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  • Practice Wrap – 7/31

    Thu, July 31, 2008 by admin with 2 comments

    Are you ready for some football?

    After months of writing about what might happen, who could be good and which players have a chance to start, I definitely was ready.

    For those of you who are new to the blog, I’ll be posting a quick wrap of each practice here. As I said in an earlier post, please fire away with questions and comments about what I need to cover.

    As for today, all in all, for the first day of practice, it wasn’t bad. Clearly some rust, clearly some things that need to be improved, but for the most part a solid effort

    “It was a normal first day – doing a lot of mental reps and getting used to breathing with the helmet on and shoes and whatnot,” Air Force senior center Andrew Pipes said. “It’s just getting back into the mode. Nothing too special or heavy about it.”

     

    With that, some quick thoughts:

    Who Stood Out: A pair of sophomore receivers – Kevin Fogler and Nate Carlson.

    Fogler stands out before he even makes a play because of his size. At 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds, he has the prototype frame for a receiver. Back in the spring I mentioned Fogler as a player to watch, and he looks even more comfortable with the varsity now. He made a few nice grabs Thursday.

    Carlson (no shrimp himself at 6-4, 215 pounds) also was impressive Thursday. He made a sliding grab on a go pattern and later reached high to snag a ball on a post pattern.

    Lasting Image: Air Force coach Troy Calhoun telling sophomore Z receiver Kyle Halderman to “finish.”

    During the 11-on-11 “team” portion of the practice (near the end of the session), Halderman got the ball on a designed run around left tackle. After a few yards he was swarmed by defenders who grabbed onto him (remember, there was no tackling because players were in helmets, jerseys and shorts). The play was over, and players, including Halderman, jogged back to the line of scrimmage.

    Nothing wrong with that, right?

    Wrong.

    When a play is whistled dead, coaches want the ball carrier to “finish” the play by sprinting another 10 to 20 yards. Players did it all last season, even getting up off the ground to “finish.”

    Calhoun saw Halderman simply walking back to the line of scrimmage and yelled to him to “finish.” With other coaches and players yelling and discussing what went right and wrong on the play, Halderman couldn’t hear Calhoun, even when the coach repeated himself. So Calhoun grabbed a ball, walked across the field, handed it to Halderman and got him to run down the field to finish the play.

    QB Corner: I think it will be at least two weeks, and maybe three, before Calhoun decides upon a starter or decides that two guys will split time. And the depth chart could flip a couple times before then.

    Junior Eric Herbort was listed as the starter heading into the preseason, but he had only the slightest advantage over senior Shea Smith, last year’s backup. On Thursday, I thought both had some good moments. Herbort is clearly a little quicker on his feet – and that showed on designed runs – but Smith was a bit sharper throwing the ball today. Herbort forced a throw into traffic late in the practice, hitting strong safety Stephan Atrice in the hands (though Atrice couldn’t quite come up with it).

    Calhoun said Smith and Herbort both were good “for a first day. You can just tell they’re older.”

    Quote to Note: “I think it helps a lot because of the older guys who know it. Guys like myself and Shea Smith, we can kind of teach the younger guys who don’t know it as well. We can teach them a little more, and it brings everyone up to speed a littler faster.” – Senior fullback Todd Newell on the benefits of having a year of experience with Calhoun’s system. Something I wrote about in one of the articles that will appear in tomorrow’s edition of The Gazette.

  • Notes from Media Day

    Wed, July 30, 2008 by admin with 5 comments

    One thing Air Force coaches can cross off their worry list – whether players would show up to camp in shape.

    On Wednesday, the day before the start of preseason practices, the Falcons administered their run test – a set of timed sprints. The results were “Terrific,” according to Air Force coach Troy Calhoun.

    With his players spread across the globe during the summer, Calhoun admitted he often thinks about whether they’re working out as hard as they should. The results he saw today tell him they were.

    Some other notes from Air Force’s media day:

    -Newell at TB?: The team of my youth was the Washington Redskins. I grew up going to games with my father at RFK – site of some of my fondest memories.

