The end of Air Force's practice Monday included balloons and cupcakes, delivered in celebration of Troy Calhoun's 50th birthday. The team sang to its coach and for a few minutes enjoyed a festive environment on the academy's practice fields.
The rest of this week doesn't figure to be so cheery, not with Navy coming to town and Air Force suddenly plugging multiple holes on defense.
Of course safety Weston Steelhammer is out for the first half because of a targeting violation, but The Gazette learned Monday that the Falcons are also going to be without a pair of key starters in defensive end Ryan Watson and cornerback Roland Ladipo.
"People are going to step up where they need to," linebacker Claude Alexander III said. "That's what we always do. We've had people out and we just overcome it. That's what we have to do this week."
Steelhammer's backup, Tyler Weaver, is also unlikely to play with an ankle injury, so Hayes Linn will play strong safety in the first half and switch to cornerback for the second half. He played both spots Saturday at Utah State when he shifted to safety after Steelhammer's third-quarter ejection.
Ladipo's injury news does not come as a surprise. He sat out the first two games with a knee injury (and possibly a hamstring issue, Air Force isn't saying). He tried to give it a go at Utah State, but managed only 16 first-half snaps before sitting out the rest of the game.
Watson's absence is unexpected. He apparently played through a knee injury in making three sacks against the Aggies - giving him five this season - but was wearing a knee brace on Monday. He has been a regular contributor since his freshman year, notching 12 career sacks. No details were available on the nature of his injury, but he was walking without apparent difficulty at practice.
In losing Watson, the team's most proven pass rusher, and two first-team all-Mountain West performers in the secondary, it would seem Air Force would be vulnerable in the passing game. However, Navy has attempted just 24 passes in three games and coach Ken Niumatalolo said the Midshipmen wouldn't try to be something they are not.
"We're an option team first and foremost, that's who we are," Niumatalolo said. "That's not going to say we're not going to throw the ball, obviously, but we're not going to change and all of the sudden become Texas Tech or West Virginia and all of the sudden throw the ball 30 times. That's not who we are."
Air Force outside linebacker Haji Dunn was named Mountain West defensive player of the week after making seven tackles, including 1.5 sacks in Saturday's 27-20 victory at Utah State. He forced and recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter as the Falcons were protecting a four-point lead.