Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Who's Gonna Catch it?

With former four-year starting quarterback Shaun Carney out of eligibility, Air Force is looking for a new signal-caller (a subject that will be explored in detail in my story that is scheduled to appear inThursday's Gazette).

But whoever the quarterback is in 2008, he’ll be inexperienced. And I think that makes the performance of the Falcons’ receivers incredibly important to the success of the Air Force offense.

So I thought I’d pass along some thoughts on the Falcons’ potential 2008 pass catchers.

X Receiver
Who’s Graduating: Mark Root. The reliable 6-foot-2 receiver started the majority of the Falcons’ games last year. Root ranked second on the team in both receptions and receiving yards with 28 and 385, respectively. He also caught a pair of touchdown passes.

Who’s Back: Spencer Armstrong and Sean Quintana. Those two give the Falcons a deep threat and a dependable possession receiver, respectively.

Armstrong, who will be a senior next year, was listed as the Falcons’ backup at X when spring practice started. He was not on the second two-deep chart released early last week, but since then, Armstrong has had several quality practices, in particular last Saturday when he made an impressive leaping catch in the end zone on the last play of the day. Those performances earned him the starting spot on the depth chart released Tuesday by Air Force coach Troy Calhoun (scroll down to the post below to see the full depth chart).

Armstrong was a non-factor early last year as he struggled to get on the field. But he came on late and made several big plays down the stretch – including a touchdown on a reverse against Notre Dame and a 48-yard touchdown reception against Army.

“He did some really good things at the end of the year,” Calhoun said. “But I think now he’s really ready to emerge and be an Air Force football player that’s a senior.”

Quintana, who will be a junior next fall, was listed as the starter at X on the Falcons’ first two two-deep charts before slipping to backup on the chart released Tuesday. Quintana emerged from obscurity in practices last August by catching whatever was thrown in his general direction. He made eight catches for 67 yards and a score in 2007.

Who Else: Freshman Kevin Fogler played on the Falcons’ junior varsity in 2007 but was impressive enough early in spring practice to earn the backup spot on Air Force’s second two-deep chart. The 6-6 Fogler “had some problems,” last week, Thiessen said, with some drops and a busted assignment and dropped off the chart released Tuesday. But he has shown plenty of potential this spring. Like Quintana, he is more of a possession receiver.

“He’s got a little bigger body, and he’s more physical,” Thiessen said. “He plays long, extends really well to fight for the football.”

Thiessen said the Falcons’ top three X receivers right now are Armstrong, Quintana and Fogler, but that Anthony Hemphill and Josh Cousins will push for playing time.

Z Receiver
Who’s Graduating:
Chad Hall. You might have heard of him. Only player in the nation to lead his team in rushing yards (1,478), receiving yards (524) and all-purpose yards (2,683).

Who’s Back: Ty Paffett. Calhoun has said all positions on his team are open, but Paffett is pretty well entrenched as the Falcons’ starter at Z. Paffett got good experience last year, playing the position when Hall lined up at tailback, and he has breakaway speed. Much more on Paffett in The Gazette later this week.

Who Else: Kyle Halderman and Brett Skene. Both players will be sophomores next year, though Halderman has a bit of an advantage as he played and traveled with the varsity the second half of last season.

“He got coached a lot last year, and we really came into spring expecting him to be the next guy,” behind Paffett, Air Force receivers coach Mike Thiessen said. “He’s got some growing up to do, he’s young, but that’s alright.”

Tight End
Who’s Graduating:
Chris Evans, who played sparingly last year.

Who’s Back: Travis Dekker, Keith Madsen, Steve Shaffer. After years when the tight end seemed borderline extinct at Air Force, it was brought back by Calhoun. Last season Travis Dekker caught 25 passes for 382 yards and two scores. The previous four seasons Air Force tight ends caught 19 combined passes.

The renewed emphasis on getting the tight end the ball is a good thing for the Falcons in 2008. Other than a dominant ground game that can relieve pressure from the passing game, nothing is better for an inexperienced quarterback than a big, reliable tight end. The Falcons have three.

Dekker, who will be a senior in 2008, clearly is the starter after ranking third in receptions in 2007 for Air Force. “I thought Travis played well for us last year,” Calhoun said. “He’s going to have to play even better this year. I think we’ve got to keep finding ways to be really resourceful to get him the ball.”

Madsen, who also will be a senior in 2008, caught five passes for 49 yards and a pair of touchdowns in 2007.

“I thought early in (2007), clearly, I thought Madsen was a pretty good football player for us,” Calhoun said. “I thought in the first half against Notre Dame, when he started, he was not very good. I thought in the second half of the game against Notre Dame, I thought he was a pretty solid football player. But it can’t be that temperature one time is at 30 degrees and all of a sudden it goes to 210 degrees – Madsen’s got to find some consistency.”

Madsen started spring as the Falcons’ backup at tight end, but Shaffer has supplanted him. Shaffer, who will be a sophomore in the fall, is big and athletic and talented. Calhoun said he “may have played better than Madsen at the end of (2007), but he wasn’t ready because he was a freshman.”

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