Can the Falcon D-Line Remain Stout?
Defensive Player of the Year Candidate, Jordan Jackson?
“Stuff” about the Falcon Run Stuffers
Like a handful of other positions on the staff, the Defensive Line is being coached by a new face this season in Terrance Jamison. Tim Cross was the position coach last season, but has since left to reunite with Mack Brown in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. While the 2018 D-Line was trending in the right direction, in particular defending the run, this year’s group should be able to take another step forward.
The area Air Force would really like to see an improvement in is their ability to disrupt the passing game. The Falcons run a base alignment that features three down lineman at the front of the defense. Along with their brethren at the Military Academies on the Eastern part of the country, they are typically the smallest in stature across that front as well. However, this does not look to be a typical Air Force front in 2019, bringing more heft than in previous years.
Conventionally, a three-man front is not going to be expected to generate pressure on their own, but with the right scheme and execution, they can be critical in creating problems for an offense. This is where Coach Jamison is going to be expected to have an impact on D-Line. At Florida Atlantic, he oversaw the most productive sack generating front in school history. Most recently at Texas Tech, his tenure saw significant progress in both sack and turnover production.
At the core, leading the defensive front is an all-conference performer and junior to be, Jordan Jackson. Expectations couldn’t be higher for any Falcon player as they are for Jackson. He cracked the starting line-up as a freshman, which is very uncommon at the Academy. Building on that, he received all-conference recognition by the Mountain West last year as a sophomore.
Entering 2019, Jackson is coming off a season that saw him produce 12.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. What can’t be ignored about these numbers is that he did this as part of a three-man front. If his trajectory of progression holds pace, Jordan Jackson could garner serious consideration for defensive player of the year in the Mountain West this season. Not since the defender with the greatest name in gridiron history, Weston Steelhammer, have the Falcons had such a decorated player.
Steelhammer though was a defensive back. But a person I really do see a lot of relatable comparisons to is former Falcon standout, Alex Hansen. Like Jackson, he played as a true freshman and continued to disrupt Mountain West offenses for four long years on route to being named to the Mountain West’s all-conference first team. Like Hansen, I would expect the NFL to consider Jordan Jackson as a prospect when he graduates in 2020. Sorry Mountain West, get used to seeing Mr. Jackson for another two seasons.
Jordan Jackson isn’t the only returning starter from the Falcon defensive front this year. Alongside him will be senior, Moses Fifita at the nose-guard position. Like Jackson, Fifita brings a very uncommon frame to the Air Force front, bulking to over 300 pounds at in season weight. Fifita won’t garner a lot of recognition outside of Colorado Springs, but the reality is, his ability to eat up blocks is key to allowing the linebackers to stay clean and help stuff the run. This is directly reflected in the Falcons 2018 defense being ranked 20th in S&P against the run.
Even with Fifita and Jackson returning, the defense has to find other contributors to round out the front of the defense. Gone are Danny Highland, Cody Gessler, and Micah Capra, leaving a lot of snaps to be had. With the defense regularly rotating players, the Falcons must find a supporting cast to fill these gaps.
One of the names you can expect to see contributing is sophomore, Nakoa Pauole. Even though he is only a second-year player, this guy didn’t gain experience playing for the Huskies at the Air Force Prep School, he saw varsity action as a freshman last year. Sound familiar? Hopefully that meaningful experience will manifest in another step forward to help out this year’s defense.
Some of the other players that we could expect to get their hands in the dirt are Michael Purcell, Joey Woodring and Kaleb Nunez, all juniors. At the conclusion of spring camp, senior, Jared Bair sat atop the depth chart. The four of them combined for just five total appearances in game action last year, with Nunez recording the only statistic, a tackle.
If you want to look at the 2019 recruiting class for any surprise contributors, the Falcons bring on the Dorceus brothers who were both rated as three-star prospects. Both Demetris and Desmond Dorceus were recruited as defensive lineman to the Academy from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. These two young men share a really interesting story as sons of Haitian immigrants, which Brent Briggeman covers in an article for the Gazette, out of Colorado Springs.
One thing that is for certain, whether its a surprise standout, or a collection of effort, the Falcons will need contributors on the defensive line in 2019. Returning Jackson and Fifita is a great starting point, let’s see if the supporting cast can help the defense take another step forward. If they do, the reality of an exciting bounce-back season seems very much, in the grasp.