Friday, August 31, 2007

The Debut of BlogDog

So here’s the deal: My favorite type of football column to read is the prediction column. I love reading what writers have to say about upcoming games (or entire seasons) and seeing them lay it on the line with bold claims.

Case in point: The Gazette’s Milo Bryant predicting in a column earlier this year that Air Force will go 8-4. Nobody else in the country (that I know of) has the Falcons finishing even at .500, and in the preseason Mountain West Conference poll, Air Force was selected by members of the media to finish seventh out of nine teams.

I don’t vote in the preseason polls (The Gazette doesn’t let me) and, as a beat writer, I am not allowed to make a prediction on Air Force games (the whole conflict of interest thing).

But I’ve gone over The Gazette’s policies with a fine-tooth comb, and I see nothing prohibiting beat writers’ dogs from making predictions.

So, Norm, my dog, will be calling each game this year through an exact and rigorous process. Basically, I’m going to hold up a mini-replica Air Force helmet and the mini-replica helmet of the opponent they are facing that week (you can see them in the foreground of Norm’s picture below). Whichever one Norm goes to first, that’s the team he thinks is going to win. Just to be completely sure, we’re doing best three out of five. If Norm picks the same helmet three times in a row, he’s thinking blowout. If he chooses one team three times and the other one once, he’s thinking the game will be decided by about a touchdown. If he chooses one team three times and the other one twice, then it’s going to be close.

I didn’t have a South Carolina State helmet, so I wrote “Air Force” on one piece of paper and “South Carolina State” on the other. Norm went for “Air Force” twice in a row, then South Carolina State, then Air Force again.

Norm's Pick: Air Force 28, South Carolina State 20

Mark your calendars

Before we go into full-fledged football blogging (which will begin with one more post tonight), I had to share a couple of thoughts on the hoops team.

I spoke with new coach Jeff Reynolds for a while yesterday about the Canada trip, and, like I said in my article in today’s edition of The Gazette, the trip couldn’t have come at a better time. Air Force relied almost exclusively on its starters last season (one of the only on-court decisions for which former coach Jeff Bzdelik can be criticized), and only one of those starters – Tim Anderson – is back.

So there’s a whole lot to sort out before the Falcons hit the court for real games. And this trip will be perfect for that.

Now, about that still unreleased schedule. When I asked Reynolds it, he shook his head and laughed.

“Jake, it’s amazing,” he said.

The Falcons’ schedule is just about complete (some minor kinks have to be worked out), but this is pretty late in the game to have it unfinished. When it’s done, Air Force likely will settle for 29 games, one less than the 30 that the NCAA allows.

According to Reynolds, there are about 90 Division I teams still trying to fill out their schedules. That’s 90. Nine, zero. I asked why, if there are that many teams in search of games, schools can’t work anything out.

“Nobody wants to go on the road,” Reynolds said. “So they hold out.”

Air Force’s schedule won’t have a lot of big out-of-conference names on it this season. But the Falcons will play what will end up being one of the most highly anticipated home contests in program history Nov. 29.

That’s when Bzdelik comes back to town with his new team, Colorado. The Buffaloes will have something to prove after the way Air Force destroyed them last year in Boulder. And the players Bzdelik left behind will have plenty to prove as well.

I asked junior Andrew Henke if he has Nov. 29 circled on his calendar.

“Who do we play that day?” he asked.

But his smile gave him away.

“No, I know. You could say it’s circled on my calendar.”

Henke, who looks like he grew about a half an inch and added some muscle, said he is excited to take on the role of underdog this year.

“I’ve always loved that role,” he said. “I want to prove all those people wrong that are going to vote us last in the conference in the preseason. … I love it, and I know all (my teammates) love it too. We’re going to come out ready to get people.”

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Calhoun Press Conference Recap

Troy Calhoun held the first of his weekly press conferences this afternoon. Here are some of the highlights:

-He will script the first 15 (approximately) offensive plays that Air Force runs – something he said he has been doing for about 10 years. The team typically will decide upon its scripts in the middle of each week, then run them as long as is appropriate.

“Any time you script, the thing you’ve got to be astute to is situation still plays a factor,” he said.

In other words, if a triple-option is the next play in the script and Air Force is facing third-and-19, Calhoun will change the play.

-He said senior quarterback Shaun Carney “absolutely” has a grasp of the new offense.

“He’s a guy that I think can be a dual-threat player,” Calhoun said. “I think he runs well, he’s not incredibly dynamic as a runner, but he’s more than adequate. I like his mobility throwing, and I like his accuracy. And just from a leadership standpoint I think he’s got a very good command of what we’re doing.”’

-Here’s coach’s take on South Carolina State:

“Overall, an extremely talented football team. I think one of the benefits of being a I-AA program is they sit in a pretty good hotbed. So at any time (they get) a transfer, he never has to sit out. So you’ll see they’ve got some guys who are really, really good football players. I think their quarterback (Cleveland McCoy) is versatile, I think he moves well, I think he throws well, and he’s a guy you can tell from a savvy standpoint, he’s played a lot of football. He’s an experienced football player. … (Running back Will Ford) is extremely explosive, a guy that had a 90-yard kickoff return against Coastal Carolina last year, a young man who’s a state sprinter champion, and when you flip the tape on, great quickness, and he’s a guy that’s a threat every time he touches the ball to go a long ways.

“I’m impressed with their offensive line. Last year they led their conference in rushing at 220 yards a game and also in total offense, and that starts with the group they’ve got up front. The center, the left guard and the right tackle, all three of them are outstanding players. … Very good sized team – you’ll see immediately, as soon as they take the field, and they’re well coached and the whole bit. This is a very good football team.