    Back then, before Danny Snyder turned the Skins into a loathsome bunch of overpriced free agent flops (basically the Yankees without all the titles), the franchise was loveable. Washington had the Hogs, the Fun Bunch and Riggo. And they had a short-yardage package called “Heavy Jumbo.” (Three tight ends – one of whom was a linemen – and a big back).

    So what does this have to do with Air Force? Calhoun said Wednesday that he would try using 5-foot-10, 215-pound Todd Newell, the Falcons’ starting fullback, as a tailback in short-yardage situations.

    “Just because he’s a big load,” Calhoun said. “A little bit last year, when you look back, there were some times on third-and-1 when maybe we didn’t convert as well as we would have liked. We were still pretty good, but I think we’ve got to be great. Especially at the academy, you just don’t have enough big plays, you don’t hit enough home runs, so I think you’ve got to convert on third-and-1.”

    I like it. Newell lining up behind backup fullback Jared Tew (another load at 6-foot and 210 pounds) would be pretty formidable near the goal line. Now we just need a name for that package. I’m open to suggestions.

    -Hitting Starts Tuesday: Calhoun said his players would practice in helmets and shorts on Thursday and Friday, add shoulder pads on Saturday and first begin full-contact practices on Tuesday.

    -QB Chronicles: Some thoughts from the two leading candidates to replace Shaun Carney (senior Shea Smith and junior Eric Herbort).

    Smith on if Calhoun has talked to the QBs about when he plans to name a starter: “He really hasn’t. He just expects us to come play, and he handles the depth chart. He just wants us to come out and compete and do our best.”

    Smith on how this fall will be different: “I guess maybe we’ll get some more reps with Herb and I getting a lot of them. I’m just looking forward to getting started. We’ve got a lot of guys that don’t have a ton of experience, so it’s going to be fun to see the team come together a little bit.”

    Herbort on whether this year feels different: “I guess there’s a little more anticipation this year, but other than that it’s the same. I’m just going to go out there and try to get as good as I can.”

    -That’s it in a Nutshell: I’ll end what’s probably my final pre-preseason post with a quote from Calhoun that I think sums up the Falcons’ 2008 squad:

    “Every spot we have is a concern. Now, I can’t tell you if we’ve got many that are really just frets and worries, because I think we’ve got capable kids. I look at a number of spots, we’ve got guys that are pretty good football players. Now, they haven’t played a whole lot of college football. And what we’ve got to do is accelerate and press and fast-forward to get to the point where we are more consistent.”

  • Practice Starts Thursday

    Mon, July 28, 2008 by admin with 5 comments

    We’re just a couple days away from the start of practice, so I wanted to mention that I’ll be making posts on this blog after each preseason session. So make sure to check in daily, and please let me know if there’s anything you want me to write about more or less or if there’s a subject I haven’t touched upon that you’d like me to hit.

    One thing I’m sure I’ll be writing about quite a bit is the quarterback battle. And, while I’m on that subject, I read an interesting article about QB competitions today. It’s by SI.com’s Ross Tucker, and you can find it here. Though Tucker is dealing with NFL QB battles and some of the things he discusses don’t apply in college, I thought it was a good read.

  • Carney Ready to Coach

    Sat, July 26, 2008 by admin with 5 comments

    In 2008, for the first time in four seasons, Shaun Carney won’t be playing quarterback for Air Force.

    But Carney, who graduated in May, still will be a part of the program this season. He and recently graduated inside linebacker Drew Fowler will be serving as graduate assistants for the Falcons. Classmate Blaine Guenther, who started at center last season, is serving as a graduate assistant for the prep school team.

    “It’s going to be fun to be on the other side of it,” said Carney, who hopes to make coaching his career at some point in the future. “I’m looking forward to seeing what goes on behind the scenes.”

    Carney, who started 44 games for Air Force and is the academy’s all-time leading passer, still is recovering from the gruesome knee injury that prematurely ended his career late in the third quarter of the Armed Forces Bowl last December. Carney dislocated his knee cap, damaged the ligaments in the knee cap and tore his ACL, MCL and PCL in his right knee. He had surgery a couple months after the season, spent time in a wheel chair and began walking in May. He still is rehabbing and cannot yet run.

