A look at the Air Force backfield
Plenty of carries to be had by Air Force running backs
Give it to the fullback
No different than any of the other Military Academies, the fullback plays a crucial role in the success of the triple option. They are the first read in the option, and their ability to effectively damage the interior of a defense greatly dictates the run game, and thus the offenses ability to succeed.
Air Force will be challenged to furnish a fullback who was better at this than Cole Fagan last year. Unfortunately, Fagan has been removed from the team, pending an investigation. Unless something changes with his status, this leaves 997 rush yards and 7 touchdowns to replace from last season.
In spite of the void left by Fagan, the cupboards are not completely bare in Colorado Springs. Senior, Taven Birdow, a former three-star prospect brings plenty of experience back this season. He also brings over 600 career yards and six touchdowns to the epicenter of the option.
Even with Birdow coming back, it’s essential that the Falcons find a complimentary fullback to be successful. Do not be surprised to see a rotation of runners at this position next year.
One thing that is for certain, a single player will not carry the full load. Ask Jacobi Owens about this. In 2016, his selfless play found him at fullback in a season that saw this group decimated by injuries. The two-time 1,000 yard tailback the previous seasons took a tour at the fullback spot to fill that need.
This season there isn’t a Jacobi Owens-type player waiting that we know of. But there is Christian Mallard (senior). Mallard is expected to get carries in the fullback rotation and concluded spring camp atop the depth chart.
Similar to Owens, he was a running back recruit and made the transition to fullback. This is where the comparisons to one of the most productive runners in Air Force history will stop for me. In limited action, he scored a touchdown last year and accounted for better than four yards per carry, albeit on only 11 carries.
Another senior who figures to round out the depth and vie for carries is Colton Parton. Perhaps with more opportunities, he will help create a three-headed monster at fullback similar to the one Army enjoyed last season. That is probably a reach, but like a few of those comparable runners from West Point, he too started his career as a linebacker.
Like a lot of positions at the academy, with such a high volume of players and transition, fullback can change a lot. While these three look to be locks in the rotation, the other player you may want to watch for is Omar Fattah. Another Cadet originally recruited to play linebacker, Fattah has been transitioned to fullback also.
Will anyone be able to catch Kade Remsberg?
Steady yards should be had between the tackles from the fullback dive this year. But for the offense to inflict damage on the outside, it will be done by the tailbacks.
If you look at the 2018 statistics alone, you won’t be overwhelmed by the returning groups’ numbers. They certainly aren’t bad, but they also do not jump off the page at you, as you might expect for such a run-heavy offense. Similar to the fullbacks, one of the players expected to contribute at tailback, Joseph Saucier, is no longer with the team. That leaves a platoon of players who figure to be vying for carries next season.
Kadin Remsberg (junior) and Nolan Eriksen (senior) have the most experience of the group, but I would fully expect Josh Stoner (junior) to push for carries. Historically, the Falcons have leveraged a division of labor between running backs just due to the very nature of the triple option they run.
Of the players who look to demand carries this season, one has to believe the Falcons want to get the ball to Remsberg. While a Falcon player’s prospect star rating out of high school rarely is telling of their success at the program, as an uncommon three-star prospect, Remsberg brings something very rare to the table: speed.
Remsberg isn’t just fast for an academy player; he is just downright fast. A track star in high school, I won’t overwhelm with hyperbole around his 40 time, which is sub 4.4, but his potential to break long runs is something Falcon fans everywhere are waiting to see.
Players and coaches alike would tell you opportunities for big plays were left on the field last year by not getting him the ball on the outside. With his ability, expect Remsberg to have the type of game-breaking highlights this season that fans will probably most recently liken to “Turbo” Tim McVey, from a few years prior.
This is why that fullback group is so critical in the Falcon offense. Just because you have a weapon like Remsberg to threaten the edge, forcing the defense to respect the middle of the field is crucial. If the Falcons can do that, Remsberg will make teams pay. He certainly has 1,000-yard rusher ability, but I don’t know that there will be enough carries to go around for him to meet that mark.
Of the remaining cast, Eriksen is a guy with a lot of game experience over the past two years and I would expect him to be a steady contributor. The most intrigue in camp though, seems to be around Josh Stoner. His name came up quite a bit in the 2018 camp, but that potential didn’t reveal itself on the field. In fact, he barely appeared on the field last season. There have been plenty of Falcons to come out of nowhere and contribute in a big way; Josh Stoner hopes to be another one.
During the quarterbacks preview, it was mentioned that dual-threat prospect, Wayne Overman, is now playing tailback. Troy Calhoun has done things like this in the past, just trying to identify ways to get players who seem to warrant the ball more opportunities throughout the offseason. He seems to be settling in well at the tailback spot by the accounts from spring camp. Maybe he will find himself in the tailback rotation as we draw nearer to fall camp where carries become even more important.
With no pun intended, the Air Force backfield is not without options. Something I find unique about this rendition of the team is the big play potential that a Remsberg brings to the table. They simply have not had this type of player for some time. This is brought up because with the personnel at fullback and another year of repetitions for what will be an experienced quarterback, be it in Isaiah Sanders or Donald Hammond, this offense should be able to put a lot of stress on opposing defenses.
It’s still the offseason and everyone is undefeated. While it’s probably a stretch to expect an unblemished record to remain intact come December, an increase in the Air Force win column total is not. And if you’re looking for reasons why, the skill positions for the Falcon offense present a compelling argument for.