“Defensively, the (Marshall) McFadden kid that plays kind of a rover spot for them is an excellent football player. He’s quick, he’s physical, he has great instincts. They’re a good squad, they have no weaknesses. And candidly, it’s probably exactly what we need, though, too.”

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Nwaelele to work out for Spurs

Recent Air Force graduate Danny Nwaelele’s NBA dreams aren’t dead.

I just spoke with J.R. Harris, Nwaelele’s agent, and Harris said Nwaelele has been asked to work out for the San Antonio Spurs Sept. 9-13. Harris said Nwaelele, who currently is stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi, will be allowed to attend the workout.

“With Danny coming in this late, it’s always a good sign because it’s’ so close to veteran camp,” “Harris said.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is an Air Force grad, and Harris hopes that will work in Nwaelele’s favor.

No matter how well Nwaelele does at the workout, he still will have to find a way around Air Force’s new policy regarding early release from service commitment for jobs with potential recruiting benefits. A policy released early this year states an airman who wants to pursue a professional sports career “Must have served on active duty for at least 24 months.”

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Practice Wrap – 8/25/07


As today’s session was the last official practice of the preseason, this will be the last “Practice Wrap” entry to the Air Force blog. I’ll still check in consistently – probably daily – but not specifically about each practice.

One other blog-related note. I’ll be posting from the press box before, during and after games, so if you’re not able to make it to Falcon Stadium, check in here, and I’ll try to help you get a feel for the weather, how the players look warming up and whatever else I can think of.

Now for some thoughts on today’s scrimmage:

Who stood out: Senior outside linebacker Julian Madrid. Air Force’s defense places a premium on its outside linebackers creating turnovers, wreaking havoc with blitzes and pressuring the quarterback. Madrid seems like the kind of player that can do all that. On Saturday he knocked down a pass and also forced a fumble when he got to the quarterback and stripped the ball.

“You can tell he’s active, he’s got good strength,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “What he’s got to learn to do, there’s going to be some times where he’s going to be lined up over a tight end. He’s got to learn to be a little more comfortable that way. When he’s out in space, you can tell he loves it.”

Kip McCarthy, as will be pointed out in an article that will appear in the Sunday edition of The Gazette, ran the ball effectively Saturday. He picked up 44 yards on seven carries (according to the statistics I kept), including a burst up the middle of 18 yards. He’s always going forward – none of his rushes covered less than 3 yards.

“I thought (McCarthy) ran the ball hard,” Calhoun said. “I thought he was decisive and got the ball forward, got it downhill.”

Tailback Jim Ollis dressed but did not play today. Calhoun said he “could” be ready for next Saturday.

“He could’ve gone today and we just decided not to, just to give him two more days to let him heal up. I think he’ll be out there Monday ready to practice. Now will he be to a point where he’s ready to play in a game? We’ll find out.”

Calhoun also said he thought both deep snappers – Scott Howley and Tony Norman – “both did a solid job today.”

Finally, freshman Reggie Rembert, as he has done all through the preseason, flashed some serious potential. He returned a kickoff 95 yards for a score and looked dangerous as a punt returner. He returned a punt 30 yards after catching the ball in traffic and making a quick move to beat the initial would-be tackler.

“I really hate fair catches, so any little, slight chance I could maybe catch it and get a little side-step, I’m going to try to do that,” Rembert said.

Calhoun said Rembert needs to work on tucking the ball away so opponents can’t strip it.

Lasting image: Running backs coach/running game coordinator Jemal Singleton getting after freshman Savier Stephens on the sideline after Stephens failed to look for a signal and lined up in the wrong spot.

You can always tell who coaches like – and who they think has lots of potential – by looking at who they stay after and yell at constantly.

I asked Stephens about this earlier in the week: “Yes sir, coach Singleton,” Stephens said. “He will make you better. He won’t let you get in a comfort zone. He’ll keep you on your toes.”

Line of the day: “I think the Browns are going to win 49-7, I think I said that before and it worked, so I’ll try it again.” – Air Force quarterback and Cleveland-area native Shaun Carney, when asked for his prediction on Saturday night’s NFL preseason game between the Browns and Broncos.

Carney was referencing a claim he made to a New York-area newspaper before last year’s Army game. Asked for a prediction, Carney said he thought the Falcons would win, 49-7. It enraged Army players, but Carney proved a prophet, as Air Force won 43-7.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Practice Wrap – 8/24/07


One of the positions that will be up for grabs tomorrow during Air Force’s scrimmage at Falcon Stadium is deep snapper.

Senior Tony Norman began the season as the starting deep snapper, but on the depth chart released last Monday, junior Scott Howley had moved in front of him.

Heading into Saturday, coach Troy Calhoun said, “It’s a toss-up.”

“I think Scott Howley, his snaps have been a little more consistent, a little more velocity, a little better spiral from what I see. I think Tony Norman might be a little better in coverage,” Calhoun said. “That will be one thing tomorrow that we’ll really look at.”

Notes from Friday …

Who stood out: Senior tailback Jim Ollis. Mostly because Ollis was on the field.

The converted quarterback, who was expected to challenge for the starting tailback job, has been hampered most of the preseason with an injured left ankle. He was back Friday, albeit during a practice in which players were dressed in helmets, jerseys and shorts.

