Note: This is Part III of “Enemy Lines,” a series in which I trade e-mails with Christian Swezey, one of my good friends and a fellow sportswriter who has covered Navy for many years. The initial portions of our exchange are in the posts below.
I think there’s no question there’s a talent gap between Navy and Air Force, especially at the skill positions. For now.
Recruiting efforts had broken down significantly during the final years of the Fisher DeBerry Era, as evidenced by this alarming stat: Of the 55 official visit recruits brought to Air Force early in 2005 prior to signing day, only five were with the program as of signing day in 2008. And only three were in the Falcons’ two-deep during the 2007 season. That’s poor retention but also poor evaluation.
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun is trying to change that. Revamping recruiting was one of his biggest projects upon taking over for DeBerry. He’s changed the whole approach, as I wrote about extensively last year, and given his assistants much more time during the year to concentrate on evaluation.
Air Force got things on track a bit with Calhoun’s first class (which, admittedly was thrown together), and with the current freshmen (the first true recruiting class of this coaching staff). Check this out – 18 of Air Force’s 44 first- and second-string offensive and defensive players are freshmen or sophomores.
So I think Air Force is closing the talent gap, but the Navy seniors are really good. Calhoun has been raving about them, specifically the skill guys you mentioned. “Four years ago,” he said of the Navy coaching staff, “they did a great job of recruiting.”
And you make a good point about Rembert. They have tried him on offense (admittedly not as much lately) because they don’t have very many game-breakers. Not really sure there’s anybody on the Air Force offense that keeps opposing coordinators up at night. Lots of solid players, but – for instance – when I was thinking who the offensive MVP would be through four games … I couldn’t really think of one.
Now, that changes a bit with seniors Travis Dekker and Ty Paffett returning to the lineup. Dekker is a big body and has sure hands (he made two great catches in Monday’s practice) and will help the Falcons’ inexperienced quarterbacks. Paffett, meantime, has something most Air Force skill guys lack – true straight-ahead speed. Perhaps he can stretch the field.
As for your other questions, the fullback still will be the defense’s “initial priority,” according to Calhoun, but he warned of the other weapons the Midshipmen possess. Not sure the game plan changes too much if it’s Kaipo or Bryant. Calhoun said he thought Bryant might have quicker feet but Kaipo has more experience.
I talked to Ken Niumatalolo Monday, and he downplayed Navy’s five-game winning streak as a big advantage. But I’ve got to believe it really helps the Midshipmen. I feel like they just have to believe a bit more when the games are tight late. What’s your take on that?
Also, the Navy defense keyed the win over Wake, it seemed. How much has that unit improved from last year?