    “All the ligaments are strong now, I’ve just got to get the muscle back all around it so I can start doing some things,” Carney said. “I’ve been playing golf for a little while, so that’s all that matters.”

    Carney will spend much of his time as a graduate assistant putting together “cut-ups” – DVDs that coaches use to scout opponents and identify tendencies. During practices he’ll be helping organize the scout team defense that faces the first-team offense. And during games he’ll be on the sideline and will be able to give Falcon quarterbacks some guidance.

    Asked what advice he’d give the players vying to replace him, Carney said he’d emphasize taking advantage of every chance to make a play.

    “I think the first thing you learn is how little of an opportunity you have – you only get so many plays,” Carney said. “You think that you’re going to be on varsity for the whole season, but really you’re up there as a tryout. You’ve got to make an impression early. So it’s play hard and let loose and hopefully you make a good enough impression they keep you for the next day.”

    Carney said one play he made in a scrimmage early in his freshman year made a name for him and helped key his winning the starting job.

    “We’d only been out there for like a week,” Carney said. “It was a scrimmage on Saturday, and I escaped from the pocket and ran to my left and the wide receiver came with me about 40 yards down field. And I turned to my left and threw a good ball, and it was like a 50-yard gain. It was just something I don’t think they’d seen in a while from an Air Force quarterback.”

    With Carney’s guidance, perhaps the new Falcon quarterbacks will continue to make such plays.

  • Army Alters Controversial Policy

    Wed, July 23, 2008 by admin with 2 comments

    Army has revised its policy regarding graduates participating in professional sports, bringing it in line with the Department of Defense’s take on the issue.

    Now, like graduates of Air Force and Navy, Army graduates must serve on active duty for two years before pursuing a pro sports career.

    This immediately and specifically impacts recent Army grad Caleb Campbell, who was chosen by the Detroit Lions in the seventh round of this year’s NFL Draft. Campbell, who was set to start training camp tomorrow with the Lions, now will not be able to play professionally immediately. Here’s a link to a story about Campbell.

    The down-the-road/broader impact of the change is that Army will not have what many perceived as a recruiting advantage over its service academy rivals. All three academies typically are recruiting from the same pool of athletes, and only Army had been able to tell a kid, “You can go to the pros immediately after graduation.” Now all three academies have to play by the same rules.

    Here is a statement from the Army on the policy change:

    “The U.S. Army revised its policy related to Soldiers participating in professional sports. The policy change now allows for a request for waiver of service after two years of active duty. This action was taken to uniformly apply military service obligations for all members of the U.S. Army. Once those affected complete two years of active duty, they are eligible to pursue professional sports opportunities.

    “Once 2nd Lt. Campbell completes a minimum of two years of active service in the Army, he may apply for release from active duty for the purpose of pursuing a professional sports career. Clearly, 2nd Lt. Campbell deserves the well-earned recognition he’s received for his outstanding football career at West Point and subsequent selection by the Detroit Lions. He is an outstanding athlete who displayed the dedication, determination and discipline required of a champion. He has the qualities we expect of our leaders, and is the kind of leader our Soldiers deserve.”

    Campbell had been drafted (and the Lions expected him to be available to play this season) because of Army’s controversial Alternative Service Option policy, which said grads who made pro rosters could play immediately after graduation while serving as part-time recruiters.

    The problem was the Army was using the policy to circumvent the Department of Defense’s policy, which clearly stated service academy grads had to serve two years of active duty before going to the pros.

    Once Campbell was drafted and a light was shined on Army’s policy, David Chu, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, sent a letter to the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force to clarify the Department of Defense policy. The letter reiterated the policy and made it clear that playing pro ball while doing some part-time recruiting did not qualify as “active duty.”

    When I first learned of the memo from Chu, I thought Army would revise its policy and get rid of the Alternative Service Option, as it has. However, I thought Campbell would be grandfathered in and allowed to play with the Lions immediately. It had to be tough on him to find out about all this on the night before training camp. But kudos to Campbell, who took the news without a trace of bitterness.