“I watched him today and I see him at about 85, 90 percent,” Calhoun said. “If I look out there at any time and I see a guy favoring something, then he’s not ready. I admire the heck out of his determination – I see a guy like Jim Ollis, and I know he’s busting it to get back out. He’s not a guy that’s going to find a little more time to sit in the training room and try and major in treatment. What his major is is competition.”

Still, Calhoun said Ollis would play “very little” if at all tomorrow.

Lasting image: Guard Nick Charles practicing at tackle. No, Charles isn’t switching positions. Calhoun and offensive line coach Clay Hendrix just wanted him to get familiar with the position in case of an emergency. Sophomore tackle Chris Campbell – who opened practice as a starter – should be back from an injury by Monday. But sophomore Anthony Schelstrate likely is done for the year with ligament damage in his left knee.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Practice Wrap 8/23


Who stood out:
Senior quarterback Shaun Carney.

He just looks sharp. There’s a zip on his passes, he’s seems to have good timing with his receivers and Thursday he delivered a bunch of balls on the money in traffic.

One thing about which I was curious: With Air Force planning to throw the ball more this year, and thus needing to practice throwing the ball more, does coach Troy Calhoun monitor the amount of passes Carney throws?

I asked coach after practice.

“To a degree,” Calhoun said. “I would if we were practicing for two-and-a-half or three hours. We’re so condensed in the amount of practice time we have that I don’t think we have to. The other part is you don’t have a lot of two-a-days. When you have two-a-days, you get concerned with certain guys where they’ll start to feel something in their elbow or shoulder or something like that. That’s really not a factor here.”

Carney said his arm has felt fine.

“I’ve had pretty good rest the past three years,” he said, laughing. “I think (my arm) is ready to go.”
Good point.

Lasting image: Senior tailback Chad Smith sitting on a cart, holding crutches, his right knee bandaged. Smith had surgery on the knee earlier in the day. He said it went well and he could be back in a month. But it’s a setback both for the team and Smith, who entered the preseason listed as the Falcons’ top tailback.

Coach’s quote: “Tell you what we’ve got to do – we’ve got to get the alumni around here to build us a (practice) bubble. And I’m one of the alums, so I guess I better ante up too.” – Calhoun, after having to move into the Falcons’ indoor facility (which doesn’t house a full football field) late in practice yesterday due to an approaching storm.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Practice Wrap - 8/22

Senior fullback Scott Peeples gave me a great analogy today when discussing how Air Force’s offense has changed from the pure triple-option of former coach Fisher DeBerry to new coach Troy Calhoun’s balanced, multiple-set attack.

“You could compare it to maybe a hatchet and an axe,” Peeples said. “With the triple-option you’ve got a little hatchet and you’re just banging away and eventually you get through the log. With an axe, you might swing and miss a couple times, but you’re going to connect more solid when you do hit it.”

So when everyone starts trying to name the offense in a few weeks (like they tried to name DeBerry’s the “Fishbone”), just remember you heard “The Axe” here first – courtesy of Peeples.

Who stood out: Freshman tailback Savier Stephens.

Stephens already was getting some repetitions with the varsity, but with Chad Smith out for at least a month and Jim Ollis still bothered by his sprained left ankle, Stephens has a chance to make significant contributions immediately. Read: The opener against South Carolina State.

Wednesday, in scrimmage situations, Stephens showed good acceleration, speed on the edges and toughness – barreling into a pile to score a touchdown from a yard out.

Look for more about Stephens in Friday’s Gazette.

Lasting image: Air Force practicing its pregame routine after scrimmaging. No detail left untouched by Calhoun.

Coach’s quote: “They’re great competitors, they’re guys that it kills them to not be out here. But at the same time, the path they’re on, maybe in October. Maybe.” – Troy Calhoun on when fullback Ryan Williams and tackle Dan Holder might be able to contribute.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Practice Wrap - 8/21

Who stood out: Junior nose guard Jared Marvin.

At this time last season, Marvin was on the Falcons’ junior varsity, trying to adjust to playing defense (he was recruited to play fullback but was moved to defense in the spring of his freshman year). This year, Marvin is starting and looking sturdy as the anchor of the Falcons’ 3-4 front.

Marvin got some good experience last year – as did many of his teammates – thanks to the rash of injuries to defensive linemen (as you’ll read about in Wednesday’s edition of The Gazette). And he returned to the academy in what appears to be excellent shape. He put on “a good solid 10 pounds,” he said, to get up to 270.

“It’s been helping,” he said. “I’m feeling a lot better.”

With all that muscle on a frame that’s listed at 5-foot-11 (but can’t be more than 5-9), Marvin, naturally, has been given a couple of nicknames.

“Coach (Ron) Burton (the defensive line coach) is now going with ‘Stump,’” Marvin said. “I get a lot of ‘Baby Marv,’ because I’m short. They come through with a lot of them. Some I don’t want to repeat.”

Another possibility comes from defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter.

“He reminds me a lot of a nose guard we had in Reno named ‘Dump Truck,’” DeRuyter said, referring to his days as a co-defensive coordinator at Nevada. “He’s got that same build.”

Count me in the "Stump" camp.

Lasting image: Blocked field goals. Junior Kevin Rivers blocked two, freshman Reggie Rembert got to one and just missed another at the end of practice.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Practice Wrap - 8/20

Interesting to watch coach Troy Calhoun during practice today.

The first-team defensive line and some linebackers were working against the first-team offensive line in one area; the first-team defensive secondary and some linebackers were in a pass skeleton drill against the first-team backs and receivers in another area; and the junior varsity backs and receivers were running plays in a third area.

