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Christian Mallard emerges from crop of tailbacks at Air Force spring football game

April 8, 2017 Updated: April 9, 2017 at 7:00 am

CASTLE ROCK - Christian Mallard needed 3 yards for a first down. The freshman tailback picked up about 3 yards and an inch.

On his next carry, he needed 4 yards. He got about 4 and an inch.

Air Force's offense picked up first downs on the following two runs from the 5-foot-8, 210-pound freshman, one on an 11-yard run, the next from 8.

This was the kind of breakout the Falcons witnessed in an offense vs. defense setting in the Blue & Silver Game played late Saturday morning in front of about 1,500 fans at Douglas County High School in Castle Rock. With the exception of two defensive scoop-and-score plays on fumbles and a 57-yard run from quarterback Miller Mosely when the defense forgot to account for him, there was not an explosion of big plays. Instead, the on-field storylines were more subtle.

It was defensive tackle Micah Copra clogging up the inside and making a pair of stops behind the line of scrimmage. It was cornerbacks Dailen Sutton and Zane Lewis breaking up third-down passes.

And it was Mallard, emerging from a crowded crop of tailbacks by showing the power and awareness to get exactly what the down and distance dictated.

"The thing with Christian, he's strong, he's durable and he realizes there are going to be lumps that are going to be involved," coach Troy Calhoun said. "He's still got to make more improvement, but you saw some points and different spots throughout the spring where there's capability."

Freshman tailback Joseph Saucier had been the home-run hitter of the position group through the spring with long runs in other scrimmage settings, but he carried just twice for 12 yards Saturday.

Quarterback Arion Worthman, tailback Tim McVey, the starting offensive line, linebackers Grant Ross and Jack Flor and defensive tackle Santo Coppola were among the players who did not see action in the scrimmage portion of Saturday's practice. Nate Romine was one of three quarterbacks rotating in by drives - which began with the ball at the offense's 43-yard line - but he wore a black jersey, meaning the whistle blew as soon as defenders got close to him. When freshmen Isaiah Sanders and Mosely played quarterback, the action continued through the full tackle.

To get wrapped up in specific stats in a setting like this would be like obsessing over spring training stats in baseball. It's more about impressions and establishing skill sets.

In that regard, freshman Geraud Sanders made a move toward earning a starting receiver spot with a pair of 35-yard catches. Freshman linebacker Thomas King notched a sack and later recovered a fumble that he took to the end zone in an eye-opening performance.

Isaiah Sanders showed he would be a load as a running quarterback, carrying for 15 times for 56 yards (without accounting for a pair of sacks). The Palmer Ridge graduate also completed 4 of 5 passes for 54 yards.

But Sanders didn't lead any scoring drives, while Mosely led two while running three times for 61 yards and completing 2 of 6 passes for 17 yards (numbers hit by a pair of drops).

Romine also led a scoring march, punctuated by a 35-yard scoring pass to Geraud Sanders.

With different offensive lines rotating through and different defensive groups taking snaps, those stats - which are highly unofficial - should not be studied too intensely.

Calhoun permitted only himself and members of the upcoming senior class to talk to media.

The offense scored three touchdowns and the defense scored twice - or would have, had the whistle not blown because there were coaches and managers on the field behind the offense.

"I thought we did really good on both sides, I saw a lot of good things from both the offense and defense," center Alex Norton said. "It was a good mixture of both."

And as an event, Air Force couldn't have been happier about the turnout on a morning with picturesque weather.

Air Force played a spring game to the east at District 20 Stadium three years ago, went south to Fountain-Fort Carson last season and now has ventured north to Castle Rock.

Calhoun didn't know where it might look next, but it seems like this idea of playing at different sites is something the program will continue to pursue.

"I don't know if we're quite a traveling show yet, but this is great," Calhoun said. "What a fantastic turnout."