Air Force’s media guide for the 2017 football season was posted online Tuesday. Here are some thoughts and observations after taking a quick spin through the 176-page document that includes a preseason depth chart.
New spot for Cleveland?
Ronald Cleveland, who scored five touchdowns last year as a sophomore, is listed as the starter at the wide receiver position vacated by Jalen Robinette instead of the Z-receiver spot he shared last year with Tyler Williams (who is listed at Z). I don’t recall ever seeing Cleveland line up at that spot. This is probably just a simple way for the Air Force coaches to kill two birds with one stone in not choosing between Cleveland and Williams, who will likely rotate again this year, or declare an early starter out of the crowded group competing at wide receiver that includes Jake Matkovich, Marcus Bennett, Geraud Sanders and Cody Bronkar. Or, it could be that the Falcons have decided to throw Cleveland at the spot and, in essence, place five running backs on the field at the same time with Cleveland, Williams, tailback Tim McVey, fullback Parker Wilson and quarterback Arion Worthman – who at 5-foot-11, 201 pounds and with 4.4 speed carries many characteristics of a running back.
Sophomore Ben Waters, once a touted recruit from Denver’s Valor Christian, is listed on the roster as a defensive back after spending his freshman season as a wide receiver (in the bio section he’s still listed as a wide receiver). This would be an intriguing move, as Waters made many impressive plays in the spring and at 6-foot, 195, possesses the build to play at any of the four spots in the defensive backfield. Stay tuned on this one.
More double duty for Strebel?
Luke Strebel is listed as the starting placekicker (of course, he’s one of the nation’s best) and also at punter. He handled both spots for much of his sophomore season, but ceded the punting duties to Steve Brosy last year. Junior Brayden Thomas is listed as the backup punter. Of course, this depth chart has no bearing on who will actually play, but it’s interesting that the coaches opted to make Strebel the default answer.
Defense isn’t as young as you might think
This will be a rebuilt defense, having lost 12 of the top 13 tacklers from 2016. But the unit isn’t as young (or inexperienced) as it might seem given that staggering number. Grant Ross, Jack Flor, Santo Coppola, Cody Moorhead and Marquis Griffin – nearly half of the projected starters – have logged significant time and return as seniors. Others, like Shaquille Vereen, Dailen Sutton, Kyle Floyd, Robert Bullard and Brett Baldwin played in 10 or more games last year, even if most of that time was on special teams. According to the posted depth chart, seven of the projected starters on defense are seniors and the other four are juniors. Only two sophomores -- nose guard Mosese Fifita and safety James Jones -- appear on the two-deep, both listed as backups. Even if those spots don’t hold, and some of those players are beaten out by younger talent, it’s clear that the Falcons – even in a year when turnover on that side of the ball is as extreme as it gets – seem prepared as a program for the change.
Size, size, everywhere there’s size
Fifita, who tipped the scales at 300-plus in the spring, is officially listed at 298 on the new roster. He’s not alone. There are seven players listed at 285 or more on the roster, up from six in the 2016 media guide, two in 2015, one in 2014 and zero in 2013. Here’s a list of the 285-plus group:
Mosese Fifita, soph., DL 6-0, 298
Deion Crisostomo-Fetui, soph., DL 5-11, 296
JC Rast, sr., OL, 6-4, 290
Alex Norton, sr., OL, 6-2, 288
Cody Moorhead, sr., DL, 6-5, 285
Santo Coppola, sr., DL, 6-4, 285
RJ Slater, sr., OL, 6-2, 285