Haaziq Daniels or the Field?
How much better could the passing game be in 2021?
With just a month between us and the start of the Air Force football season, we have arrived at the final offensive position group preview; the quarterbacks. If you missed any of our previews leading up, you can check all of them out here.
In full disclosure, we may be no closer today than we will be in September as far as really knowing who will be starting under center for the Falcons. But lets not let reality get in the way of some good old fashion speculation and analysis.
The Falcons return every quarterback that saw the field last season, and are also adding back in a few familiar faces after taking a turnback year in 2020. The only real attrition came in the departure of former 3-star commit, Jameson Wang from the 2020 class. Wang spent last year at the Prep school, but has since left the Academy and will be playing at Cornell. Andy Bernard would approve of this transfer.
History would suggest that every bit of depth is subject to testing at the quarterback position for Air Force. Because of this reality, there are a lot of names to become familiar with, even if there isn’t a whole lot of intel available on the given cadets yet.
Start with what we know; Haaziq Daniels was the starter in 2020, and barring any issues with his health, he will have every opportunity to return atop the depth chart this coming fall. Daniels got dinged up against Boise State and exited the game last season, with the general wear and tear that comes with orchestrating the triple-option, injury concerns always loom.
We can say this, when he did play- which was a majority of last season- Haaziq Daniels was quite affective as just a sophomore, and first time starter. As a runner, Daniels averaged over five yards per carry for just under 300 yards on the season. For perspective, that’s a full yard more per carry than Falcon great, D.J. Hammond III averaged in 2019. Albeit in a smaller sample size, as Air Force only played six games in 2020.
The area of development that will be most focal, is where the aforementioned Hammond III excelled, and that is the passing game. There is no way around it, the Army game was blemish on the stat line, and can’t be ignored in what is essentially a five game sample size. All three of his interceptions came in this game, paired with a sub 50% completion rate. Granted, Army did complete the year as one of the top defenses in the country.
There were plenty of positives throughout the 2020 rollercoaster, so we will have to see if a progression to more consistent elevated play, in particular from the passing game, is a more accurate reflection of the player that Daniels will be. His overall body of work as a sophomore would suggest so, and in that, we could be looking at a very special player and season.
Depth at quarterback is a must at Air Force, or any of the Military schools if we’re being honest. Last years starter, got banged up against Boise State, and that gave Warren Bryan some really valuable experience against a top tier defense. Now a senior, Bryan is going to make a push for the QB1 spot, but even if he doesn’t emerge the starter come September, it is very likely he will get on the field.
In his limited reps, Bryan passed for just 38 yards, but more importantly he rushed for 116 yards and a touchdown, while averaging five yards per carry. Keep in mind, nearly all of those statistics were accrued against Boise State.
Chance Stevenson is the other player we give the benefit of the doubt as experienced, even though most of that playing time came as a running back. Stevenson was recruited out of high school at quarterback, but with a loaded quarterback room early in his career, and talent that the coaching staff felt they needed to find a way to explore, he transitioned to running back in 2019. It’s worth mentioning though, he did complete a halfback pass during that season.
A year removed from taking a turnback, Stevenson has returned to the fold at quarterback as a junior with another two seasons of eligibility at the Academy. Like Bryan, he will be making a push for playing time at quarterback.
In just his third 200-meter dash at Air Force, Zac Larrier is your MOUNTAIN WEST CHAMPION after clocking a time of 21.16! pic.twitter.com/EfYD4FHh10
— Air Force Track & Field/XC (@AF_TFXC) May 16, 2021
The first person to make note of hasn’t taken a snap for the Falcons yet, but now junior, Zach Larrier is already a Mountain West Conference Champion. Winner of the 200-Meter Dash in track and field, Air Force has a blazer with a ton of potential in the quarterback room.
Ben Brittain got in a few snaps in 2020 as just a freshman. Getting a jersey alone is noteworthy as a freshman, but the fact he traveled with the team and saw the field is a very good indicator of how the coaching staff views this young man.
Jensen Jones, like Brittain, was also a freshman last year and traveled with the team. Part of a very crowded room right now, Jones is working to distinguish himself with plenty of career in front of him as well.
The last two names to make note of are Jake Smith and Cannon Turner. Neither were listed on the recently released Media Guide, but as previously mentioned, rostered names are not a right to passage for playing time in Colorado Springs.
Jake Smith is probably most noted for one of his high school accomplishments, and that was beating this April’s number one overall draft pick in the NFL, Trevor Lawrence, in the state championship game. Another player that opted for a turnback last year, Smith is now a junior.
Last but certainly not least is Cannon Turner. As a freshmen who enrolled directly into the Academy, and not through the Prep school, 2021 will mark his true sophomore season. Turner was recently recognized for his outstanding academics, by being named to the Academic All-Mountain West Team. He was the only quarterback to earn this distinction.
Air Force places 32 on fall Academic All-Mountain West team https://t.co/Unf4Qhj1lG
— Air Force Falcons (@AF_Falcons) April 2, 2021
2020 vs. 2021 PROJECTED
There are some freshman who recently reported for basic training, but to highlight anyone specifically as a “threat” to take the reins at quarterback is very unlikely. Don’t get me wrong, there are some talented commits coming to the Academy who will get their shot in time. But if 2021’s Ty Reasoner or T.J. Urban (both whom I’m excited to see for the Falcons) are under center this fall, we have either seen attrition at a level that is surprising even for Air Force; or we are about to experience Tim Jefferson 2.0.
The Falcons depth at quarterback has only gotten better with the return of Stevenson and Smith. They didn’t lose any contributors or players with experience at this position, so expect healthy competition to manifest itself in universally elevated play under center.