Spring Practice has Begun
What Will the 2021 Falcons Look Like?
With the College Football Playoff Champions crowned, the 2020 season is in the books. And even though National Signing Day just past, Air Force had already began preparing for the 2021 campaign. The Falcons welcomed Cadets back to campus a few weeks ago, this includes a slew of players who opted for turnback seasons in 2020.
As of Tuesday, February 2nd, the Falcons returned to the field marking the official start of “spring” practice. And even though these are the very primitive stages of building what will ultimately manifest as the final product come fall, these practices are both precious and limited.
With COVID-19 restrictions still in place, this years practices are not open to the public in Colorado Springs. So if your hoping to get any legitimate updates or insights, its going to have to come directly from someone at the Academy.
The sequestered spring tune ups aren’t going to keep us from peaking ahead though, even if that does mean drawing some conclusions. Here’s a look at some of the current activities we can confirm with the Falcon’s, along with even more connecting-the-dots.
AIR FORCE OPENS SPRING FOOTBALL PRACTICE TODAY https://t.co/3UPHgC1TW6
— Air Force Football (@AF_Football) February 2, 2021
As mentioned, National Signing Day just passed, and that means fall enlistees have declared their commitment to compete for the Air Force football team, while honoring a military commitment. Air Force Academy commits (as well as Army and Navy) are a bit different than the other schools competing in the FBS for a number of reasons; not the least of which is how their recruit signing period plays out.
Most schools use a very large production, highlighting the incoming talent to their schools to generate excitement and keep the recruiting momentum going through the class that will be cycling through. Military Academies do not do this because of internal policies that essentially prohibit it. That doesn’t however prevent proud signees from publically declaring their commitments, nor does it prevent prospect platform super-power 247sports.com from validating these details and making them easily discoverable.
This is a whole lot squeezing that doesn’t necessarily result in a lot of juice though. With the present age of the Transfer Portal being so prevalent, along with a Cadets ability to leave the academy, and in most cases without consequence, these massive recruiting classes always get significantly whittled down. It is worth mentioning though, from a prospect star rating perspective, this was the strongest recruiting class by volume of 3-star commits that Air Force has ever produced. If you want to look at some of the prospects in detail, you can do so here.
While these incoming freshman will not be present or even visible on the field until the fall, the real injection of talent is already back on campus. The Falcons welcomed back a host of players who opted out of the 2020 fall semester and season, which has afforded them an additional year of athletic eligibility.
There were quite a few players who went this route, many were anticipated to compete for significant roles on a team that was already facing a lot of turnover due to graduation. But the biggest impact is going to be made by the core of prior All-Conference standouts on the defensive side of the ball that are back with the team now. Jordan Jackson (DL), Demonte Meeks (LB) and Milton Bugg (DB) are all back in 2021 to complete their senior years.
Jackson was recognized multiple years as a member of the Mountain West All-Conference Team, including the last season he played, which was 2019. That same year saw Meeks and Bugg both earn recognition by the Conference as well. These are all huge (re)additions to the roster, and these are just the All-Conference performers. There are a lot of returning contributors back from their 2020 turnback year, and this group will make an impact.
OUT ON A LIMB
Despite a very inconsistent 2020 season, there were a lot of bright spots on this Air Force team. Now add in the influx of talent from the turnback talent to the equation; we could be in for a very special season.
If you were to examine this roster by position group, it’s reasonable to expect at minimum one player from each to earn All-Conference recognition. Yes, I know they have graduated a dozen starters and primary contributors from what was one of the best offensive lines over the last 24 months. And the fact that at least two of those players in Nolan Laufenberg and Parker Ferguson could very likely be playing in the NFL in 2021 is also not lost on me.
But if we’re to go by position group, starting with the aforementioned offensive line, coach Steed Lobotzke has done a good of a job as any at his position. After turning out stellar units to graduation year after year, this group always seem to have a newcomer that replaced an incumbent and flourishes. So whether its Ryan Booth, Hawk Wimmer, Ethan Schofield, Jason Medeiros or Kris Campbell, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one or more of these names surface this season.