Calhoun kept his eyes everywhere and jumped in periodically with critiques that showed his attention to detail. After “Z” receiver Matt Davis caught a pass and took off, Calhoun told him not to “fall away from the ball” when catching it. “Go get it,” Calhoun said, noting that Davis could start to run a split-second quicker if he did. Moments later, Calhoun tweaked a freshman quarterback’s delivery. And shortly after that he was telling receiver Mike Moffet to fight for a pass in the air.

Lasting image: Jim Ollis sitting glumly on a cart with an ice bag on his left ankle. Ollis was one of the most intriguing players on the Falcons’ roster heading into August. A backup quarterback his first three seasons at Air Force, the coaching staff moved him to running back in hopes of getting him on the field more.

Listed as the backup tailback after spring, Ollis sprained his left ankle on Aug. 6, the Falcons’ first full-contact practice. He finally returned to the field today but re-injured the ankle.

Coach’s quote:
“You make your evaluations based upon productivity. It’s been pretty clear that Scott’s practiced better and played better. And that’s pretty much because he’s been out there.” – Calhoun on Scott Peeples moving ahead of Ryan Williams into the Falcons’ starting fullback slot

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Practice Wrap - 8/18

Some quick-hit thoughts from today …

-A 27-yard field goal attempt by Ryan Harrison bounced off the right upright, and his 62-yard attempt missed badly. “On the 62-yarder, it looked like the snap was a little bit high, and I think he tried to hit a little more on it,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “He’s just got to hit a normal ball. He has enough of a leg where he doesn’t have to reach back and go with a 1-iron instead of a 3-iron.”

-The ball was on the ground again a few times.

-Outside linebackers Julian Madrid, Hunter Altman and John Rabold all did a good job getting to the quarterback.

Lasting image: Saturday’s play of the day. Near the end of practice, Air Force worked on late-game goal line situations (offense needs to score a touchdown to win and has the ball inside the 10-yard line).

With the second-team offense facing fourth-and-goal from the 7-yard line against the second-team defense, quarterback Shea Smith rolled right and lofted a pass into the corner of the end zone. Sean Quintana, who had run a fade route, was covered well by freshman cornerback Reggie Rembert. But as both leaped for the ball, Quintana reached over Rembert (from behind the cornerback), tapped it back to himself, caught the ball and landed with both feet in bounds.

“Big-time play,” Calhoun said. “Seems like every time we come out and scrimmage and it’s live and guys are hanging on you, it doesn’t seem to bother him.”

“During the season he’s going to be a player for us,” quarterback Shaun Carney said. “He’s just a guy that’s dependable.”

Coach’s quote: “I liked the contact. I thought we were physical on both sides of the ball. And yet we’ve got to play faster and more aggressive and we’ve got to be cleaner as far as our ball-handling.” – Troy Calhoun on the Falcons’ Saturday practice.

Stripe or no stripe update: Current vote: 4-1 in favor of helmets without stripes.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Practice Wrap - 8/17

Sports Illustrated has declared 2007 “The Year of the Running Back.” (It says so on its covers – five of them for five regions of the country. Arkansas, Michigan, West Virginia, Oklahoma – the one I received in the mail – and USC were the five featured schools).

Anyway, there’s a list of the top running backs at each of the 119 Division I-A schools. Air Force’s? Senior Jim Ollis. The converted quarterback was listed as the Falcons’ backup heading into August but a sprained ankle has kept him off the practice field and cost him that slot. For now.

Speaking of running backs …

Who stood out: Senior Chad Hall. Last year’s leading rusher was shifted to the “Z” wide receiver position in the spring and has spent most of August there. But for the past two days, Hall has practiced at tailback.

No, the coaching staff is not having a change of heart (Hall is moving back to “Z” tomorrow). However, coach Troy Calhoun wanted him to spend a couple of days there just in case he has to fill in at the position during the season.

“You just never know, there may come a chance here in the season where he’s got to play tailback,” Calhoun said. “We’d rather not do it unless he had a good chunk of a week to prepare, but we just think in order for there to be some recall that he had to do that the last couple of days. It’s not hard – tailback’s an easy position.”

Lasting image: Junior outside linebacker Hunter Altman getting teased for wearing a neck roll on his shoulder pads. Altman has had to wear it because he was getting stingers in his neck. He probably will be rid of it soon – and the teasing that goes along with it.

“They keep calling me Bobby Boucher,” Altman said, referring to Adam Sandler’s waterboy-turned-linebacker character in the movie "The Waterboy."

Final notes:

-SI picks Air Force to finish 4-8 – identical to last year’s mark – and 2-6 in the Mountain West. It ranks the Falcons 102nd of 119 Division I-A schools.

-And, as of my last check on the stripes vs. no stripes (on the Air Force helmets) debate that I tried to start on my last post, we are tied. My readers have come out in force with – drum roll, please – TWO votes. One for stripes, one for no stripes. So whoever writes in next might be the tiebreaker.

Practice Wrap - 8/16

To stripe or not to stripe?

That was the question on Thursday.

The Falcons hit the field with their traditional lightning bolts on the sides of their helmets for the first time this August. This was in part because coach Troy Calhoun thought his team had finally “earned” the bolts (a few players who’ve missed a bunch of time with injuries thus still are “bald”). But it also was a logistical decision.

Apparently, each Air Force player gets two helmets – one for practice and one for games – so that members of Air Force’s equipment staff can clean up the game helmets between contests and make them look good.

So the Falcons were wearing their game helmets during the first two weeks of practice (to break them in), but from now on they’ll be wearing their practice helmets (which also were the returning players’ game helmets last year – they recycle).

