2008 Air Force Preview - Defense
Air Force S Chris Thomas
Air Force S Chris Thomas
Posted Apr 11, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Air Force Falcon Defense

Air Force Falcons

Preview 2008 - Defense

- 2008 CFN Air Force Preview | 2008 Air Force Offense
- 2008 Air Force Defense
| 2008 Air Force Depth Chart
2007 CFN Air Force Preview
| 2006 CFN Air Force Preview 

What you need to know:
One of the most impressive changes in year one under Troy Calhoun was the transformation of the defense from abysmal to solid thanks to the switch to a 3-4 scheme. Everything worked because the linebacking corps was excellent and there was experience in the secondary; luxuries the team won't have this year. Six starters need to be replaced in the back eight, and there's no developed depth whatsoever, so it might take a few games before this group starts to produce at least year's level. That means the veteran front three, led by Ben Garland and Ryan Kemp, have to be even better. Generating pressure from the front seven is a must to save the secondary, while someone has to become a pickoff artist with the returning players generating just one of last year's 15 interceptions.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Chris Thomas, 110
Sacks: Hunter Altman, 5
Interceptions: Chris Thomas, 1

Star of the defense: Junior NG Ben Garland
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior LB John Falgout
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Reggie Rembert
Best pro prospect: Garland
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Garland, 2) SS Chris Thomas, 3) DE Ryan Kemp
Strength of the defense: Quickness, the front three
Weakness of the defense:
Experience and depth in the back eight, interceptions

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: All three starters return to the defensive front with the best of the bunch 6-5, 255-pound senior Ryan Kemp at right end. After a nice sophomore year making 26 tackles as a reserve, he had a big season making 54 stops, four tackle sand 8.5 tackles for loss as a do-it-all defender who held his own against the run and did a desperately needed good job at getting into the backfield.

Playing in the middle after spending time on the outside will be Ben Garland, an end in name only who made 31 tackles and three sacks. At 270 pounds, he's the biggest player up front providing some desperately needed beef to the run defense. For his size, he's extremely quick and can provide big matchup problems when lined up on the nose.

Helping provide more size is 6-5, 265-pound senior Jake Paulsen, who can come in when a four-man front is needed and can be a decent pass rusher; he just doesn't do it on a regular basis. A part-time starter, he made 18 tackles with 1.5 sacks, and now he has to be even more of a force using his size on the left side while Garland moves to the nose.

Projected Top Reserves: Back in the middle is an undersized plugger of a run stopper, senior Jared Marvin. At only 5-11 and 265 pounds, he gets beaten on by the bigger, stronger interior linemen, but he has a non-stop motor and is as tough as nails. While he came up with 27 tackles on the inside, stats don't measure his worth; his role is to hold firm as long as humanly possible and let everyone else come up with plays.

About to become a major factor is 6-3, 260-pound sophomore Rick Ricketts. Playing behind Ryan Kemp on the right side, Ricketts should turn into a regular in opposing backfields while preparing to be the full-time end next year. If he can find a niche early on, he'll get more playing time in the rotation.

6-1, 255-pound junior Stephen Larson is a smallish option on the nose. Considering the defense goes with quickness over size in the middle, there needs to be a steady rotation against the bigger running attacks, so Larson has to build on a strong 29-tackle sophomore season.

Watch Out For ... this to be the strength of the defense by a large margin. It's one of the few areas of the team with a wealth of returning experience, and now that means even more production is needed until everyone else gets up to speed.
Experience. Garland and Kemp are nice veteran ends who'll make plenty of plays. There's even a little bit of experience among the backups; a major luxury for this year's team.
Size. It wasn't that much of a problem last year considering there weren't many big running Mountain West teams. The front three more than held its own, but it struggled in a big way against the more talented lines like BYU's and California's. It would be nice to have a few 280+ pounders to clog things up a bit, but they aren't there.
Outlook: The line needs to be great from the start, and it should be with two all-star anchors in Garland and Kemp, and nice backups to rotate in. Yeah, anyone who wants to commit to pounding the ball for an entire game could wear this group down, the quickness and the the Air Force motors have kept the bleeding to a minimum for the most part, and should do so again. While the line was an issue going into last year, it'll win more than its share of battles this season.
Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters: Job one will be to replace the tandem of Drew Fowler on the inside and John Rabold on the outside. Fowler was the team's leading tackler and second-team All-Mountain West performer making 119 stops and three interceptions, and now it'll be up to Ken Lamendola to take his place after growing into a force in spring ball. The 6-2, 230-pound senior isn't quite as big as Fowler, but he has great potential.

