In Coach Lobotzke We Trust
How will the Falcons replace five starters?
We are continuing to work through our offseason previews of the various position group as we head into the summer. The defensive side of the ball is in the books, as we previously looked at linebackers, the secondary and defensive line. Now we turn the page to offense, and in particular the Diesels on the line.
With the graduation of all five primary starters from 2020’s offensive line, there is a complete overhaul coming to a position group that has given the Falcons a distinct advantage recently. To call the Air Force offensive line a position of strength is an all-time sandbag statement.
There are as many career appearances on the Mountain West All-Conference Team as there are spots on the line. The left side of the line is now in the NFL, as Nolan Laufenberg (Denver Broncos) and Parker Ferguson (New York Jets) have landed on rosters. And Nicholas Noyen, Kyle Krepsz and Adam Jewell who were key components to line that paved the way for an offense that led the country in rushing, have since graduated.
Big 🍏 bound 🗽
— Air Force Football (@AF_Football) May 2, 2021
Its suffice to say, this is a position group of the utmost importance for a team that relies so heavily on their running game. It’s not so much a question of “who” can step in to help ease the transition, but a matter of what combination of guys will gel to keep the engine of that triple option humming?
When you have the tall order of replacing athletes who have departed for the NFL, it’s reasonable to expect a drop off in production. The challenge that the Falcons will face this season isn’t just replacing NFL talent, but a couple of studs who have anchored the offensive line for three years now.
The luxury that Ferguson, Laufenberg and crew have provided is no longer a known commodity in waiting. The closest thing they have to a returning stud on the offensive line is their position coach, Steed Lobotzke. Even though there aren’t any returning All-Conference performers on the offensive line, it doesn’t mean this master molder won’t be able to coach his current crop into them.
More than any other position, an Air Force fan can feel at ease with a transition of this magnitude on offensive line. Coach Lobotzke and staff have proven they are capable of developing players who can execute their scheme year after year. Until they fail to do so, expect new stalwarts to surface in 2021. It’s without an ounce of hyperbole to say Steed Lobotzke is one of the best offensive line coaches in the country.
In 2020, COVID-19 protocols and injuries tested the depth chart in a lot of areas, the offensive line was no different. On top of those curveballs, a proactive platooning approach that the Falcons took with the line also got a lot of guys playing time. Hawk Wimmer, Ryan Booth and Kris Campbell all played in 2020, despite not being tabbed “starters”.
The experience this trio was able to gain will serve well in helping bring the unit as a whole build chemistry. They will have a little time to try and sort things out, but they are going to be doing so on the fly once September gets here. Even with Wimmer, Booth and Campbell, there isn’t a wealth of experience in this position group. There will opportunity of plenty to be had though, for players who are looking to make moves up the depth chart.
It all starts in the trenches 🚜
— Air Force Football (@AF_Football) June 5, 2021
Beyond handful of guys that did see a fair mount of playing time last season, there are some juniors in Ethan Schofield and Jason Medeiros who should factor in the shaping of the line.
The 2020 recruiting class featured two most highly rated offensive line commits that the Air Force Academy has ever landed, according to 247Sports. Wesley Ndago checks in with the highest composite rating for Falcon commit on the offensive line, since scoring has been recorded. Not far behind him was fellow 2020 3-star commit, Adam Karas.
I bring up the these underclassmen because the 2020 recruiting class was particularly fruitful as it relates to offensive line potential. A specific name to become familiar with from this class is Holden Brosnan.
While you wouldn’t necessarily expect incoming freshman to factor into the depth chart, it is worth mentioning there were a couple of 3-star commits that will be entering the Academy this fall, most notably Christien Hawks. Hawks garnered the third highest prospect rating of all lineman, just behind Ndago and Karas. Joining Hawks this fall will be two more 3-star prospects in Jack Barnett and Dillon Gilbert.
The future looks bright for a unit with a coaching staff that has a proven track record of developing top performers, from under-recruited prospects.
2020 vs. 2021 PROJECTED
Rarely if ever is a service academy going to be challenged with replacing multiple NFL departures in a given positional unit. That is the reality that Troy Calhoun, Steed Lobtzke and the rest of the Air Force staff are challenged with in 2021 though.
To replace two NFL players is a really tall order. But what is lost while so much attention is drawn to the chasm that Laufenberg and Ferguson leave, is the fact that Adam Jewell, Nicholas Noyen and Kyle Krepz were outstanding in their own right. So to expect anything less than a drop off replacing these five starters is boarderline delusional.
With that said, don’t cry for the Falcon ball carriers; a strong history of plugging the holes along the offensive line would suggest this diesel engine will keep running. We are another year into having loosened restrictions around Cadet athletes weight, which means the Falcons should showcase multiple 300 pounders along the line again this fall (Wimmer, Campbell and Schoefield all return and should meet weight).
The more apropos questions may be, how long will it take for this unit to find their chemistry? And who’s next in line for the Falcons as future representatives on the Mountain West All-Conference team? If the former isn’t long, and the ladder has names, then Air Force may again lead the country in rushing, and also pave the way for greater things.