Is this making any sense?

Whatever, the point is the helmets the Falcons were wearing on Thursday had the bolts on either side but no stripes down the middle.

And I thought they looked sharp – far better than the helmets with the stripes. (There’s beauty in simplicity.)

According to Air Force sports information director Troy Garnhart, the Falcons have been wearing helmets with the stripes (a silver stripe down the middle with a blue stripe on either side) since the 1980 season. And Calhoun said after practice that the stripes probably would be added before the first game.

But I thought I’d open it up to readers: Stripes or no stripes? Let me know.

Lasting image: A bunch of missed field goals. Junior Ryan Harrison is expected to wipe away the Falcons’ kicking woes this season, but he had an off day Thursday – as did long-snapper Tony Norman.

“I thought our snapper was very inconsistent today, and I thought Ryan was too,” Calhoun said. “It’s one of those where, I know the wind was blowing 2-3 miles per hour, but I think for a good kicker, which I expect Ryan to be, that wouldn’t be a factor. Two mile an hour wind? Shoot, there are a lot of drives I’d like to hit when it’s only two miles an hour.”

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Practice Wrap - 8/15

I was reminded today that the 2007 season won’t be senior tight end Travis Dekker’s last at the academy. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound Albuquerque native broke his foot between his freshman and sophomore seasons, sat out his sophomore year (2005) and received an extra year of eligibility, which he’ll use in 2008.

With his size (6-foot-4, 245 pounds) and his athleticism, Dekker – and the Falcons’ tight ends in general – was surprisingly underused in 2006. Dekker was the only tight end to catch a pass during the season, and he had just four.

He should have many more this year.

“I feel like they’re finally kind of just using what we’ve had, but now they’re kind of exploiting it,” Dekker said. “Which is good. I feel like we’ll definitely be a much more integral part of the offense.”

No wonder Dekker referred to Calhoun as “The Mastermind.”

Who stood out: Senior wide receiver Devin Hart. After playing football his freshman year and part of his sophomore year, Hart did not play last season. But Hart, who also competes for the academy’s track team, was lured back to the gridiron by the new coaching staff and some of his fellow seniors.

Hart has been limited in the preseason due to a bruised ankle tendon. But his speed is intriguing. And Wednesday in practice he broke off a route and jumped to make an impressive grab along the sideline. If he can get healthy, I could see him giving Chad Hall a break at the “X” wide receiver position early in fourth quarters when opposing defenses are tired and his speed becomes more of a factor.

Lasting image:
At the end of practice, Air Force’s offense practiced its Hail Mary play – three receivers go deep, ending up in a line with about five yards between each of them (think one at the goal line, one at the 5-yard line and one at the 10). The ball is thrown in the direction of the middle receiver with the other two looking at him (in other words the receiver on the goal line facing back toward the offense, the receiver on the 10 with his back to the offense).

After that the Falcons practiced what many teams call the “victory” formation – when the quarterback takes a knee to run out the clock.

Practice Wrap - 8/14

Just took a look at and Sports Illustrated’s preseason Top 20. USC is on top – no surprise there – followed by LSU and defending national champion Florida.

But I found it interesting that TCU wasn’t included. Boise State was the only team from outside the Pac-10, SEC, Big East, Big Ten, ACC and Big 12 on the list.

So no Air Force opponents on there.

On to some notes …

Who stood out: Junior defensive end Jake Paulson. The 6-foot-5, 265-pounder missed a good chunk of last year because of a dislocated elbow, but he showed signs of becoming a pass-rushing force when he was on the field. He clearly put on some muscle in the offseason, and he’s looked good during the first two weeks of practice. Tuesday he showed good quickness and moves in a one-on-one pass-rushing drill.

Side note to anyone planning to come watch a practice at the academy: Do yourself a favor and spend some time watching defensive line coach Ron Burton. “Intense” doesn’t even begin to describe him. He’s high-energy and at top speed all the time. His attention to detail is astounding. During the one-on-one drills, he had precise critiques for each player – from where they placed their hands to how quickly they moved off the ball to where they were focusing their eyes while trying to beat an offensive lineman. Burton’s group of linemen could surprise people this year. Inexperienced but bigger and stronger than what many probably expected.

Lasting image: More dropped passes. I watched primarily the defense Tuesday, but within a five-minute span, a pair of on-the-money passes went through the hands of backs Ryan Williams and Chad Smith.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Practice Wrap - 8/13

Depth chart day.

As I wrote in an article that will appear in tomorrow’s Gazette, the biggest surprise on coach Troy Calhoun’s new depth chart was the placement of senior Bobby Giannini – at backup free safety.

Giannini was an honorable mention all-conference performer in 2005 and has started every game the past two seasons. But Air Force’s coaching staff has sent a message that past deeds will not be rewarded this season, and Giannini – in part due to a pair of nagging injuries – has not played like one of the two best safeties on the team so far in the preseason.

“We’re going to play productive guys,” Air Force defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter said. “Bobby knows what to do, and he’s dinged up a little bit. He’s got to be able to go out and be productive and strain his body more.”

Kudos to Giannini for the way he handled the news. Not only did he refuse to blame his injuries, he admitted he hasn’t played as well as he can and should.

“Coach DeRuyter told me I need to work for it, and I came out today with the attitude that I was going to get (the starting position) back,” he said. “It’s early (in the preseason), and I think they’re really trying to push me. That’s what good coaches do, they push their players, and I’m looking forward to getting that spot back.”