    Check out this quote from him that appeared in the story that I linked above:

    “When I got drafted, I told people that I was going to have the best of both worlds,” Campbell said. “I was going to be in the United States Army, and I was going to have a chance to play professional football. Now, I have the best of one world and I’m very positive about that. It’s all going to work out. … I’m in great shape and I’m going to stay in great shape. I’m going to fulfill my duty to the United States Army and do what I’ve got to do. One day, hopefully, I’ll get another opportunity to play in the NFL.”

  • Las Vegas Leftovers

    Wed, July 23, 2008 by admin with 4 comments

    I got back to Colorado last night, but I still have some more Air Force notes from the Mountain West Conference media days in Vegas.

    -Air Force will add a second patch to its uniforms this season.

    Last year, each of the Falcons wore a patch from one of the Air and Space Expeditionary wings in the Air Force on the left shoulder of his jersey. This year the Falcons will wear those plus the official U.S. Air Force symbol on the other shoulder.

    “I love it,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “It’s the worldwide Air Force symbol. It’s what the young, enlisted soldier wears on his workout sweats. That’s what we are. We’re the Air Force’s school. Anything that helps us identify and realize the connection we have with one another, I want that to be a part of us. And we’re always looking for ways to make that bond even stronger.”

    -Calhoun called his incoming freshmen “a tremendous recruiting class.”

    He said the exposure Air Force received by playing in a bowl game was “a huge part” of attracting the class.

    “All the kids that we recruit had a chance to watch that contest,” he said. “And I think probably some of them looked out there and thought, ‘I’m a little bit bigger than the guys Air Force is playing with right now,’ or, ‘I move a little bit better than the guys that are out there representing the academy at this time.’”

    -On the front cover of the newly released media guide are senior Travis Dekker, juniors Nick Charles and Chris Thomas and sophomore Reggie Rembert.

    Often the front covers of media guides are reserved for seniors (and all four players on the back cover of this year’s guide are seniors – Ryan Harrison, Ryan Kemp, Hunter Altman and Keith Williams). But having a pair of juniors and a sophomore up front, I think, captures Calhoun’s philosophy that the best players will play, regardless of age.

    “I think that’s the only fair way to do it,” Calhoun said.

    -Calhoun said Monday that there was nothing new to report on linebackers Drew Fowler and John Rabold and all-purpose back Chad Hall, the recently graduated players who had hopes of catching on with an NFL team, at least for training camp.

    But, “Where that may change is here in seven to 10 days as these NFL camps open,” Calhoun said. “Most of them open this Friday, this weekend. And if guys are injured, now they bring a new guy in. And I think for those guys, those are the most viable opportunities.”

    -Senior Z receiver Ty Paffett, who is recovering from back surgery, likely will be limited early in the preseason, and nose guard Jared Marvin still is recovering from offseason knee surgery. But Calhoun said Air Force should begin the preseason with “a very healthy football team.”

  • Whittingham: Want Respect? Beat the Big Boys

    Tue, July 22, 2008 by admin with no comments

    Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has a simple way for Mountain West Conference teams to increase the league’s credibility and respect across the nation.

    “We’ve got to beat our quality non-conference opponents,” he said.

    The Utes have one of the biggest. They face traditional power (albeit depleted) Michigan in their opener on Aug. 30 in Ann Arbor.

    Whittingham dismissed the notion that Utah might be considered the favorite because of the heavy graduation losses Michigan suffered.

    “They did lose a lot of people, but I don’t care – they’re Michigan,” he said. “They’ve got four solid, great recruiting classes under their belt with people just coming up through the system.”

    And considering the Wolverines were upset in their opener last season by Division I-AA Appalachian State, forget about Michigan looking past the Utes.

    “I think Appalachian State already took that sneak approach … there’s heightened awareness in Ann Arbor about that happening again,” Whittingham said.

  • CSU’s Fairchild Taking Aim at MWC Elite

    Tue, July 22, 2008 by admin with no comments

    Air Force coach Troy Calhoun has spoken several times about how the competition in the Mountain West Conference is far superior to the competition the Falcons faced in the Western Athletic Conference when he was a player and then an assistant coach.

