Air Force's experienced offensive line ready to improve

August 9, 2011
photo - A.J. Wallerstein pulls a rifle out of the hands of basic Cadet John Grondin on the assault course in Jacks Valley earlier this month. Photo by MARK REIS, THE GAZETTE
A.J. Wallerstein pulls a rifle out of the hands of basic Cadet John Grondin on the assault course in Jacks Valley earlier this month. Photo by MARK REIS, THE GAZETTE 

Air Force offensive line coach Clay Hendrix is a friendly guy, likes to chat. He was just surprised at how often last preseason he was asked to chat about having to replace five starters.

“I told them, last year was the most interviewed I’ve ever been in 27 years, and it was all about that,” Hendrix said.

All is calm for Hendrix this year. He technically has three starters back, but he counts four returning starters because Jordan Eason played half the snaps at left guard. The only brand new starter is right tackle Kevin Whitt, but there doesn’t seem to be any concern about him going into the season.

The offensive line had a fantastic season despite the inexperience. The Falcons finished second in the nation in rushing offense - the team is usually among the leaders - and allowed the fewest sacks in the nation. If Hendrix was able to mold that inexperienced group into one of the nation’s most efficient units, there’s good reason to believe Air Force’s line will take another step forward.

“You can get better every day,” senior guard A.J. Wallerstein said. “It’s the little things – steps, pad level, hands, all of that. You can always have more yards.”

Wallerstein was a second-team all-Mountain West pick at right guard last year and a preseason first-team pick this year. He should be one of the elite linemen in the conference as a senior. Left tackle Jason Kons and center Michael Hester are the other returning starters, but Hester could be tested this season after Jeffrey Benson played so well in the spring. Benson is going to miss most of camp with a knee injury, but Hendrix wants to find a way to get him on the field, even if it’s rotating him in at guard.

Hendrix is still a little concerned about the depth, because there isn’t much experience. The second-team line in camp, from left to right, has been Jerry Henry, Drew Kerber, Michael Husar, Moshood Adeniji and Alex Huskisson. There is one varsity game of experience among those five. Husar played in the 2010 season opener. Hendrix usually likes rotating offensive linemen during series, and he said there’s some promise among the second-team group, and some might see playing time. He also singled out Husar as a possibility to rotate in.

Assuming the rotation gets settled and the line stays reasonably healthy, Hendrix shouldn’t have much to worry about this season.

“They were pretty good last year,” Hendrix said. “You look back, we could be a lot better, though.”

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