Giannini, who ended up practicing with the starting defense today anyway because Chris Thomas was resting his right knee, did have an extra bounce in his step. He dove in an attempt to make an interception and threw his body into a ball carrier along the sidelines during a seven-on-seven drill.

Who stood out: Kip McCarthy. The senior tailback, who has been practicing with the starting offense since the first day of contact drills, looked sharp and ran hard.

Lasting image: DeRuyter admonishing a group of linebackers for trying to hide from the heat in the shade provided by a tarp. “Get out from under the shade – now!” DeRuyter yelled.

Coach's quote: “What you do is the guys that are playing the best play the most. I don’t get too wrapped up in the depth chart because I don’t think, when you’ve got a healthy football program, I don’t think it’s ever static.” – Troy Calhoun

One last note – if you’re looking for freshman cornerback Reggie Rembert out at practice, he’s now wearing No. 8.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Practice Wrap - 8/11

Some thoughts from Saturday’s session, which included lots of scrimmaging:

Who stood out: A bunch of players. As will be documented in Sunday’s Gazette, freshman corner Reggie Rembert, senior corner Carson Bird, wide receiver Sean Quintana and all the tight ends made big plays. In addition, senior Chad Hall continued to look comfortable at the Falcons’ “Z” wide receiver position. Hall broke free for a gain of about 60 yards on a reverse and also made a leaping catch along the sideline.

Lasting image: Senior guard Caleb Morris getting penalized for excessive celebration after the first-team offense scored a touchdown.

After tight end Keith Madsen hauled in a touchdown pass from quarterback Shaun Carney, Morris ripped off his helmet and jumped into Madsen’s arms. But taking off one’s helmet results in a 15-yard penalty. The refs who worked practice immediately tossed flags in Morris' direction.

“Our o-line coach (Clay Hendrix) said in the locker room he wants us to get really excited (when we score),” Morris said. “I either forgot about the rule or I never heard it.”

If nothing else, Carney got a kick out of it.

“An offensive lineman getting an excessive celebration?” Carney said as he walked off the field. “I love it.”

Offensive linemen are the best for comedy, though. I asked Morris after practice what the 2007 offensive line’s t-shirt would read this year (as reported in an earlier blog post, last year’s was – “There may be no ‘I’ in ‘team,’ but there are three in ‘Chili Cheese Fries.’”).

“I think we’re gong to do ‘Fat Kids Are Hard to Kidnap,’” he said. “But we haven’t figured it out yet.”

Coach’s quote:
“Defensively we’ve got too many assignment busts, we’ve got to clean it up. And offensively, we’ve got to be a little more ornery group, we’ve got to be a little more disciplined when it comes to penalties, when it comes to holding onto the ball. That’s mental toughness.” – coach Troy Calhoun on what the Falcons must improve.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Practice Wrap - 8/10

Somebody on the Air Force football team needs to step up.

With a nickname.

Having written about former wide receiver Vic Thompson in Friday’s paper, I recalled all the joy brought by the former wide receiver’s alias – Waffle House. (You know, because he’s open 24/7).

Sophomore strong safety Chris Thomas is “Tom Tom,” and sophomore defensive tackle Ryan Gonzales is “Gonzo,” and I know there are probably lots more that I just haven’t heard quite yet.

But Thompson set the bar pretty high with “Waffle House.” Especially because (I think) he came up with it himself. So I’m opening up the floor for nickname suggestions. Let me know.

Who stood out: Senior cornerback Garrett Rybak. On consecutive plays during seven-on-seven drills, Rybak picked off a tipped pass and returned it for a score and then reached from behind freshman receiver Nate Carlson to bat away a pass.

Lasting image: Toward the end of practice, Air Force running plays out of the shotgun with four wide receivers. I know the Falcons did it last spring, but it’s still jarring to see a run-n-shoot set on the academy practice fields.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Practice Wrap - 8/9

There no doubt was a ton of enthusiasm and effort during the first week of preseason practice at Air Force.

But it will be interesting to see what happens during the next couple of weeks now that classes have started at the academy.

Coach Troy Calhoun and quarterback Shaun Carney both said all the right things on Thursday – that players can’t allow the early start to the academic year to affect their practices, that this is part of what players at the academy have to deal with, etc.

Still, it’s a lot easier to be ready for practice when you don’t have to worry about studying and you don’t have to get up at 6:45 in the morning.

One thing working in the Falcons’ favor – the fact that Calhoun and most of his assistants graduated from the academy. Having gone through what their players are going through, coaches should have a better idea of when to push the players and when to ease off the gas.

Who stood out: Nose guard Ryan Gonzales. At 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds, Gonzales is the most physically imposing player on the Air Force roster. He was listed third on the Falcons’ last depth chart, but Thursday he took some snaps with the first-team defense.

“There’s still times he doesn’t play with his hands and his pads as well as he needs to, and yet he does have moments too where he’s hard to move just because he’s a natural knee-bender,” Calhoun said. “He’s a guy that I think ought to be able to give us a bunch of snaps this fall.”

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Practice Wrap - 8/8

Talk about a headline writer’s dream – freshman tailback Savier Stephens of Jacksonville, Fla., began practicing with the Falcons on Wednesday afternoon.

I’ve already got a suggestion, should Stephens win the starting tailback spot this season: “Air Force’s backfield Savier.” Any good? Or how about if he has a great practice and coach Troy Calhoun says all sorts of great things about him to the media? I’d go with: “Calhoun praises Savier.” Or what if he has a great game against Notre Dame? I’ve got about 20 here, 12 of which involve, “Touchdown Jesus,” but I better refrain.

