2009 Air Force Preview - Defense
Air Force NG Troy Garland
Air Force NG Troy Garland
Posted Jul 23, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Air Force Falcon Defense

Air Force Falcons

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Air Force Preview | 2009 Air Force Offense
- 2009 Air Force Defense
| 2009 Air Force Depth Chart
2008 Air Force Preview | 2007 Air Force Preview
| 2006 Air Force Preview  

What you need to know:
The switch to the 3-4 scheme two years ago turned out to be a huge help last year as the inexperienced defense turned in a strong year. The pass rush was unstoppable at times, the secondary decent, and overall, the lack of bulk wasn’t a huge problem. However, the defense only did a strong job against the mediocre offenses. Wyoming, Southern Utah, San Diego State and Army were some of the teams that had problems, while Utah, Houston, BYU and TCU lit it up. Even so, there’s plenty to get excited about for not just this year, but next year as well with seven starters back, good replacements in the open spots, and plenty of non-seniors to count on for the future. The problem area will be the pass rush, at least early on, needing Rick Ricketts and Myles Morales to replace the tremendous end tandem of Jake Paulsen and Ryan Kemp. Ken Lamendola leads a good linebacking corps that’ll put up big-time stats, while Reggie Rembert, hard-hitting Chris Thomas, and rising star Jon Davis are part of a secondary that could be the best the program has had in a decade.

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

Star of the defense: Senior SS Chris Thomas
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Rick Ricketts
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore S Jon Davis
Best pro prospect: Thomas
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Thomas, 2) CB Reggie Rembert, 3) LB Ken Lamendola
Strength of the defense: Experience, secondary
Weakness of the defense: Size up front, run defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Step on will be to try to replace Jake Paulsen at one end after a breakthrough nine sack, 52-tackle season. 6-3, 250-pound senior Myles Morales will move up into the key spot after making four tackles and a sack in a limited role last season. He had a slow start to his career missing his sophomore year to work on the school side of things before serving as a reserve last year. He’s a good athlete, but it’s asking for way too much for him to be Paulsen.

Taking over for Ryan Kemp on the other side will be Rick Ricketts, a 6-3, 260-pound junior who was one of the line’s top backups seeing time in every game making 28 tackles, a sack, and 2.5 tackles for loss. The most likely candidate to become this year’s Paulsen and break out, the junior has a nice blend of size and quickness with the athleticism and drive to become a sack machine.

The lone returning starter to the front three is Ben Garland, an anchor and good interior pass rusher who came up with four sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss to go along with 39 tackles. At 6-5 and 275 pounds he’s more like a big end, but he’s extremely quick for a tackle and provides matchup problems on the nose. He’s a defensive end by trade who has made the adjustment, and now he’ll have to be a star until the ends come into place.
Projected Top Reserves: 6-2, 235-pound junior Wylie Wikstrom is a smallish, linebacker-like end with tremendous upside. While he needs to hit the weights and get bigger and stronger to handle the rigors of the defensive front, he should be a key backup for the front seven playing in a rotation with Myles Morales.

Looking to hold his own in the rotation at nose guard will be Bradley Connor, who at 6-2 and 265 pounds has to use his athleticism to make plays. Strong for his size, the junior will try to sit in the middle and hold his own, but he has the potential to get into the backfield from time to time.

Watch Out For ... Ricketts. He won’t be coming completely out of nowhere, but he’s about to go from a decent unknown backup to a star if he can combine his size and moves on a consistent basis.
The scheme. Air Force knows what it can and can’t do on the inside. There will always be a steady rotation of players moving in and out, and they’re all tough, they all have a motor, and they all fight. This year’s group is no exception, and while it might hurt to lose Paulsen and Kemp, there are good-looking prospects waiting to step in.
Size. It’s the eternal problem for the Falcon defensive front. When your biggest player is 275 pounds, that’s a problem. Air Force always seems to get by, but there will be huge issues if injuries strike early on and Garland has to be a force.
Outlook: The Falcons will never be a brick wall against the run, and they struggled last year against anyone who could run with any semblance of power. However, the pass rush was devastating and the front three was great at staying active and making plays in the backfield. It’ll take a little bit of luck and a prayer to get the star production from the ends that there way last year, but the line won’t be a major weakness.
Rating: 5


