When Air Force opened fall camp on Aug. 2, I opened our coverage with five questions that needed to be answered.
Well, 29 days and roughly 30 interviews later, let’s look at the answers before the Falcons open the season against Colgate this afternoon.
1. Who plays quarterback?
I had a feeling this would be a legitimate question, despite Hammond clearly winning the job last year. And it either was, or Troy Calhoun intentionally created a smoke screen at the position. Isaiah Sanders took many first-team reps in practices and scrimmages, and Hammond said it was a conversation as to who would go our first for drills and team work with the QB1 designation. Ultimately, Hammond won the job (unless Calhoun had a change of heart over the past week). Hammond has the tools to be the ideal Air Force quarterback, and the team is situated with a more-than-capable backup in Sanders.
2. How much does Cole Fagan’s exit sting?
Offensive coordinator Mike Thiessen raved about the depth at fullback, noting it truly goes about five deep with players he’d feel comfortable playing. So perhaps the dismissal of Cole Fagan, who ran for 997 yards last year as a junior, will be cushioned somewhat. Taven Birdow has been the starter throughout, and his size and speed will make him a formidable runner. Christian Mallard has drawn rave reviews for his stout toughness. Sophomore Timothy Jackson keeps making a case for time. Matthew Murla, Colton Parton, Omar Fattah… there are options there. I don’t the system needs any one guy in particular, Fagan included.
3. Who supplies the big plays?
After about two weeks of camp, the answers here were David Cormier and Brandon Lewis. But then the Falcons transitioned from camp to game prep, and the sophomore receivers were working with the scout team and word came down that they had lost their good standing as cadets and were not eligible to play – possibly for the entire season. Without them, I would expect receiver Geraud Sanders to see a bigger role on the outside. Kade Remsberg obviously brings major speed at tailback, so he’ll break a few runs. The slot receiver spot won’t likely provide the big plays it did under Ronald Cleveland for the past few years, but expect Ben Peterson, Ben Waters and Dane Kinamon to help move the chains within the system. As for a true, Tim McVey or Jalen Robinette-type home run hitting threat, I’m not sure there’s one on this roster, though Hammond’s ability to throw deep and put a ball in tight windows will mask some of that.
4. Who are the odd men out in the secondary?
For now, the young guys have been held at bay and can be considered the odd men out. Tre’ Bugg and Zane Lewis are the likely starters at cornerback. Garrett Kauppila and Jeremy Fejedelem have the safety spots. Grant Theil will play a lot as a fifth defensive back in the spur linebacker position. Those are all veterans who successfully fended off challenges for their positions. James Jones IV, a starter as a sophomore before losing his junior season to an ACL team, will see time at cornerback.
5. Who or what emerges as a difference-making factor?
I guess that depends on the definition. Lakota Wills and Jordan Jackson are primed, in my opinion, for huge seasons on defense and should provide a consistent pass rush. But that’s not exactly a new development for a pair of juniors who have played since Day 1 of their freshman seasons. Same for Hammond on offense; if you’ve watched Air Force, you’ve seen his capabilities. What I observed in practice is that Bugg, at cornerback, has a feel for the position. He intercepted passes with regularity against his teammates, and if he can carry that into the season it will be a weapon the Falcons haven’t had in quite some time (Weston Steelhammer was a ball hawk, but he did it from a safety position and not as a shutdown corner). Offensively, tight end Kade Waguespack has consistently won his one-on-one matchups by utilizing his body to create leverage and essentially box out defenders. With all the flux at the receiver spots, expect Hammond to turn to Waguespack often as a safety outlet and utilize the position like Air Force hasn’t since Garrett Griffin graduated.