Despite losing one of the most electric players in the conference in Kade Remsberg, the backfield is still full of talent. With the fantastic season that Brad Roberts had in 2020, its easy to forget that Tim “Duval” Jackson returns for his senior year. Either of these runners should crack the all conference team. Maybe even both if they can stay healthy.
Receiver is so difficult at Air Force because the lack of opportunities reduces the visibility relative to those playing in more contemporary- and more often pass heavy systems in the present day. Regardless, Brandon Lewis is a swiss-army knife player that can impact the run game as demonstrated last year given the opportunity. He is also a primary option when the ball is in the air. I’d love to see this young man get more opportunities to touch the ball by whatever means.
David Cormier is one of those players who took a turnback last year; otherwise,, I would have expected him to have an impact coming into the season. He’s another in the line of big bodied receivers similar Geraud Sanders and Jalen Robinette (Rowell) who have flourished when given the opportunity.
At tight end, I fully expect Kyle Patterson to emerge as one of the conferences top players over the next two seasons. While Patterson is an extension of the offensive line, which doesn’t get the attention getting out on routes does, make no mistake he is an absolute weapon. As a sophomore he showed a knack for boxing out defenders and making combat catches in traffic. He is only going to get better.
The defense already has multiple players returning that have previously earned all-conference honors as documented earlier. Beyond Jackson, Bugg, and Meeks who have already earned those stripes, I think there is more potential. Corvan Taylor quietly put together a strong season in his first year as a starter at safety. He led the team in interceptions and was a very sure tackler.
The linebacking corp has a slew of freshman find their way on the field last year returning after proving to be quite capable in Jonathan Youngblood and Alec Moch. However, an under the radar player from this position group I wouldn’t dismiss is Brandon Gooding. This group can’t be properly observed without acknowledging three-year starter Lakota Wills. This is a guy who has quietly contributed year after year and another turnback player who should be back with a vengeance. Don’t be surprised if any of these folks among others prove to be a disruptive force alongside Demote Meeks.
The biggest stretch of all of these would have to come on special teams. And that is not to slight Tevye Schuettpelz-Rohl, Brice Honaker or Charlie Bein for their ability to perform at a higher level. If TSR replicated his performance against Navy last year across the season, he’d be a sure-fire consider. But the rest of the season left more questions than answers in the kicking game. With a strict no return policy, we can’t expect much from any of the kick or punt return specialists, so it really narrows the options here.
We’re backkkkkkk 🗣 pic.twitter.com/R32FFzC8vw
— Air Force Football (@AF_Football) February 9, 2021
As the snow is falling in February while the Falcons practice, each rep is an opportunity for someone to step up for this 2021 team. Normally you look at a significant amount of turnover from Air Force due to so many upperclassmen who seem to surface atop the depth chart. Don’t be fooled by that returning production statistic this year though.
Yes, the offensive line will essentially be completely redone. But history would suggest in coach Lobotske we should trust. Beyond that, the real deception comes by way of departures and returning starters. While there may only be a handful of “starters” returning from 2020, that is a very skewed perspective. Beyond the constant churn of lineup because of COVID-19 last season, a lot of the starters who emerged in all likelihood would have either been supplanted or at the very minimum pushed by one of the many players who weren’t present because of electing for turnbacks.
The beauty of this is that we get to see so many great stories, like George Silvanic on the defensive line, or Elisha Palm in the secondary. I’m not saying these guys wouldn’t have earned a start last year, but it certainly was not a given.
But in 2021, we are looking at a lot of young players who otherwise would have had no reps, bringing significant playing time and experience to the table. Combine that with returning impact players from last season, and then a core of studs returning from their turnback season; this team could be very special. There are no guarantees as we all know. But there are enough known commodities on this years Falcons to garner serious attention and optimism.