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Extended scrimmage allows Air Force opportunity to see full football roster

March 4, 2017 Updated: March 4, 2017 at 9:15 pm
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Quarterback Isaiah Sanders throws during spring practice Thursday, March 2, 2017, at Air Force Academy. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

There was more football played at Air Force on this Saturday in early March than will take place on any in September, October or November.

For about two hours and 180 snaps, the Falcons played live, to-the-ground football. Even the quarterbacks - save for Arion Worthman and Nate Romine - were fair game.

"I think you've got to," said coach Troy Calhoun, who gave a slew of live snaps to freshman quarterbacks Isaiah Sanders, Dalton Collins and Miller Mosley. "One, you learn how to make some hard yards. The other part is the reality of football is you're going to get hit. You've just got to find the guys who can play through the rough spots. The best players are the ones who handle setbacks."

It was in similar scrimmages last year that Worthman emerged as the top backup behind Romine. He eventually became the starting quarterback and led Air Force to six straight victories to close the season as a sophomore.

The three freshmen seeing time showed glimpses of skills that could propel them to large roles. Sanders, a Palmer Ridge product, is the most impressive physical specimen in the group and was the first of the freshmen to see time in the scrimmage. His big arm and quality speed were shown off on multiple plays, but it was hardly a perfect performance.

"I think Isaiah has made a lot of progress since he's been here," Calhoun said. "Really a fine worker and a guy with a good bit of improvement that's still out in front of him."

Collins broke off several long runs and Mosely showed some creativity and a knack for running the option. On one play he faked a run, then threw deep to receiver Tyler Vaught for a long gain. On another he hit a wide-open Ben Waters for a score.

The defense also appreciates the chance to have the quarterbacks in play, rather than have the whistle blow as soon as a would-be tackler gets close.

"It's great," linebacker Jack Flor said. "It's tough holding off every day in practice. It's good just to let loose for once."

The scrimmage setting didn't produce a clear winner for the offense or defense, but that alone should be taken as a good sign for a defense that loses 12 of its top 13 tacklers from last season and the entire secondary.

The offense picked on that secondary just a bit early, with Worthman completing a short pass to Ronald Cleveland on the first play and a deep ball to Jake Matkovich on the second. But after that came fairly even football, with the offense breaking the occasional long play and the defense forcing multiple turnovers.

Big plays from potential starters in the secondary included a deflected pass intended for Matkovich in the end zone on third-and-goal from Marquis Griffin, a breakup by safety Kyle Floyd on a deep pass to Cleveland and a breakup from cornerback Dailen Sutton.

Among the players not playing in the scrimmage because of injuries were Tim McVey, Tyler Williams and Parker Wilson.

Some other players who turned in impressive performances included safety Malik Dawkins, fullback Jake Stafford and tailbacks Malik Miller and Joseph Saucier.

"There isn't a kid out here who doesn't have a chance to rocket up the depth chart," defensive coordinator Steve Russ said late last week.

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