Who stood out: Kicker Ryan Harrison. On the turf field during Wednesday’s morning session, Harrison split the uprights with a 55-yard attempt.

“He kicked well this morning,” Calhoun said. “He was in the neighborhood of like 10 for 11. He was down on the turf with pressure coming at him, and he hit the ball well today.”

Also, defensive end Josh Clayton looked good shedding blocks in Air Force’s afternoon “lightning drill,” and outside linebacker Julian Madrid seemed to be around the ball a lot in seven-on-seven and team drills.

Lasting image: Air Force players in red jerseys doing sit-ups and push-ups on the side of a hill during Wednesday’s second session. Red jerseys always have been worn by players who cannot play because of injury. But under Calhoun and new strength and conditioning coach Matt McGettigan, those who sit out practice might work harder than those on the field.

In addition to keeping the kids who don’t participate in practice in shape, the drills run by McGettigan act as a deterrent. Sitting out an extra practice to nurse a bump or a bruise isn’t going to happen too much anymore now that injured players aren’t just watching practice from the sideline.

Coach’s quote: “It’s like drinking from a firehose for them – they’re getting the full dose.” – Troy Calhoun on the freshmen football players’ first few days of practice.

Practice Wrap - 8/7

Who stood out: Wide receivers Mike Moffett and Anthony Hemphill. Moffett made several nice catches, including one in traffic over the middle. Hemphill raced to track down a deep pass from Shea Smith early in practice.

Lasting image: Dropped passes. While Moffett and Hemphill made some good grabs, there were far too many balls bouncing off the hands and (even worse) shoulder pads of Falcon players.

Coach’s quote: “It got broken up a little bit there, and it didn’t bother us. To me, those are some signs of maturity when everything’s not exactly the way it’s listed on the schedule. That tells you a little bit. Just where guys can adapt and guys are a little bit flexible, and just intensity-wise the focus was really good.” – Troy Calhoun on the two times the lights went out during Tuesday’s practice.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Practice Wrap - 8/6


Practice Wrap - 8/6

Reason No. 48 why I love football: Linemen.Standing in the hallway outside Air Force’s locker room this afternoon, a lineman walked by wearing a black shirt that read, on the front, “Air Force Offensive Line 2006.” On the back? “There may be no ‘I’ in ‘team,’ but there are three in ‘Chili Cheese Fries.’Senior center Blaine Guenther said the offensive line’s previous t-shirt was better. That one read, “The fat gives the meat its flavor.”Gotta love offensive linemen.

Some quick thoughts from today’s session:

Who stood out: QB Shaun Carney. Coach Troy Calhoun said he thought Carney was rusty after not participating fully in the Falcons’ first four practices. But the veteran signal-caller still looked good. Carney had zip on his passes and he threw some impressive balls – particularly a corner route to wide receiver Mark Root and a fastball through traffic to tight end Travis Dekker in the end zone.Calhoun noticed an additional effect of Carney’s presence throughout a practice.“Our whole practice was better because you’ve got a guy out there that’s taking charge of the offense,” he said.

Lasting image: Running backs coach/running game coordinator Jemal Singleton walking off the field after practice looking disgusted. His tailbacks, save for Kip McCarthy, did not look good on the first day of full contact.

Coach’s Quote: “We’ve got to learn to play in pads. I think sometimes you get out here and you play touch football with no pads on and sometimes you think it’s always creampuff, and it’s not. Last time I checked, you’re always going to be wearing pads, especially on Saturdays.” – Troy Calhoun on the first day of practice in full pads.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Practice Wrap - 8/4

Air Force coach Troy Calhoun spent most of Saturday’s practice up in a filming tower, Dan Devine-style.

But Calhoun said he’d only do that “once in a while. It just makes it where you can see a whole field. Especially on days where you’ve just got so much going on on different fields, it just makes it so much easier to observe.”

Onto some thoughts:

Who stood out: Freshman cornerback Reggie Rembert. I wrote about this in a notebook that will appear in Sunday’s Gazette, but it bears repeating here. This kid was impressive. He’s fast, he’s quick and he has the instincts to help him stay all over receivers. He has the skills to play the press coverage Air Force wants to employ, and don’t be surprised if he sees a lot of playing time in the secondary this year.

Calhoun also noted that Rembert might return some kicks. Now you’re talking. If Rembert can catch punts consistently, he could be a great weapon this year for the Falcons.

Lasting image: Sophomore strong safety Chris Thomas smashing into tight end Travis Dekker and putting Dekker on the ground. Not that notable except for the fact that the Falcons still aren’t in full pads. Thomas just can’t wait to hit. I get the feeling if the equipment staff forgot to bring his helmet and shoulder pads to the stadium for a game, Thomas would play without them.

Coach’s quote: “The thing with football that’s a constant is you’re always evaluating. It’s every single day. You better do something as a player or as a coach to make yourself a little bit better. And if what you did yesterday starts to look too good to you, that means you haven’t done anything today. That’s football.” – Troy Calhoun, in talking about players who are sitting out practice who shouldn’t be.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Practice Wrap - 8/3

Just some quick thoughts today.

Who stood out: Cornerbacks. Starters Carson Bird and Garrett Rybak both made some nice plays while going for the ball. Bird stripped a receiver after a catch and then fell on the ball before it squirted out of bounds.

The Air Force defense is making a big change this season in asking the cornerbacks to play a lot of aggressive, man coverage. But Bird and Rybak welcome the change and say they’re looking forward to it.

