This had the potential to be a comfortable spring for Air Force’s defensive backs.
The group returns three of four starters and 11 of the 12 who saw regular action last year. Spring would feature little more than some minor fine-tuning, right?
Well, then the Armed Forces Bowl happened. Rice’s 6-foot-5 receiver Jordan Taylor outmatched the group to the tune of 153 yards and three touchdowns.
After that, spring lost any potential for comfort.
“We have a lot to prove defensively,” said Charlton Warren, who has moved back into his role as secondary coach after taking a year away from coaching a particular position and instead coordinating the defense (Steve Russ moves up from secondary to coach middle linebackers, putting both at positions they consider their prefer. Russ will co-coordinate the defense with Warren).
The good news, as Warren sees it, is that the problems against Rice were entirely correctable. So that’s what he’s setting out to do over the spring practice sessions.
“That whole scenario was fundamentals and technique,” Warren said. “It doesn’t matter how tall a receiver is, if your technique and fundamentals are correct you have a chance to make plays.”
Warren isn’t starting from scratch with this group. Starting cornerbacks Chris Miller and Steffon Batts are back, as is safety Christian Spears. Freshman Dexter Walker is working with the first team at the other safety spot to replace senior Brian Lindsay. Walker saw action last year in certain defensive alignments and the 210-pound former high school tailback from Atlanta has the speed, size and attitude to be a big-time hitter.
The camaraderie within the group is obvious. During practice groups generally play four plays at a time then come off the field. The defensive backs take those breaks to dissect what just occurred so everyone is on the same page and improving.
“Everybody’s tight,” said Batts, who will be a junior next season. “We go out on the weekend, hang out during the week – we’re like family. They’re like my brothers. You don’t want to be the one coming back home knowing they made the play on me. We hold each other accountable. It seems to work.”
The group clearly has issues it must fix. Opponents averaged 210.6 passing yards per game against the Falcons last year, throwing 19 touchdowns vs. just eight interceptions.
As coach Troy Calhoun put it, there won’t any special beans like in "Jack and the Beanstalk" to fix any size mismatches.
The corners say that wouldn't be necessary. They’ve got this covered.
“We’ve just got to read our keys better and be in position,” Miller said. “We have the athletes back there to make the plays.”