Coming off a blowout loss to TCU, Air Force has to deal with being without two injured defensive starters for the next 8-10 weeks.
Starting outside outside linebacker Patrick Hennessey and starting nose guard Ryan Gardner each suffered injuries against TCU that will keep them out for almost the entire regular season, Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said.
Hennessey broke a bone near the base of his thumb, and had surgery Monday to insert a screw. Gardner injured the medial collateral ligament in his right knee.
Calhoun said the defense will be affected because it disrupts continuity. Gardner and Hennessey were both senior returning starters.
“We’ll work through it, and we’re going to have to,” Calhoun said. “Somebody else is going to have to get in there and go have at it, which they will.”
Jamil Cooks is the likely replacement for Hennessey. He made one of Air Force’s best plays against TCU, sacking quarterback Casey Pachall, stripping the ball from him and recovering the fumble on the same play. Junior Cody Miller and junior Nick DeJulio are among the candidates to replace Gardner.
Calhoun brought up the 2010 season, when key defensive contributors like safety Brian Lindsay, Gardner, and defensive linemen Zach Payne and Ben Kopacka missed significant time.
“We worked through it last year too,” Calhoun said. “I thought our defensive staff did a phenomenal job of getting our guys in positions that they were able to execute really well.”
The defense will miss the two injured starters, but it can’t dwell on that either.
“It hurts us, but we do have a lot of depth,” said Lindsay, who played against TCU despite an injury issue of his own. “We’ll move a couple guys around, and we have more than enough talent to hopefully make up for it. You can’t replace those guys, but you can fill their spot.”
Quarterback Tim Jefferson had precautionary X-rays for an injured forearm, but he is fine and was back at practice.
The team is trying to put the TCU loss behind it during this bye week. Air Force’s next game is against Tennessee State on Sept. 24. The loss was difficult, because of the way the Horned Frogs dominated the game, but that’s another thing the players can dwell on.
“When we were watching film on it, a lot of it was busted coverage and not running to the ball, which makes you mad, but once the film was over, we’re done with it,” Lindsay said.