Playmakers in the Secondary
Will this Year’s Group Create more Takeaways?
Last week we kicked off the opening discussion on a series of deep dives that will cover roster changes, vacancies and comparisons by position group from 2020 to the anticipated 2021 squad. That first look into the roster started with some critical vacancies that exist as we enter the new season, if you want to take a look the details can be found here.
Now that our initial take on vacancies is in the books, its time to steer our focus to a position group that’s composed of a very healthy blend of experience and youth: The Secondary.
Oh happy day! pic.twitter.com/NexhesPCxI
— Air Force Football (@AF_Football) November 21, 2020
There is a wealth of experience returning to Air Force secondary this year. Returning experience isn’t a given indicator for success depending on performance, obviously. However, there are a couple of names you can comfortably etch as starters entering the season, and should feel good in doing so.
The Falcons get an All-Conference level performer returning at corner this year in Tre Bugg. One of the many talented players back from a 2020 absence, Bugg brings legitimacy to one side of the field right off the jump.
Fortifying the safeties should be Corvan Taylor. After getting spot starts and depth repetitions in 2019, Taylor took hold of his position atop the depth chart last year as a regular starter. A sure tackler that showed good instincts, the senior-to-be also picked off two passes in his five games last season.
EXPERIENCE IN THE MIX
You can’t talk experience in the Air Force secondary without mentioning James Jones IV. He’s actually been at the Academy since 2016, but between his participating in the turnback option last year and a season ending knee injury in 2018, similar to Nate Romine, he was granted an additional season of eligibility.
It was really unfortunate to see his 2018 season wiped out because it was as a sophomore in 2017 he really started grow into a contributor. He started the final nine games of that 2017 season and collected over 50 tackles along with an interception. To date, that has been his peak as a Falcon, but the narrative hasn’t been completed with a full 2021 ahead of him.
Jones IV has played all over the secondary, but the constant factor whether lined up at corner or safety is the level of physicality he brings to the game. Look for this well seasoned senior to make a serious push to secure a starting role.
Another senior-to-be with a few starts under their belt is Ethan Erickson. Similar to James Jones IV, Erickson has started at multiple positions, but he probably more commonly profiles as a safety/spur linebacker. We saw Grant Thiel in this role make some great contributions a couple years ago, Erickson may find his niche’ here as a well.
2020 saw a lot of different players in and out of the lineup, and the secondary was no different. One of the good things that last years unprecedented season did was provide a little more visibility to the youth and depth of the team. Throughout the secondary there were a number of freshman and sophomores to see playing time, and its reasonable to expect the likes of Zion Kelly, Jayden Goodwin, Camby Goff and Michael Mack II, all of whom were underclassmen to fit into the mix this season.
Beyond the aforementioned youth movement, there are a couple of players who showed a lot of potential early but haven’t quite took hold of a starting position. Yet.
Trey Taylor and David Eure are two more names you can count on seeing the field in some capacity next year. Both of these guys come by way of the 3-Star prospect variety, drawn praise in spring camps and seem to surface as players to watch.
Taylor began drawing attention a few seasons back as a freshman. For Eure who is now a senior, its now or never. He was part of the conversation last season, but with a litany of underclassmen who seem to be making a push combined with those guys returning from turnback seasons, its a crowded position group.
The last two names that may be worth keeping in mind are Dorian Maynard and Mason Bugg. Both of these guys entered the Academy straight from high school and did not take a tour at the Prep school. Mason Bugg may seem a little more familiar of a name as the younger brother to the earlier established, Tre Bugg.
If you recall, we did a feature on the former record setting quarterback from Arizona, you can check it out here. He has since transitioned to defensive back, and was able to earn a jersey for a few games last season as a freshman. Perhaps he will make a name for himself as the quarterback of the defense down the road, if not sooner.
2020 vs. 2021 PROJECTED
To say that any projected Air Force depth chart for the 2021 season is a guess, would be a vast understatement. There are however, a few key players that we know will immediately enter the lineup as contributors.
When you look at the secondary, its more than reasonable to expect this position group to be improved over last seasons by virtue of the return of players like Tre Bugg, James Jones IV and the carryover talent.
Historically when an Air Force defense is at its best, they have had a secondary that held up long enough for the pass rush to get home. Which many times, didn’t take long.
This is never going to be a sub-package led defense that matches man to man, sideline to sideline. But with an aggressive philosophy it is critical the secondary is able to hold coverage and capitalize on some poor decisions made by a pressured offense with turnovers. The personnel in this group very well could do just that, but only time will tell.