Air Force will begin whittling down a five-way battle at tailback after a Saturday morning scrimmage.
Joseph Saucier, Kade Remsberg, Malik Miller and Josh Stoner will be heavily scrutinized as the coaches figure out which direction to go at a tailback position that hasn’t been this open for years.
“When we get to Saturday and scrimmage,” running backs coach Ben Miller said, “that’s going to start setting the depth chart.”
Saucier, a junior, has taken first-team reps in practice so far, with Remsberg, a sophomore, behind him. Miller, a senior, has been primarily with the third team. Stoner, a sophomore, has missed some time with a hamstring injury but is expected to be ready Saturday.
Junior Nolan Eriksen is the only player at the position with significant experience, having carried 40 times for 228 yards and a touchdown last year. But he missed spring practice and hasn’t been cleared yet in the fall for an undisclosed injury.
This position has largely been stable for the Falcons under coach Troy Calhoun. Asher Clark and Jacobi Owens were mainstays at the spot, and last year Tim McVey was the obvious successor after Owens graduated.
Not since 2013, when Anthony LaCoste and Jon Lee split time through fall camp and the early part of the season, has this position on the run-first team seen so much uncertainty. But that was a two-way competition. This one legitimately runs five deep.
“We feel like we’ve got some guys who are training really well and I don’t think some of those guys are a whole lot different than what Jacobi was coming out as a sophomore, really,” offensive coordinator Mike Thiessen said. “You look at Josh Stoner and Remsberg and Saucier, I think we trust those guys just like we did with Jacobi as a sophomore. They just haven’t done it in a game yet, so nobody knows.”
If nobody emerges as the clear-cut game-changer as a ball carrier, the position decision will come down to how coaches view the intangibles.
“If it’s equal, you’re going to look at who plays better without the ball,” Miller said. “Who’s a better blocker? When their name isn’t called as a carrier, who can go in there and be dependable as a blocker? You know we’re going to run the fullback, we’re going to run the quarterback, we’re going to run the tailback, we’re going to run the Z. Half the time you’ve got to go block, so a lot of the time it is how you play without the ball.”