2007 Air Force Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 17, 2007

Preview 2007 Air Force Falcon Defense

Air Force Falcons

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Air Force Preview | 2007 Air Force Offense Preview
2007 Air Force Depth Chart
| 2006 CFN Air Force Preview 

What you need to know:
Air Force hasn't played defense in about three years and it'll take a major overhaul and a fantastic coaching job by new coordinator Tim DeRuyter to change things up. There's no size, not enough speed, and little in the way of experienced reserves. There has to be some semblance of a pass rush, and the hope will be for the speedy outside linebackers in the 3-4 to generate it. Far more has to be done against the pass. Now for the positives. Drew Fowler is one of the Mountain West's best linebackers and safety Bobby Giannini is a tackling machine.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Drew Fowler, 123
Sacks: Josh Clayton, 3
Interceptions: John Rabold, 2

Star of the defense: Senior LB Drew Fowler
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior CB Carson Bird
Unsung star on the rise: Senior LB Aaron Shanor
Best pro prospect: Fowler
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Fowler, 2) FS Bobby Giannini, 3) CB Garrett Rybak
Strength of the defense: Tackling, safety
Weakness of the defense:
Pass defense, pass rush

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: 6-5, 260-pound junior Jake Paulson isn't just the biggest lineman returning, he's also one of the most experienced and, technically, the only returning starter. Even so, he only started five times and finished with just 15 tackles and two sacks. With his size, he has to be a major factor against the run even though that's not his game. He's a pass rusher, and he has to start doing it on a regular basis.

On the nose will be undersized 6-2, 230-pound junior Jared Marvin after making five tackles as a reserve with two starts. He's tough as nails considering his size, but he's simply too small to consistently hold at the point of attack.

6-5, 235-pound junior Ryan Kemp will get the call at the other end after starting five times and making 26 tackles. He has the potential to be the team's best lineman and the best all-around defender up front as long as he can come up with one thing he can do consistently well.

Projected Top Reserves: There has to be a steady rotation of players, so backups aren't just backups on this defense. 6-6, 255-pound junior Keith Williams has seen time on both the offensive and defensive sides playing D when injuries hit the line. He only made four tackles and played in six games, and now will backup Kemp.

6-5, 240-pound sophomore Ben Garland is a very quick noseguard who has to get into the backfield to make an impact. He could play end if needed. 6-3, 240-pound sophomore Myles Morales has the potential to be a good pass rusher behind Paulson, but he'll have to hold off 6-4, 260-pound Josh Clayton, who was having a great year making 23 tackles with three sacks and three tackles for loss before suffering a broken wrist. When healthy, he'll likely start.

Watch Out For ... the line be asked to do more against the run. Built to get into the backfield, in the 3-4 this group will have to do a better job of holding at the point of attack and let the linebackers make the big plays.
Quickness. As small as this group is, it needs to rely on its speed and athleticism to be productive. However, everyone has to do a better job of getting into the backfield.
Size. Always a problem for Air Force. there's no one, no one, of any appreciable size to count on against the run. For some teams, the Falcon front three is the size of their linebacking corps.
Outlook: The line did a stunningly good job of holding up at times against the run, but for the most part, it got flattened. (Who give up 204 yards and four touchdowns on the ground to UNLV?) There isn't any one thing this group can do well, and that's a problem considering it's size. Anyone with a big, talented line will do whatever it wants to.
Rating: 5


Projected Starters: The star of the defense, and the team, is 6-2, 235-pound senior inside linebacker Drew Fowler, who made 200 tackles over the last two seasons. He's not fast, but he has a non-stop motor that always gets him around the ball and always brings a pop. He's not going to get in the backfield and he's not going to make any plays against the pass. His job is to stop the run, stop the run, and stop the run some more.

Next to Fowler will be 225-pound senior Aaron Shanor, who went from non-existent (and not even technically on the roster) to starter after a great spring. He'll have plenty of chances to make plays with teams trying to stay away from Fowler.

On the outside, 220-pound senior John Rabold is back at linebacker after finishing second on the team with 68 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss as a Falcon (safety). He needs to be the pass rusher that's missing from the defensive front three and has to continue to be decent in pass coverage. With his size and speed, he'll be among the team's most disruptive defenders.

Junior Hunter Altman will get the first look on the other side after making 14 tackles as a backup free safety. While not big at 5-11 and 195 pounds, he'll bring speed to the corps and be used like a weakside linebacker.

