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2010 Air Force Preview - Defense
Air Force CB Reggie Rembert
Air Force CB Reggie Rembert
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 15, 2010


CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Air Force Falcon Defense


Air Force Falcons

Preview 2010 - Defense


- 2010 Air Force Preview | 2010 Air Force Offense
- 2010 Air Force Defense | 2010 Air Force Depth Chart
- Air Force Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006

What You Need To Know: The defense shouldn’t work, but it does. There’s no size, no pass rush, and little talent compared to the Utahs and the TCUs of the Mountain West, but Air Force finished 11th in the nation in total D and tenth in scoring defense. The secondary will be the strength again with three top starters back after allowing just 154 yards per game and ten touchdowns (with five coming in the loss to BYU). The linebacking corps in the 3-4 will be active and solid thanks to a good rotation, but only one starter, Andre Morris, is back. The issue will be a line that has always been small, but this year’s it’s really, really light with only one projected player on the two-deep bigger than 240 pounds. Air Force always gets by with aggressiveness and toughness, and now it’s going to have to prove it can produce without defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, who’s leaving for Texas A&M. The pressure will be on Matt Wallerstedt, the linebacker coach, to step up and keep the production going.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Andre Morris, 65
Sacks: Rick Ricketts, 4.5
Interceptions: Anthony Wright, 7

Star of the defense: Senior CB Reggie Rembert
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior DT Ryan Gardner
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore SS Brian Lindsay
Best pro prospect: Junior CB Anthony Wright
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Rembert, 2) Wright, 3) DE Rick Ricketts
Strength of the defense: Pass Defense, Linebacker Rotation
Weakness of the defense: Size, Pass Rush

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The front three loses two key starters, but it gets back senior Rick Rickett after a strong 57-tackle, four sack, 6.5 tackle-for-loss season. At 6-3 and 260 pounds he’s a great fit for the Air Force defense with good quickness to the ball and toughness against the run. If he gets a little production from the rest of the line, he should blossom into an even better pass rusher.

The biggest loss up front is the departure of Ben Garland, the all-star on the nose who was the anchor over the last few years. Junior Ryan Gardner is only 6-3 and 240 pounds and isn’t close to being built like a nose guard, but he’ll be plugged in on the inside where he’ll get to use his terrific quickness to be a dangerous interior pass rusher after making 11 tackles and two tackles for loss last season. His goal, though, is to bulk up over the next two seasons.

Junior Wylie Wikstrom will step in for Myles Morales on the left side coming off a 15-tackle, one sack season. At 6-2 and 235 pounds he’s a linebacker-like end with tremendous upside and quickness. He hasn’t gotten any bigger over the last year, this is what he’s going to be, and he has to become a key playmaker who can add more burst into the backfield than Morales.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-3, 240-pound Zach Payne should be a good part of the rotation on the end with Wikstrom. He’s built like a linebacker and can move extremely well, but he’ll have to show early on that he can consistently hold up against the run to see more playing time.

Ben Kopacka doesn’t bring much more bulk to the nose at only 6-5 and 235 pounds, and he’s not built for the job at all, but he has the raw talent to eventually be a major contributor. Recruited by Purdue and Northwestern, the junior has the size, the smarts, and the first step to be decent, but for now he just has to hold up on the inside.

Junior Henry Kehs is a tall, interesting prospect who made one tackle in his little bit of time last year. At 6-5 and 240 pounds, he’s a rangy end who needs to use his long frame and his quickness to chase down plays. He has to emerge as a consistent pass rusher to see more time in the rotation behind Rick Ricketts.

Watch Out For … Wikstrom. While he might not eat up everything against the run, he should emerge as the type of pass rushing threat to take the heat off of Ricketts on the other side.
Strength: The scheme. As always, Air Force knows what it is up front. The line isn’t going to be big, but it’ll be quick, there will be a good rotation, and it’ll always be flying around to make sure that short gains don’t turn into long ones.
Weakness: Size. Always a problem for Air Force, this year it’s really a problem. There’s only one player over 240 pounds, and while size hasn’t been a major issue over the years, eventually, someone should be able to line up and pound away for big yards on the ground.
Outlook: As always, Air Force is small up front and will have to rely on strength in numbers and quickness, but there’s no size whatsoever, there are odd sized players that don’t fit the traditional roles, and the loss of Ben Garland in the middle will hurt. The line will take a step back and will go back to 2008 when it was powered over by anyone who could grind it out. Pass rushing was an issue last season with a mere 24 sacks and 61 tackles for loss, and if this group doesn’t bring the heat into the backfield, there will be problems.
Unit Rating: 5

Linebackers

Projected Starters: The linebackers should be good with veteran Andre Morris leading the way on the outside. The 6-3, 235-pound senior was third on the team with 65 tackles to go along with three sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. Very smart, very steady, and a high-character player who’s good enough to be a leader for the front seven, he should be in for a big season as he’s turned loose to be more disruptive.

