2013 Air Force Preview - Defense

Posted Jun 24, 2013

CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Air Force Falcon Defense

Air Force Falcons

Preview 2013 - Defense

- 2013 Air Force Preview | 2013 Air Force Offense
- 2013 Air Force Defense | 2013 Air Force Depth Chart

What You Need To Know: The defense that was such a disaster at times throughout last season has to find something it can do well against the better teams. Despite finishing fourth in the Mountain West in scoring defense, there were big problems. The Falcons haven't been able to get to the quarterback in years, but there's experience and quickness on the woefully undersize front three to hope for a little more pop. At the very least, there are enough options to form a decent rotation. The linebacking corps is more of an issue with a wholesale change needing to replace all four starters, but the secondary should make up for the problems and pick up the slack with three returning starters led by tough-hitting safety Christian Spears and senior corners Steffon Batts and Chris Miller. However, if there's no pass rush again, the veteran defensive backs will struggle.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Christian Spears, 91
Sacks: Alex Hansen, 4
Interceptions: Steffon Batts, 2

Star of the defense: Junior S Christian Spears
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior DT Dana Luebbe
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Reggie Barnes
Best pro prospect: Spears
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Spears, 2) DE Alex Hansen, 3) CB Steffon Batts
Strength of the defense: Secondary, End
Weakness of the defense: Pass Rush, Production

Defensive Line

The pass rush needs to be steady, and it has to start with sophomore Alex Hansen, a surprising breakthrough starter over the second half of last season finishing with four sacks and 36 tackles and nine tackles for loss despite not seeing too much time until late. At 6-2 and 260 pounds, he bulked up 20 pounds from last year and should be stronger and more effective against the run. However, 6-4, 260-pound junior Riley Cannon will push for starting end job after seeing time as a key backup throughout last season making ten tackles. He might not have the same burst and pass rushing skills of Hansen, but he can get behind the line.

Nick Fitzgerald started ten times last season making 20 tackles with a sack and four tackles for loss, and at 6-4 and 265 pounds he's one of the team's biggest linemen. He's more of a run stopper than a flier into the backfield, but he's always working. He'll fight for one starting job, while 6-5, 240-pound junior Dillon Beschel is an interesting option on the other in the 3-4. At 6-5 and 240 pounds he's a tall, rangy defender who saw a little time in three games and didn't do much. He's a big athlete, but he doesn't have the experience of 6-1, 240-pound junior Joseph Champaign, who started eight times and finished with 24 tackles with 2.5 sacks. A mauler, he can battle to make a play.

At 6-3 and 245 pounds, senior Dana Luebbe is hardly big enough to hold up for a full season on the nose, but he's a wrestler who should know how to fight on the inside. Very quick, he has the athleticism, but he needs the time after making just one tackle in five appearances. He'll need to be helped out by 6-2, 260-pound junior Troy Timmerman, a slightly bigger option on the nose. While he could move to either end spot without a problem, he has to be a big part of the rotation inside.

Watch Out For … David Katusha, a 6-4, 270-pound tackle who has a little room to get bigger and be a key part of the rotation in the middle right away. Wanted by a few good MAC programs, he'll eventually be an anchor for the Falcons.
Strength: Quickness. The line has no size whatsoever, but it's extremely active and it gets to the ball. It might be a bit too far down the field, but it gets to the ball.
Weakness: Playing college football. The line doesn't get behind the line, it doesn't get to the backfield and it's going to struggle once again in a big way against the run.
Outlook: There should be a better rotation than normal, but the Falcons still utilize three linebackers up front and hope to hold up. After giving up 199 rushing yards per game and generating just 17 sacks and 64 tackles for loss, there's lots of work to do, but there's enough experience to hope for a quick improvement – to a point.
Unit Rating: 5


All four starters have to be replaced in the linebacking corps, but it's a young group that will have a few years to jell. Needing to shine brightest on the inside is 6-1, 230-pound junior Joey Nichol, one of the team's bigger options and most experienced after playing a big role late last year. He didn't crank out any big games, but he started twice and finishes with 12 tackles with a recovered fumble. With decent range, he should be one of the team's leading tacklers. Joining him on the inside is sophomore Connor Healy, a promising 6-0, 225-pound speedster who's a beefed up defensive back at linebacker. Solid when given the chance as a freshman, he made eight tackles in his seven appearances, but he should become a factor at getting into the backfield from time to time.

6-2, 220-pound junior Steven Sumpter was a fantastic recruit for a program last season, and now the sky's the limit on the outside after making six tackles during his limited time as a reserve. A guided missile with excellent straight line speed, he has the tools and the look of a dangerous pass rusher once he figures out what he's doing in a starting role.

Sophomore Reggie Barnes got one start as a freshman against San Diego State and saw plenty of time, but on the season he made just one tackle with a sack. A terrific athlete, the 6-1, 215-pounder spent last season getting bigger and stronger, adding ten pounds to his frame, while keeping his basketball player quickness. He'll play like a fifth defensive back.