Taking over for Rabold, a first-team All-Mountain West star who made 74 tackles and 17.5 tackles for loss, at one outside spot will be sophomore Andre Morris. At 6-2 and 230 pounds, he has good size and big-time upside after making ten tackles as a freshman. Making plays against the run won't be an issue, but he'll have to be a pass rusher early on.

Junior John Falgout will get a long look at one of the inside jobs in place of Aaron Shanor, who was third on the team with 93 tackles. Falgout has yet to see the field and will need to overcome some early mistakes to become a steady inside presence. At 6-0 and 225 pounds, he's undersized, but quick.

The one returning starter is senior outside linebacker Hunter Altman, who at 6-0 and 215 pounds is more of a safety, which he starter out as, than a true linebacker. Even so, he has no problem holding up against the run making 62 tackles, but his real worth is as a pass rusher with five sacks and ten tackles for loss. It would be nice if he did more against the pass, but if he can get into the backfield on a regular basis again, the coaching staff will take it.

Projected Top Reserves: Brandon Reeves spent last year as an understudy and will see plenty of time in the rotation. The 6-1, 230-pound senior isn't quite as big as Fowler and he needs to prove early on that he can be a tough inside presence after making just two tackles in three games of action.

Needing to be a speed rusher from the outside is sophomore William Kuechler, who could be a terror if he's able to unleash his speed. Only 6-0 and 200 pounds, he's not exactly an ideal-sized defender for the front seven, but he was a star Ohio high school hurdler and an all-state wrestler. He played in ever game as a special teamer making three tackles, and now he'll be more in the defensive rotation.

Bringing size to the mix is 6-3, 250-pound junior Myles Morales on the outside. To be used more like an extra defensive end, he'll play behind Andre Morris and will mostly a pass rushing specialist early on.

Watch Out For ... the corps to make up for a lack of experience by going all-out on every play. Effort is never an issue for Air Force teams, but it's how it's all controlled that's the key. Generating a pass rush is everything to this defense, the outside linebackers will once again be turned loose and asked to control games.
Variety. There are safeties playing linebacker, big linebackers able to be used line an extra end, and pure linebackers who'll fit a traditional 4-3 mold. The defense can shift up alignments on the fly without much of a problem.
Experience. There isn't any. There's Hunter Altman, and that's about it. Forget about anything to count on experience-wise from the backups; finding veteran starters is hard enough.
Outlook: The linebackers are the stars on the Air Force defense, and losing All-Mountain West performers Drew Fowler and John Rabold hurts. Altman is the one returning starter, and while he's a demon of a pass rusher, he's not consistent and can disappear for stretches. It'll be up to Falgout to use his practice time in the system to be ready from day one, while Morris is a good-looking young prospect who could grow into the star of the show.
Rating: 5.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: The pressure is on sophomore Reggie Rembert to be the team's new star. Even though both starting corners are gone, Rembert, in time, could make the situation better thanks to his tremendous speed. One of the fastest high school players in Texas, and a state finalist in the 4x100 relay, he has the wheels to keep up with anyone in the league, and the toughness to help out against the run with 22 stops in a limited role. The problem? His height. At only 5-7 and 175 pound, he'll get picked on by everyone with a decent-sized receiver, so he'll have to get over some inevitable early issues to be the team's top corner. Along with his defensive duties, he's a top return man and will be used on offense at the hybrid Z position. The coaching staff will try to find a way to get the ball in his hands as many ways as possible.

5-10, 190-pound junior Brenton Byrd was a running back when spring ball began, and then became a starting corner on the other side of Rembert. While he's raw and he's not necessarily a speedster, he's a good enough athlete to handle himself when picked on.