Gone is leading tackler John Falgout from the inside, and in will step sophomore Wale Lawal, a good-looking young player who made 31 tackles with an impressive sack with a fumble return for a score in his first career play against Nicholls State. At 6-3 and 215 pounds he’s not all that thick, but he’s tough and has excellent range both to get into the backfield and to drop into pass coverage.

Brady Amack is coming off a nice year as a reserve making 15 tackles, but he didn’t do anything to get into the backfield. At 6-0 and 225 pounds, the junior is a short, tough player who will hold up well with everything funneled to him on the inside. He’ll be a part of a rotation, if he doesn’t take over the starting gig full-time, and he should flirt with all-star status on stats alone.

Trying to make a big impact on the outside will be James Chambers, an undersized 6-0, 220-pound sophomore who can move. He saw a little bit of time as a special teamer, finishing with two tackles, and now he’ll try to settle a spot that didn’t have any consistency last year. He might not be big, but he should be active enough, and feisty enough, to make plenty of plays.

Projected Top Reserves: How fast can Ken Lamendola recover from a knee problem? The 6-2, 230-pound senior made 24 tackles before getting hurt, but he made a team-leading 118 stops in 2008 as a rock of a tackler. He’ll find a spot on the inside if and when he’s 100%, and even if he doesn’t start he’ll be a major piece of the puzzle.

Senior Patrick Hennessey will end up starting. The 6-2, 215-pounder made nine tackles in two games before suffering a shoulder injury after being expected to grow into a star. He’s built like a hard-hitting safety and he runs like one, and he has a good burst to the ball and into the backfield. Now he has to prove he can hold up and get rid of his durability concerns to be a bigger factor. If he’s healthy, he should be fantastic.

Sophomore Brian Corcoran saw time in every game last year but he only made nine tackles. At 6-0 and 210 pounds, he’s smallish for the inside and needs to use his speed to be a factor. He’ll get run over by anyone with size, but if he’s able to chase down ball-carriers he should be effective.

Watch Out For … Corcoran and Hennessey. If they’re healthy, they should emerge as statistical stars even though they’re going to be a part of the rotation. They have the talent and the upside to make the linebacking corps tremendous.
Strength: Toughness. This isn’t a big corps and there aren’t going to be too many plays in the backfield, but everyone can tackle and there are almost no missed plays. Because of the rotation, everyone should stay relatively fresh and it allows everyone to keep from wearing down.
Weakness: The size on the defensive line. This was a problem last year, and it will be a BIG problem this season. The Falcon line might try to slow down runners, but there’s no bulk whatsoever up front meaning the linebackers will have to be extra strong. Being active isn’t going to be enough against the more physical teams.
Outlook: The four linebackers are asked to do everything for the Falcon defense, and there should be at least 300 stops among the starting four … in whatever configuration that turns out to be. There will be a great rotation as long as Lamendola and Hennessey are healthy, and Morris should grow into an All-Mountain West star. It might take a little bit, but the corps will be fantastic once again.
Unit Rating: 6.5

Secondary

Projected Starters: The terrific secondary will once again be led by senior Reggie Rembert, a 5-8, 185-pound first-team All-Mountain West who brings speed, production, and playmaking ability. 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. He’s tough as nails against the run with 43 tackles last season and 109 stops over the last two seasons to go along with his ball-hawking ability. Dangerous with the ball in the air, he has picked off three passes in each of the last two years and flashes his tremendous speed whenever he gets the ball in his hands averaging 25.1 yards per kickoff return. There were some problems with violating team rules last year, but all is fine now.

While Rembert might be the star of the defense, junior corner Anthony Wright isn’t far off. The 5-10, 189-pounder earned second-team All-Mountain West honors after picking off seven passes and making 54 tackles. He isn’t a blazer, but he has just enough quickness to work at corner while showing off the hitting ability move to safety if needed. Keeping up with his schoolwork was a concern before last year, but all is well and now he should be one of the league’s best defenders.