Watch Out For … the inside prospects. Inside linebackers Adonis Smith, Joel Foy and Kyle Williams were three of the team's better recruits, and Williams was by far the best of the linebacker lot. Wanted by a Indiana and generating some interest from SEC teams, he needs to use his outstanding open-field tackling skills in the middle.
Strength: Upside. The linebacking corps should grow and be more cohesive with a little bit of time. It's a two-deep of sophomores and juniors with the opportunity to grow into roles over the next season to come out rocking in 2014.
Weakness: Experience. This could be a problem in a linebacking corps that made all the big plays against the run last season. Alex Means, Austin Niklas and all the top producers are gone, and now it's going to be work in progress until the wet-behind-the-ears new guys can log in enough time to be solid.
Outlook: The Falcons usually find producers at linebacker by necessity. The line doesn't hold up well, so the linebackers have to clean up the mess, and they can normally do it. Healy and Nichol have to hold up, while Barnes and Sumpter have to be pass rushers. Overall, the actual production has to match the statistics – the plays have to be made at the line and not five yards down the field.
Unit Rating: 5

Defensive Backs

The corners have to be better and they can't allow so many big plays, but veteran Steffon Batts is a solid, sure tackler who can hold his own against the more physical receivers. At 6-0 an 180 pounds he's one of the team's biggest defensive backs, and he's also one of the toughest making 77 tackles with two picks and five broken up passes. While he needs to make more plays on the ball, he doesn't make mistakes.

Back on the other side after starting all 13 games is 5-8, 185-pound senior Chris Miller, a disciplined defender who came back from an injury in 2011 to make 56 tackles with six broken up passes, but he didn't make any picks. Smallish, he'll stick his nose in and make a stop, but he has to start coming up with interceptions and has to make plays on third downs.

Bringing more size in the corner rotation at both spots is the 6-0, 205-pound Dexter Walker, a great-looking sophomore who can play just about anywhere in the secondary and could be a solid nickel back making 11 tackles with a forced fumble in his limited time.

5-9, 185-pound junior Christian Spears is the team's leading returning tackler after making 91 stops with a pick and two broken up passes. While he's not all that big, he's a workout warrior with a big attitude when it comes to making a hit. A machine when he's used like a fourth linebacker, he came up with 20 tackles against New Mexico and 12 against both Army and Navy.

5-11, 195-pound junior Jamal Byrd saw action in ten games making six tackles, but now he'll take over for the team's third-leading tackler, Brian Lindsay, at a safety spot. Byrd is one of the better athletes in the secondary with terrific range, but he needs to prove he can track the deep ball and come up with big plays.

Watch Out For … Tyler Williams, a 5-10, 185-pound athlete with the smarts to think about going to the Ivy League and the talent to be wanted by Colorado. The former high school quarterback has to show he can tackle and has to get the subtleties down, but he's going to be one of the team's most athletic players once he's ready.
Strength: Experience. In Batts, Spears and Miller, the Falcons have a nice base of veteran defensive backs to work around. Going into the Mountain West season with two senior corners is a major plus.
Weakness: Stopping the pass. The Air Force secondary had a nightmare of a time stopping anyone from completing a pass, allowing quarterbacks to hit 68% of the time while only coming up with eight picks. On the year, three of the interceptions came in the final nine games.
Outlook: The secondary doesn't get any help. There's no pass rush and little pressure to give the defensive backs a break, but there's enough experience back and enough talent and athleticism to start being more of a positive. After being lit up like a Christmas tree by Fresno State and Rice to close out the year, there's work to do.
Unit Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

The Falcons have to find more production out of the kicking game after Parker Herrington connected on just 4-of-10 field goal tries. 6-2, 215-pound junior Will Conant has a big leg, but all that matters is if he can connect on a regular basis. Senior Briceton Canada handled kickoffs, and he'll get a few chances to show what he can do.

Senior Zach Hoffman got in a few kickoffs, and now he'll try to add more pop to the punting game. Senior David Baska won't give up the job without a fight after averaging 39.2 yards per kick with 11 put inside the 20, but he doesn't have a consistently big leg.

Receiver Ty MacArthur was okay on punt returns, averaging 7.6 yards per attempt on his ten tries, and now he'll also get more of a shot on kickoff returns after averaging 19.7 yards per try on just three attempts. Running back Anthony LaCoste will still be the main option after averaging a whopping 27.1 yards per try despite not breaking off a really big return.

Watch Out For … the placekicking. It was lousy last year, and it was a problem. Conant and Canada each have decent legs, but it's Conant who'll likely get the first chance.
Strength: LaCoste on kickoff returns. MacArthur will be excellent when he gets his chances, but it's LaCoste who's the real weapon and the reason Air Force finished 38th in the nation.
Weakness: Again, the placekicking. The Falcons played a few tight games, and if the field goals aren't coming on a consistent basis, expect at least two giveaway losses.
Outlook: The coverage teams were terrific and the return game will be solid, but there needs to be more blast on the punts and the kicking will be a concern. There can't be so many empty trips on the Falcon side of the field.
Unit Rating:

- 2013 Air Force Preview | 2013 Air Force Offense
- 2013 Air Force Defense | 2013 Air Force Depth Chart