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Falcons build depth at receiver through camp

By: FRANK SCHWAB
August 25, 2011
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Air Force is never going to be a passing team, but when it does throw the ball, the Falcons aren’t lacking at receiver.  

The Falcons knew before training camp started that Zack Kauth and Jonathan Warzeka were talented playmakers. They combined for seven of Air Force’s 12 receiving touchdowns last year, and neither one was a full-time player. Kauth started the season behind senior Kevin Fogler at the outside “X” receiver spot, and Warzeka shared about half the snaps at the inside “Z” receiver position with senior Kyle Halderman.

What training camp has shown is Air Force has far more than Kauth and Warzeka. Brandon Hirneise started camp as a primary backup at receiver, but when he missed some time with a minor injury, Mikel Hunter had some great practices and reminded people of his early season surge last year. Both Hunter and Hirneise can be capable players in the offense.

The depth behind Warzeka at the “Z” position wasn’t as defined when camp opened, but sophomore Ty MacArthur has gone from virtual unknown (he wasn’t on the varsity roster before camp) to an intriguing Warzeka lookalike. Also, young players like Courtney Whitehead and Acey Palmer have made nice plays in practice.

There may not be a whole lot of receptions to go around, but quarterback Tim Jefferson should always have a couple of capable receivers to throw to, no matter who is in the game.

“We have some depth at the receiver position,” Jefferson said. “We just all have to get on the same page.”

Finding a capable backup for Warzeka was important. Warzeka isn’t the biggest player, at 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, and has a lot of responsibility between his do-everything position and as a kickoff returner. There’s a reason he and Halderman split time last year.

MacArthur was an unlikely candidate for that job at the beginning of camp, but his playing time with the first- and second-team offense has constantly grown through August.

“I’m just working hard and doing the best I can,” MacArthur said. “The offense is tough to learn as a freshman, so spring ball helped me a lot.”

Hunter was more of a known commodity. Last year, he scored three long touchdowns in Air Force’s first two games. Stuck behind older players on the depth chart, Hunter didn’t sustain that production, but he hasn’t lost the ability to make those plays.

“I just feel more confident this year,” Hunter said. “It’s knowing the offense, being around the guys and having more experience, and being on the big stage – we’ve had several big games, so that helps.”

While Kauth and Warzeka will be the primary focus at receiver, the others should get playing time and the Falcons will feel comfortable with them if injuries strike the starters.

“You have to have them ready,” receivers coach Mike Thiessen said. And they’ll be ready.”

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