Lasting image: Junior kicker Ryan Harrison stretching during practice. I don’t think I’m a good enough writer to accurately describe the way Harrison contorted his body, but here goes: During one stretch, he was sitting on the ground with his left leg out in front of him. With both hands, he then pulled his right foot toward his head – and then behind his head! Later, he started a stretch lying flat on his back, feet pointed north. He lifted his legs in the air and then back behind his head until they touched the ground. So he was rolled onto his shoulders and head with his feet on either side of his head – and toes pointing north.

Does that make any sense at all? Probably not. Air Force head equipment manager Dan Siermine described it a lot better – “He’s like Gumby,” Siermine said.

Coach’s quote: “They probably didn’t like them very well, but in the long haul it’s going to help us.” – Troy Calhoun on his team doing its conditioning work – Friday it was running gassers – before the start of practice instead of at the end.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Practice Wrap - 8/2

If you’ve been out to one of Air Force’s first two preseason practices, you may have seen offensive backs working with what look like blue footballs.

No, the Falcons aren’t going to be using colored, ABA-style balls this season. The blue is a slippery nylon sleeve that slides over the ball. Air Force is using the sleeves in drills that deal with option pitches.

The sleeve “is not tacky, and (the ball) can slide through your hands,” said Jemal Singleton, the Falcons’ running backs coach and running game coordinator. “So you’ve really got to focus on where you’re carrying it, ball placement and all that good stuff – it just reinforces all those ideas. Then, when you get a regular ball, it feels like it’s got glue on it.”

Look for the Falcons to practice with it some more. Coach Troy Calhoun was not pleased with the amount of fumbles in Thursday’s practice. Other observations from Day 2:

Who stood out: Running back Chad Hall. Count me among those who were skeptical when Calhoun switched Hall, last season’s leading rusher, from tailback to “Z” wide receiver. But Hall seems happy with the switch, and, at least in the first two practices, the move seems to be accomplishing what coaches had hoped it would: It’s getting the ball to Hall where he has room to use his speed and moves, and it’s forcing defenses to cover him with linebackers and safeties – players Hall should be able to beat.

“It’s fun,” Hall said. “I get manned up on some safeties, get a little mis-match and … usually when I get (the ball) there’s one man around me, whether I’m running it or catching it. It’s just one man to beat, and I’ve got some space, finally.”

Thursday Hall made several nice catches, including a leaping grab on the sideline.

Sophomore safety Chris Thomas also had a good practice Thursday, several times ripping the ball loose from offensive players. Thomas appears to be one of those players who just always seems to be around the ball.

Lasting image: Senior cornerback Garrett Rybak picking off a pass in the flat during 11-on-11 drills and taking it to the end zone. It was one of several big plays made by the defense Thursday.

Coach’s quote: “I think the guys look good. (But) for me, it means nothing. Everybody looks good in jerseys. When we get out here in full pads and we’re hitting and I’m seeing guys finishing runs and those type of things, that’s when they start putting in my mind that they came to play.” – Running backs coach and running game coordinator Jemal Singleton, on his tailbacks.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Practice Wrap - 8/1

Here are some thoughts about Air Force’s first practice Wednesday. I hope to do this each day, if possible.

As senior linebacker Drew Fowler pointed out in the story that will appear in Thursday's Gazette, the pace of practice was brisk. Players moved quickly between drills, and there wasn't a moment wasted. New coach Troy Calhoun made sure drills ran smoothly, at one point yelling at players to sprint out of the way after they had gone through a drill.

Calhoun spent time all over the field on Wednesday, but he mostly was with the offense. He let his assistants handle most of the drills, but he jumped in with comments, critiques and praise often.

Who stood out: (Note: I mostly watched the offense on Wednesday) Josh Cousins. The sophomore played quarterback on JV last year, but this year he is taking reps at both QB and wide receiver (which is why he’s wearing No. 87). Wednesday, with Shaun Carney sitting out most of practice with a strained hamstring, Cousins spent some time at quarterback during 11-on-11 drills. He showed off a strong and accurate arm.
Anthony Hemphill – a 6-foot-2 receiver – also showed a flash of his potential, hauling in a long reception in 11-on-11 drills.

Lasting image: Carney and several other players held out of practice due to injuries alternating between push-ups and sit-ups … for about a half an hour.

Coach’s quote: “I don’t get enamored with the style of our shoe laces or gold chains. To me, style is how hard you play and how well you execute and just how much unity you have.” – Troy Calhoun on the coaches’ all-black game-day apparel that they modeled during media day.

Fashion statements

A quick note from Air Force football media day.

Players showed off their new uniforms this morning, and everyone I talked to lauded the new apparel.

The players wore their home blue jerseys (which have silver numbers outlined in white and lightning bolts on the shoulders) and silver pants (the Falcons wore white pants in recent years). While players liked the style, they were more impressed with the substance of the uniforms – tighter-fitting jerseys and less-restrictive pants.
“It’s all about feel,” senior quarterback Shaun Carney said. “The look is cool for the fans, but all we care about is feel, and jerseys being tighter helps people not being able to grab them and the pants make us feel looser and faster.”

Not to be outdone, Air Force coaches broke out the outfits they will wear on the sidelines this season – and Johnny Cash would be proud. Black, short-sleeved mock turtleneck with a blue lightning bolt in the middle of the chest, black pants, black belt with an “AF” logo and black Nike golf shoes.

“Looking sharp,” senior center Blaine Guenther said. “Look like Mafia henchmen walking around.”

Added Carney: “I guess if they’re trying to look slimmer, then they got it.”