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Gazette Premium Content With a young defense, Air Force is simplifying its scheme

By Brent Briggeman Published: October 4, 2013

David Harris and Ryan Watson are fully aware of Air Force's problems, but that's not what they see.

The freshmen defensive linemen just see potential.

"That's one of the things me and Harris talked about when we first started playing," Watson said. "If you look around, we're the only freshmen, but a lot of the other guys are 2016ers. So in the future, we're looking at a really good defense."

Harris and Watson are playing about 30 snaps a game and have shown glimpses of what might come. Against Boise State, Harris ran down a ball carrier near the sideline from his noseguard spot. Harris leads the Falcons' defensive linemen with 10 tackles. Watson recovered a fumble against Wyoming and has recorded tackles in each game.

Air Force's most recent depth chart included as many freshmen (3) as seniors among the 22 on defense, plus five sophomores - including Alex Hansen, who was perhaps Air Force's best defensive lineman last year as a freshman.

This youth might be a future blessing, but it's not what coach Troy Calhoun believes works at Air Force.

The results would show he is correct as the Falcons (1-3, 0-3 Mountain West) brace for a trip to Nevada (2-2, 1-0). The defense has given up 150 points in the past three games. It hasn't helped the team that it has lost two quarterbacks (Kale Pearson to injury, Jaleel Awini to academy disqualification), but the defense is the core of the problem.

"We aren't flying around, playing like our hair is on fire," Calhoun said.

"If you're going to run the Packer sweep, you can't run it just three times in practice."

In Cahoun-speak, that translates into his strong preference to play older guys. He can't this year in part because the cupboard was bare after the departure of several players he wishes in retrospect he had sent to the prep school.

Given the reality that his defense is young, Calhoun said this week that the team was going into "full development mode."

That meant more time would be spent on fundamentals in practice and the defensive playbook would be stripped down to the basics.

It's not that players were necessarily missing assignments, Calhoun said, but he didn't see acceptable aggression and speed.

"Honestly, I think it was an overthinking of things," Watson said. "We had a lot of stuff on our minds before every play, like, 'If they do that, we've got to do this; or if they do that, we've got to do this.' For every one action there were like 10 reactions we had to make. We've dialed it back and we'll see a different Falcon defense this weekend."

For the deep-voiced Harris, the change is welcome.

"I remember coming in on the first day and learning the plays," Harris said. "Me and Ryan were looking at each, saying, 'What's going on?' Our heads were spinning."

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