There were no different-colored jerseys and no quick whistles for Air Force quarterbacks Saturday.
Everyone was live in the first scrimmage of spring practice, including returning starting quarterback Arion Worthman. This is a departure from the norm, as Air Force – like most programs – typically shields its quarterbacks from contact.
“When you go 5-7, no one’s exempt,” one coach said.
The live scrimmage, which continued for more than an hour, showed some revealing early signs about the team. For starters, the defense appears far ahead of the offense, at least among the first team, with the widest disparity coming up front. This makes sense at a first scrimmage, considering the defensive line returns almost entirely intact whereas the offensive line is almost entirely rebuilt.
The offense’s first play saw Worthman sacked. The second resulted in a turnover on a fumbled shotgun snap. The unit in general struggled until Worthman, throwing under pressure, completed a pass for about 25 yards to receiver Geraud Sanders. Tailback Malik Miller soon after posted a big gain, but there were few other highlights for the top offense.
Some of the later highlights from offensive players included a long touchdown run from sophomore (all classes are listed by what players will be in the fall) tailback Christian Mallard, a strong run for a long score on a swing pass by sophomore tailback Joseph Saucier that included several broken tackles and, from that same class, a pair of catches from 6-foot-5 receiver Luke Miller. Senior slot receiver Andrew Smith caught a pair of passes, sophomore quarterback Donald Hammond III showed some grit to get to the pylon on a touchdown.
Defensively, most of the top unit up front stood out, including nose guard Mosese Fifita. There were several sophomores who showed they might soon join their returning-starter classmates Lakota Wills (outside linebacker) and Jordan Jackson (defensive tackle) in vying for playing time. Cornerback Tre’ Bugg, a former three-star recruit from Arizona, was playing on the second team and made one of the day’s better plays by deflecting a pass intended for Jake Matkovich. Safety Valentino Espinoza is also playing with the second team and Palmer Ridge product George Silvanic, now with a filled out 6-6 frame, made an athletic sack from his defensive tackle spot.
Players and coaches were not available to media Saturday, but offensive coordinator Mike Thiessen had indicated earlier in the week that the spring session was going to be physical.
“I think you’ll see quarterbacks be a lot more prevalent in what we do,” said Thiessen, who coaches the quarterbacks. “They’re going to get hit. They’re going to get banged around. They’re going to get tackled. We’ve got to find out who we are.”