ford at running back and freshman tight end Jacob Paisley.

"I’m impressed with the young man," Taggart said of Paisley. "He’s going to be all right for us.”

The offensive-minded coach also heaped praised on three freshmen defensive linemen: Jacob Merrifield, Jaden Wheeler and Decarius Hawthorne.

“Those guys are making plays,” coach Taggart said. “You look at Hawthorne and Wheeler, they just got here in the spring, and they’re really standing out for us right now.”

Even though coach Taggart acknowledged the positives, he said there were plenty of mistakes, as well. For him, consistency starts at practice.

Florida Atlantic Owls head coach Willie Taggart leads his team on the field before a 24-3 win over the Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners in Boca Raton on October 31, 2020. [JEFF ROMANCE/palmbeachpost.com]

“You’re never satisfied,” he said. “It’ll always be that way when it comes to a scrimmage where you’ll be happy with this, but not happy with something else. I thought offense did some good things, same as defense. 

"It was a typical first scrimmage where we had a lot of things we need to clean up. We started that [Tuesday] in cleaning some of those things up, and for me, I’ve been stressing to some of our players and coaches about being hard on their guys about alignments and assignments. You can’t run a play if you don’t know how to line up. You can’t run a play if you don’t know what to do."

Last season, FAU finished 115th in scoring offense, averaging 18.9 points per game. It came after spring practice was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, depriving Taggart of key practice time as a first-year head coach. 

Both co-offensive coordinators from that team are gone, replaced by Michael Johnson, and the Owls are focused on the details. 

"As a football team we got to get better at the little things," coach Taggart said. "It’s good to have that first scrimmage to see where you’re at, and now you got to build off it going into the next scrimmage because … next week it’ll be like a game, so we got to be a lot better.”

The Owls will hold a second scrimmage this Saturday, their final one before the March 27th spring game, which will be closed to the public due to COVID-19 safety protocols. 

As for Saturday, tight ends coach John Bills and running backs coach Chris Perkins will serve as the head coaches for the scrimmage, and each team will draft 48 players, with the winner will be treated to a special meal.