Hope Springs Eternal
What will the Falcons do for an Encore?
Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs is literally covered in ice, but that has no bearing on the Air Force Football team as they make preparations for a run at the Mountain West title. So while the Academy got to showcase their facilities in the NHL’s Stadium series game between Colorado and Los Angeles, their cadets of the gridiron kicked off spring practice last week.
Lets not forget about the encore of the stadium series, featuring Air Force versus Colorado College tonight. Puck drops at 5 p.m. local time.
Speaking of encores, spring practice is the primer for an Air Force team that should be full of confidence after the success they enjoyed last season. But that was last season. There is a lot to be sorted out if they want this year to resemble last seasons campaign.
One of the reasons they were able to win 11 games last year was due to a roster that proved to be filled with talent across the board. A significant chunk of that talent graduates in a couple of months. Who will step up and what can we expect from the 2020 Falcons?
Here are five narratives to consider as we enter spring camp.
Depth Under Center
Air Force may feature the most dangerous quarterback in the conference this year. Donald Hammond will never get the recognition that other signal callers do for his ability to hurt a defense through the air, but it doesn’t change the fact that he can spin the bean.
Irrespective of the Mountain West’s failure to acknowledge him on the All-Conference team, Hammond returns as one of the country’s top dual threat quarterbacks. But what about the rest of the QB room?
As confident as you should be in Hammond’s ability to deliver under center, we also have to acknowledge the reality that depth at the position is critical. The Falcons enjoyed unrivaled depth that ran three deep last season, thanks to Mike Schmidt and Isaiah Sanders.
So who will round out the depth chart behind Hammond in 2020? It looks like that will be both open to debate and competition.
Chance Stevenson looks to be moving back to his originally recruited position at quarterback, after spending last year as a running back. Also returning is junior-to-be Warren Bryan. These are the only other returning players who saw the field in 2019.
After that, its anyone’s guess. Second year player, Jake Smith is expected to compete for reps and a place on the active roster. Joining the mix from the 2020 recruiting class is Jameson Wang, a 3-star prospect as graded by 247sports, and Canon Turner who graded out as a 2-star player.
Pass Catchers and Edge Blockers (one in the same)
Wide receivers and tight ends alike are expected to be equally adept at blocking as they are at catching passes. The Falcons will be replacing starters and primary depth at both positions this year.
Tasked with replacing one of the most lethal pass catching duos in the conference, and that the Air Force has ever seen is also on the offseason ‘to do’ list. Geraud Sanders and Ben Waters tormented secondaries last year. We’re talking tops in the country type torment in some critical categories.
Still, as crazy as it sounds, the Falcons may have the depth to reload at wide out. Because of how well Sanders and Waters performed, its easy to forget that they weren’t necessarily locked starters this time last year. Suspensions to up-and-comers David Cormier and Brandon Lewis cleared the runway.
While its unclear if Cormier and Lewis will have their standing restored on the football team, it has not been ruled out. Combine that with an experienced senior in Ben Peterson, and Dane Kinamon, who showed promise seeing action as a freshman last year, and the passing game should not suffer. Senior to be, Daniel Morris also saw playing time last year, particularly as a rangy run-blocker on the edge.
Admittedly, tight end is an area where I am very intrigued. This is a position that lost a two-year starter, and two depth players to graduation. That is a host of experience gone from the locker room.
But it is in the promise of potential that I am eager to see how things progress. Air Force landed a touted recruit in Kyle Patterson last year, and he got a jersey for a few games as a freshman. In the 2018 class, a year prior, the Falcons got Chris Kane, another promising 3-star talent.
If neither Patterson or Kane work their way up the depth chart, look for seniors to be, Rhett Harms and Luke Miller to round out the depth. Harms was a reserve for the most part last year, but with injuries to the position he did climb the depth chart. Miller on the other hand showed well last spring, but never really surfaced as the season progressed.