The leader of the secondary, until Rembert emerges, will be junior strong safety Chris Thomas, who went from being a nice reserve to the team's second leading tackler with 93 stops, an interception, nine tackles for loss, and a team-leading ten broken up passes. While he turned out to be decent against the pass, his real worth is as a run-stopper. He's not all that huge at 5-11 and 205 pounds, but he hits like a ton of bricks.

Replacing Bobby Giannini and his 299 career tackles at free safety will be 6-1, 205-pound senior Aaron Kirchoff after a solid 39 tackle season. A nice career backup with 71 career stops, he should be ready to step in and instantly become one of the team's statistical leaders. He has the size and he has the range, but he has to prove he can become a steady pass defender and do even more than Giannini.

Projected Top Reserves: How fast will the new corners get involved? Josh Hall is a tall, thin prospect with tremendous speed, and while he'll probably need a year to hit the weight room to be ready to get on the field on a regular basis, he might have too much upside to keep out of the rotation for long. The other top recruit, C.J. Fowler, is only 5-9 and 165 pounds, but he can flat-out move. Reggie Rembert might be the team's fastest player, but Fowler will challenge for the title with 4.4 wheels.

While the recruits have the biggest upside and the most talent among the reserve corners, junior Devon Ford and sophomore Elliott Battle will each get their chances to get in the rotation. They're both smallish, around 5-9 and 180 pounds each, but they can move. Ford will start out behind Rivers and Battle will play behind Rembert.

The Falcons are a bit more set at safety where senior Luke Yeager could step in if needed at either spot. Mostly a special teamer so far with four tackles last year, he's been around long enough to be a regular in nickel situations and behind Thomas at strong safety.

Watch Out For ... Rembert. While it's a lot to ask of anyone to immediately replace a Carson Bird, Rembert has the speed and potential to be an All-Mountain West playmaker. It just might take a year before he gets there.
The future. With Rembert only a sophomore, Hall and Fowler two great young prospects, and Thomas just a junior, this could be a stepping-stone season to a big 2009. If nothing else, this should be among the most talented Falcon secondaries in recent history, but it could take a while for the production to come.
Size. The program has sacrificed size for speed when it comes to its corners. Toughness is hardly an issue, everyone can stick, but this isn't a tall group and it could have problems with bigger, more physical receiving corps.
Outlook: After a horrendous 2006, the pass defense was one of the biggest areas of improvement under the new coaching staff. An improved pass rush certainly helped the cause, but the secondary was simply better. Now it'll be up to three new starters to quickly fill in the holes, especially at corner, but there's a talent upgrade with excellent speed and athleticism to build around. Thomas should be an all-star strong safety, while Rembert is a comer at corner.
Rating: 6

Special Teams

Projected Starters: It'll all be up to senior Ryan Harrison again after hitting 19 of 27 field goals and averaging an impressive 42.9 yards per punt. One of the nation's better all-around kickers, he rebounded after missing all of 2006 for the nebulous "violation of Academy standards," and he showed off a monster leg with an 81-yard punt and three field goals from beyond 50 yards including a 57-yard bomb against TCU.

Chad Hall needs to be replaced as the top kickoff and punt returner, but Reggie Rembert could be even more explosive. The speedster averaged  22.8 yards per kickoff return last year and will get the first crack at both gigs.

Watch Out For ... Harrison to be in line for major all-star honors. While it'll be tough to get too much recognition in a league with Utah's Louie Sakoda, Harrison will hit a few big shots to get his share of attention.
Kickoff coverage. While the Falcons couldn't force the 13.2-yard average of 2006, they only allowed 18.2 yards per kickoff return. That's a bit misleading since Harrison put everything in the end zone, so when teams did get a chance to come up with a return, they went nowhere.
Uncertainty in the return game. A major problem going into last year, Chad Hall changed that by averaging a whopping 12.6 yards per punt return and 23 yards on kickoffs. Rembert has the speed, but he has to be as effective.
Outlook: The special teams were among the best in the nation, and if Harrison can remain consistent as both the placekicker and a punter, this will be a major strength. The coverage units were terrific (thanks in large part to Harrison), while the return game was special. If Rembert, or another quick Falcon, can be consistent, Air Force will have a huge advantage.
Rating: 8.5


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