Projected Starters: Three starting linebackers are back in the foursome. The one new face will be at one of the outside positions where Patrick Hennessey will take over after making 17 stops with two sacks in a reserve role. The 6-2, 215-pound junior is built like a safety, but he also runs like one with a good burst into the backfield. Experienced, with one start late in the season, he’s ready to handle the full workload.

The big question going into last season was who was going to take the place of Drew Fowler. Ken Lamendola was the answer leading the team with 118 tackles with three sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss on the inside. At 6-2 and 230 pounds, he’s a strong rock of a tackler with the range to get in on everything. He’s not as big as Fowler and he’s not as strong in pass coverage, but he’s on the verge of becoming an all-star if he can produce like he did last season.

The other big concern was on the outside where all-star John Rabold had to be replaced. 6-3, 235-pound junior Andre Morris came up with a good year, but not a great one with just 33 tackles and a sack despite starting in 11 games. Very smart, very sturdy, and a true high-character player, he’s not going to make a slew of mistakes. Now he has to make more big plays and become more disruptive.

5-11, 225-pound senior Justin Moore is the other returning starter, coming back to his spot on the inside after making 45 tackles with a sack, 4.5 tackles for loss and four broken up passes even though he only started in two games. A clutch playmaker whose best moment came with a batted down pass to close the door on UNLV, he should be one of the team’s top tacklers this season now that he has a bigger role.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior John Falgout saw time in 12 games, mostly on special teams, and ended up making five tackles. The 6-0, 225-pound inside prospect will be working behind Justin Moore and could end up seeing time in other spot. He has spent enough time in the system to be ready to handle the work.

Only 6-2 and 195 pounds, junior Braylon Gurnell will see time on the outside behind Andre Morris but could move to the other side when needed. Tough for his lanky size, he’s expected to be a strong tackler and a good pass rushing specialist who’ll be used in a variety of ways to get into the backfield.

Watch Out For ... Hennessey. With his speed and a little bit of experience, he should put up big-time numbers on the outside. Expect several sacks and over 60 tackles as he’ll be turned loose.
Veterans. There wasn’t any experience going into last year, and now three starters are back along with Hennessey. This has the potential to be the tightest linebacking corps the program has had in several years.
The size of the line. While the linebackers love the 3-4 system because they get to make plenty of plays, with a defensive front as small as Air Force has, wearing down is a problem. This group will have to hold up all game, every game.
Outlook: The linebackers are the stars on the Air Force defense, and this year there should be several huge performances. Ken Lamendola will be destined for over 100 tackles again, while Andre Morris can’t help but do more on the outside. Justin Moore is a tough veteran, and he’s one of the few seniors in the mix. Not only will the corps be strong this year, but it’ll be better in 2010.
Rating: 6

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: There are a few Falcons who could play for a good BCS-caliber program. Junior Reggie Rembert is one of them. 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 Mountain West and showed tough tackling ability with 66 tackles, 52 unassisted, with three interceptions, two sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. He’s only 5-7 and 175 pounds, but his size hasn’t been a problem so far. Along with his duties on defense, he’s a top punt returner averaging 12.8 yards per carry last year. Also expected to be a key part of the offense, he ended up spending almost all of his time on defense as the team’s key cornerback. However, the big key will be to get back in everyone’s good graces after violating team rules this offseason.

Sophomore Anthony Wright had a nice first year as a starter, taking over in the fourth game of the year, making 43 tackles with an interception and five tackles for loss. The 5-10, 189-pounder isn’t necessarily a speedster, but he has enough size to be used as a solid corner and the toughness to be a safety. Improved as the season went on, he should be a stalwart in the secondary for the next several years once he gets back in the mix after missing spring ball to work on his schoolwork.

