Air Force football returned to the practice field with two injured starters back in the fold, another at a new position, a major piece of the coaching staff still up in the air and with a collective chip on its shoulder after a rare losing season.
Yes, there was a lot to take in as spring football began on a frigid Tuesday evening inside the Holaday Athletic Center.
“The focus is mainly on details and working on us as a team, getting our swagger back,” said senior-to-be Kyle Floyd, who has switched from safety to spur linebacker. “Just get it back. Walk with confidence. Talk to each other in a certain manner.”
Losing hasn’t been the norm for this program over the past four decades. In 11 years under Troy Calhoun, the team has missed a bowl game just twice. The first time saw a recovery from 10 losses to 10 wins the next year.
The team that will be charged with this latest turnaround after a 5-7 season has scarcely begun to form.
Defensively, the switch with Floyd made sense. Garrett Kauppila, who started and played well for three games at free safety before breaking his collarbone, is back from the injury. With Kauppila, Floyd and James Jones IV back to man three positions, the move allows all three to remain on the field. Floyd was recruited as a spur – the hybrid position that can fill the role of a defensive back or outside linebacker – and is the biggest of the three.
“I like it,” Floyd said. “I’m comfortable at spur. It just fits me. I like hitting and I like getting down and dirty.”
Most of the other defensive spots included players who have seen significant snaps, with the exception being inside linebacker, where Brody Bagnall and Kyle Johnson lined up with the first team on the first day.
It is still uncertain who will lead the defense.
Coach Troy Calhoun said he hasn’t named a defensive coordinator yet to replace Steve Russ, though he was oddly evasive on the topic after initially responding, “We do,” when asked if he had a defensive coordinator at practice.
“It’s just not where our focus is,” Calhoun said. “We want to build a room where we get input from everybody and more than anything else we want to focus on players, their growth, their development and their improvement of their fundamentals.”
On the offensive side, competition will be the theme of spring practice.
Quarterback Arion Worthman was back under center following the MCL injury that cost him the final two games of the season but did not require surgery. He’ll be pushed by Isaiah Sanders, who ran for 195 yards on a record 44 carries in a victory over Utah State in the finale.
“I think I learned a lot in the two games I was out, just learning the flow of the game and see what I can do better just watching as opposed to playing,” said Worthman, who injured the knee early in a loss to Wyoming but finished the game. “Just being able to sit back and get a different perspective of the game.”
At least six tailbacks worked through practice on Tuesday, with senior Malik Miller, juniors Nolan Eriksen, Christian Mallard and Joseph Saucier and sophomore Kade Remsberg among the many vying for time.
“There’s a number of guys who feel like they have the opportunity to be the starter, and it’s true,” offensive coordinator Mike Thiessen said. “Again, you’ll see a lot of guys roll in there with the first few groups so we can see how good they are, how they respond, and see how well they bounce back, too.”
Calhoun said he “can’t wait to see” the competition unfold at tailback, but he said the positions on the offensive line are even more open.
Yes, there is a lot for Air Force to sort through over the next 14 practices.