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No Air Force tailbacks practicing this spring have logged carries in a game

March 14, 2017 Updated: March 14, 2017 at 4:07 pm
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photo - Jaylen Burgess runs through a drill during spring practice Thursday, March 2, 2017, at Air Force Academy. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Jaylen Burgess runs through a drill during spring practice Thursday, March 2, 2017, at Air Force Academy. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

Lopsided games have served as an in-game tryout for Air Force players in the past.

Jalen Robinette's first catch - a touchdown grab - came with the Falcons trailing by 39 points in the fourth quarter.

Tim McVey carried 10 times for 140 yards and three touchdowns in the second half of 56- and 61-point victories, using that as a springboard to more playing time.

Last year, however, those opportunities didn't occur. Air Force beat FCS opponent Abilene Christian by just 16 points and didn't go to the bench in a 48-14 victory over Georgia State.

After that, every game was close.

The impact was felt perhaps the most at the tailback spot. Most years five or six tailbacks log carries for the team, but last year only Jacobi Owens and McVey ran the ball.

"All year long there were a bunch of close games," coach Troy Calhoun said. "And they were durable. I think at any position you have, and you hear it repeatedly, the importance of being dependable. And the way to be dependable, first and foremost, is to be durable."

Added running backs coach Ben Miller, "I was surprised to see that when I checked the stats after the season."

With McVey and Benton Washington - who carried 55 times for 321 yards as a sophomore in 2015 - out with injuries, there's not a tailback seeing time in spring practice who has carried the ball in a game for Air Force.

Malik Miller, who will be a junior, has led a group that includes rising sophomores Jaylen Burgess and Joseph Saucier in competition to battle Washington as the top backup behind McVey for the 2017 season.

"That's why it's so important to have an extremely physical spring," Calhoun said. "You can get caught up in fool's gold a little bit as a tailback when you don't get hit. You're always coming through clean, you can get away with running higher. You can get away with slowing your feet down. That's why you need real contact and you need to be tackled, too, just to see how you play after you get knocked to the ground not just once or twice but 10, 12 times in a given day. That's where you really find out about a tailback."

Ben Miller said McVey has been itching to get back to practice, but the team will likely hold him off. They know what he can do as the program's all-time leader in yards per carry (8.4 yards) and reception (27.8).

"We'd love for them to watch Tim practice, because as good as a player as Tim is, he's even better in practice with the way he works," Miller said. '"He's the exact replica you'd like to have in terms of work ethic each day. We'd love to have him out here, but it is good for these young guys to get these reps.

"You'd like to see when they're getting in and standing next to (quarterback) Arion Worthman, can you play? It's kind of fun to see those younger guys get in with the first group and see what they do."

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