Projected Top Reserves: While Altman got a starting spot on the outside coming out of spring ball, that could quickly change once 205-pound senior Julian Madrid starts to be the player he was last year when he was fourth on the team with 50 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions before suffering an injured knee. Like Altman, he goes from safety to outside linebacker where he should flourish despite his size.

230-pound senior Austin Randle could see time on the inside, but he'll start out behind Fowler. A good veteran with 42 tackles and decent play in the backfield, he'll be a key part of the rotation trying to be a factor against the run.

Watch Out For ... the outside linebackers to be turned loose. While the defense could morph into a 3-3-5 at times with converted safeties at one outside linebacker spot, if Rabold, Altman and Madrid aren't getting into the backfield, the defense won't be working.
Fowler. The heart-and-soul of the defense, he's the player the rest of the team revolves around and the one player the D can count on game in and game out. Everything revolves around him.
Experience at the second inside linebacker spot. He might have looked good in spring ball and the coaching staff might like him, but it's asking a lot for Shanor to to be a star. He'll put up stats next to Fowler, but they have to be meaningful.
Outlook: It should be fine with everything funneling towards Fowler. The outside linebackers have to be the stars who get into the backfield so the inside defenders can make plays against the run. If Fowler is being asked to get into the backfield, there could be overall trouble since that'll mean the secondary could potentially have to make more tackles against the run.
Rating: 6

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: Junior FS Bobby Giannini was the one bright spot in a lousy secondary making 64 tackles and 223 over the last three years. Unfortunately, he didn't do nearly enough when the ball was in the air, and hasn't over the last two seasons for a free safety, but he's tremendous in run support. He's 6-2 and 210 pounds and more like a strong safety with the way he plays and covers.

Sophomore Chris Thomas was a nice reserve last season making 25 tackles showing good open-field hitting skills. He's not big at 5-11 and 198 pounds and isn't going to be great in coverage, but he can hit.

Senior Garrett Rybak was a surprise in spring ball last season and ended up starting every game making 48 tackles with one interception, and now he has to prove he can be a number one corner. He has decent quickness, good speed and is a great hitter, but he's not huge and he has to be far more consistent against the pass.

Senior Carson Bird saw action in ten games making five tackles after a huge sophomore season when he made 52 stops. He's a better tackler than he is a pass defender and will see plenty of passes his way with teams staying away from Rybak.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Aaron Kirchoff was a strong backup making 32 tackles and was decent starting at the end of the season. At 6-1 and 200 pounds, he has good size and nice range playing behind Giannini and could see time at strong safety if needed.

Junior Nathan Smith is a veteran reserve behind Rybak making 16 tackles and an interception. The team's fastest corner, he needs to play an even bigger role.

Watch Out For ... the secondary to be a little bit better. This is the one area of the team with quality reserves and a little bit of experience. Now the production has to come.
Tackling. Everyone can come up with the open field stop against the run and everyone can be physical. The safeties will pop.
Can anyone cover? The corners got ripped apart last year and Rybak might not be a number one.
Outlook: The secondary was awful last season having major problems against any quarterback who could hit an open receiver. Considering the Mountain West is full of spread offense passers who can make the short-to-midrange throws, there had better be some major improvements. The lack of a pass rush was a major issue, but that didn't matter when teams were able to dink and dunk. Overall experience has to count for something.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: The emergence of junior placekicker Ryan Harrison in spring ball was a big plus replacing Zach Sasser, who hit 9 of 14 field goals. Harrison, who missed all of last year for the nebulous "violation of Academy standards," has a nice enough leg to be used from 40 yards, but being consistent from medium range will be the key. Harrison will also serve as the punter taking over for Sasser, who did a decent job of blasting it but didn't do nearly enough pinning teams deep.

Watch Out For ... Harrison to be more than fine in place of Sasser. He has the leg to do a little of everything well and should add more pop to the punting game.
Kickoff coverage. Among the best in America last year, the new coaching staff can only dream about allowing opponents to average just 13.4 yards per return.
The return game. Chris Sutton did a good job last year and now he's gone. The kickoff returns were almost non-existent averaging 17.8 yards per try.
Outlook: With all the things the coaches have to work on, improving the special teams might have to take a back seat. Considering the offense is based around running the ball (at least somewhat) and the defense needs good field position, everything about the special teams needs an upgrade.
Rating: 6


Related Stories
2007 Air Force Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 17, 2007
2007 Air Force Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 17, 2007
2007 Air Force Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 17, 2007

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