    First-year Colorado State coach Steve Fairchild has a similar assessment of the MWC.

    “When I first started in the early 90s (as an assistant at CSU), you could almost count a win or two on your schedule, and you can’t do that anymore,” he said. “It’s a pretty solid league. … BYU is obviously back and on top like they were for so many years. They’re up and running, and they’re clearly an elite program right now. Utah and TCU have obviously recruited well because they’re very athletic teams. Those are the teams – New Mexico’s good as well – but those are the teams that we’ve got to catch. We’ve got to go get those teams, and CSU’s been one of those teams in the past, and hopefully we’ll close that ground pretty quick.”

  • BYU and the BCS

    Tue, July 22, 2008 by admin with no comments

    To the victors go … the expectations.

    Having posted back-to-back 11-2 seasons with back-to-back MWC titles, BYU is being mentioned as a team that could go undefeated and break into the BCS. The Cougar contingent at the league’s media days got plenty of questions about it the last two days.

    I think it will be interesting to see where BYU is ranked in the preseason. The higher the Cougars are ranked, the less they have to climb. I asked BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall about it that.

    “I think it’s fun to talk about. I think it’s great for the fans in generating interest,” Mendenhall said. “And the only thing I would acknowledge is the higher you start, the more you have a chance to be within striking distance if you happen to have that fantastic season, as if you started out of the Top 25. … You acknowledge that and then we go right to saying, that doesn’t matter now, it’s Northern Iowa (who the Cougars play in their opener). So it’s a brief acknowledgement, and then we go forward.”

    Asked about being mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate, BYU quarterback Max Hall, the MWC preseason offensive player of the year, said “I don’t think about it. To win a Heisman Trophy award would be awesome. It’d be great to even be mentioned on that list. But what means more to me is what my teammates think of me and how we finish at the end of the year.”

  • Air Force Gets No Love

    Tue, July 22, 2008 by admin with 4 comments

    Air Force was shut out of the Mountain West Conference’s 10th Anniversary football team released on Tuesday at the league’s media days.

    The team, released in celebration of the Mountain West’s  10th anniversary, is composed of players who earned all-conference first-team honors at least once in their careers. The team was selected by a combined panel of media, institutional and conference personnel and an on-line fan poll.

    Air Force was the only one of the league’s nine teams not to have a representative on the team.

    Rampart High graduate Dexter Wynn, who played at Colorado State from 2000 to 2003, was named the team’s punt/kick returner.

    OFFENSE

    Pos Name (School)                                              Years Played in MWC

    QB Alex Smith (Utah)                                            2002-04

    RB Luke Staley (BYU)                                          1999-01

    RB DonTrell Moore (New Mexico)                       2002-05

    WR David Anderson (CSU)                                  2002-05

    WR Jovon Bouknight (Wyoming)                           2002-05

    TE Jonny Harline (BYU)                                        2004-06

    OL Ryan Cook (New Mexico)                              2002-05

    OL Doug Kaufusi (Utah)                                       1999-01

    OL Jordan Gross (Utah)                                        1999-02

    OL Erik Pears (CSU)                                            2001-04

    OL Adam Goldberg (Wyoming)                            1999-02

    DEFENSE

    DL Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (San Diego St.)            1999

    DL Chase Ortiz (TCU)                                          2005-07

    DL Brady Poppinga (BYU)                                   2001-04

    DL Steve Fifita (Utah)                                           2002-05

    LB Rob Morris (BYU)                                          1999

    LB Kirk Morrison (San Diego St.)                         2001-04

    LB Beau Bell (UNLV)                                           2004-07

    DB Brian Urlacher (New Mexico)                          1999

    DB Will Demps (San Diego State)                          1999-01

    DB Jamaal Brimmer (UNLV)                                 2001-04

    DB Eric Weddle (Utah)                                          2003-06

    SPECIALISTS

    K John Sullivan (New Mexico)                               2004-07

    P Matt Payne (BYU)                                              2001-04

    Ret Dexter Wynn (CSU)                                        2000-03