While Rembert might be the flashiest star of the secondary, the leader is strong safety Chris Thomas, a 5-11, 205-pound senior who finished second on the team in tackles for the second year in a row with 107 tackles with four sacks, nine tackles for loss, four fumble recoveries and four broken up passes. With 200 stops in the last two years, he’s plenty tough and he has turned out to be decent against the pass. Along with his blow-‘em-up hitting ability, he’s a good blitzer who’ll be used even more to get into the backfield.

The one new starter will be sophomore Jon Davis, an athletic safety prospect who made five tackles with a forced fumble. While he looked good at times last year, he played like a potential superstar throughout spring ball. At 6-1 and 190 pounds, he has good size and great range and tremendous potential. Wanted by Michigan State, he’ll be a key part of the Air Force secondary for the next three years.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Elliott Battle is one of the team’s best all-around athletes and is due to see action at one of the corner spots. He’ll start out behind Reggie Rembert and could be used as a nickel back. While he’s only 5-9 and 170 pounds, he can fly and can jump out of the stadium. He was a California state high school finalist in the long jump.

Ready to work more at one corner is P.J. Adeji-Paul, a 6-0, 190-pound sophomore who brings more size to the position than Anthony Wright. A good athlete, if not a blazer, he’ll move around where needed and could challenge for a starting job next year.

Watch Out For ... Wright. While Rembert and Thomas will get all the accolades, Wright is on the verge of being a special defender. He showed enough talent as last year went on to prove he needs more time and more work. He’ll be a stat-sheet filler.
Good veterans. If last season was about rebuilding the secondary, this season is about reaping the rewards. Three starters are back, Davis appears to be on the verge of big things, and there should be more done in all areas. This group should make more big plays.
Size. Size has been sacrificed for speed when it comes to the corners. This was a problem last year, too, but the secondary survived. Overall, there should be more production considering the pass rush is tremendous.
Outlook: The Troy Calhoun era brought about an immediate upgrade in the secondary. There were some major replacements needed last year, and now, not only is this a tough, veteran corps that should be the best the program has had in years, but it’ll be a killer next year with only one player in the projected two-deep, safety Chris Thomas, a senior. There’s good speed but no size. It doesn’t really matter considering everyone can hit and the coverage isn’t bad.
Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters
Ryan Harrison did it all nailing 24-of-29 field goals and averaged 38.9 yards per kick. The punting aspect will be easier to replace with the return of Brandon Geyer, who averaged 48.9 yards per kick on his nine attempts. With a big leg, he aired out five kicks over 50 yards.

Handling the placekicking will be Zach Bell, a junior who could also punt if needed. Bell has a slight lead over Garrett Jack after spring ball, showing a bit more consistency, but it’ll be a battle for the job this fall.

Top corner Reggie Rembert had a huge year as a punt returner averaging 12.8 yards per try, but he struggled a bit on kickoff returns averaging 19.2 yards per try.

Watch Out For ... Rembert to find his groove again on kickoff returns. He showed good flash two years ago when he got his chance, and while he didn’t break off man big plays last year, he’ll average more than 20 yards per try this time around.
Kickoff coverage. This has been a plus for the last few years allowing 18.2 yards per try two years ago and 18.8 yards per return last year. Considering the defense is good, but not elite, every extra yard is a help.
Ryan Harrison. Not only did he have a big leg, hitting 7-of-9 shots between 40-to-49 yards, but he was consistent. He was the kicking game, and while the punting game should be fine, the placekicking is a concern.
Outlook: The special teams were among the best in the nation two years ago and they weren’t bad last year … outside of the kickoff returns. Reggie Rembert will make Air Force far better than 115th in the nation in kickoff returns, and the punting game is better than the 34.19 yard net average of last season. While the placekicking is a potential issue, the rest of the special teams will be solid. 
Rating: 7