2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • Practice Wrap – 8/20

    Mon, August 20, 2007 by admin with 3 comments

    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

  • Practice Wrap – 8/18

    Sat, August 18, 2007 by admin with 2 comments

    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.

  • Practice Wrap – 8/17

    Fri, August 17, 2007 by admin with 2 comments

    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

    Fri, August 17, 2007 by admin with 3 comments

    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.”

  • Practice Wrap – 8/15

    Wed, August 15, 2007 by admin with 4 comments

    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

    Wed, August 15, 2007 by admin with 3 comments

    Just took a look at si.com 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.

  • Practice Wrap – 8/13

    Mon, August 13, 2007 by admin with 2 comments

    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.

  • Practice Wrap – 8/11

    Sat, August 11, 2007 by admin with 2 comments

    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.

  • Practice Wrap – 8/10

    Fri, August 10, 2007 by admin with 3 comments

    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.

  • Practice Wrap – 8/9

    Thu, August 9, 2007 by admin with 4 comments

    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.”