Junior Jon Davis doesn’t get the respect of the star corners, but he was a steady starter for the entire season making 56 tackles with three interceptions. At 6-1 and 190 pounds, he has nice size and tremendous athleticism, even for this secondary. Good enough to have been given the hard sell by Michigan State out of high school, Davis has shown flashes of greatness from time to time and he’s almost certain to earn all-star honors in the next two seasons.

The one new starter in the secondary will have to fill a big hole. Gone is Chris Thomas, a long-time playmaker at strong safety, and in steps sophomore Brian Lindsay, a great prospect who made five tackles last year in a reserve role. He had a great spring and looked the part as more than a capable fill-in for Thomas, and at 6-1 and 205 pounds he has good size to go along with his range and his big-hitting ability. Expect him to be one of the team’s top producers over the next three years.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-0, 175-pound junior Josh Hall should be a nice backup safety as the season goes on. He made eight tackles in a little bit of time, and now he’ll work behind Jon Davis and will step in and provide a big hitting style to the mix. He’ll play much bigger and much stronger than his size.

Junior P.J. Adeji-Paul isn’t a blazer, but he’s a good athlete and could move around where needed. He’ll start out working behind Reggie Rembert at corner after making eight tackles in six games, and at 6-0 and 190 pounds he’s a bigger option.

Former quarterback Ben Cochran is a 6-0 and 185-pound senior who completed 5-of-19 passes for 88 yards and a touchdown, and he ran for 55 yards, and now he’ll move over to corner. He’s not lightning fast, but he’s smart and should be able to hold his own as a nickel and dime defender.

Junior Frank Ofili has been a special teamer and a backup defender for the last two seasons with 14 career tackles and a recovered fumble. Now the 5-11, 200-pounder, who was good enough to be recruited by Texas A&M, will combine with Brian Lindsay at strong safety. He’s smart, willing to do what’s needed, and potentially a big hitter once he gets more of a chance in game action.

Watch Out For … Lindsay. He’s the one newcomer to the starting mix and he could turn out to be the best. He has the size to go along with the talent and the athleticism to be special.
Strength: Experience and production. Three starters are back and the backups have seen just enough practice time to be ready. Last year’s secondary was fifth in the nation and first in the Mountain West, and this year’s group should be just as strong.
Weakness: Superior quarterbacks. The win over Houston wasn’t an aberration, but it was close as BYU’s Max Hall, TCU’s Andy Dalton, Minnesota’s Adam Weber, and San Diego State’s Ryan Lindley all threw relatively well. This is a great secondary, but it can be burned by a hot passing game … even with the great performance in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Outlook: How could Air Force, a place whose secondary was a disaster not all that long ago, be so good against the pass? It has to be because of the competition, right? Sure, playing Army, Nicholls State, and Navy helps make the stat sheet look great, but no one threw the ball better than Houston and the Falcons held Case Keenum and company to 222 yards and six interceptions. This should be a wildly productive secondary yet again that should challenge for the top spot in the Mountain West once again.
Unit Rating: 8

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Junior Erik Soderberg took over the starting kicker job and was decent hitting 22-of-30 field goals including 14-of-14 inside the 30. He was able to nail a 50-yard shot against Colorado State, but he only connected on 8-of-16 kicks from beyond 30 yards. He has a nice leg on kickoffs, and now he has to be more consistent from deep.

The punting game was terrific last season finishing sixth in the nation in first in the Mountain West as Brandon Geyer averaged 43 yards per kick, put 18 inside the 20, and forced 18 fair catches. Now he’s gone and in steps Keil Bartholomew, a small senior who got two tries last year and averaged 43.5 yards per boot.

The return game should once again be terrific. Star corner Reggie Rembert has been an elite punt returner, but last year his job was to work mostly on kickoff returns averaging 25.1 yards per try. Fellow corner Anthony Wright handled the punt return duties averaging a whopping 18.2 yards per attempt with an 88-yarder for a touchdown against Army.

Watch Out For … Rembert to continue to blow up. He struggled two years ago averaging 19.2 yards per kick before finding his groove again, and the coaching staff will continue to make the return game a priority.
Strength: The return game. Air Force was 22nd in the nation in punt returns and 16th in kickoff returns and should be just as dangerous again with so many veteran options to work with.
Weakness: Long distance kicking. Soderberg has the leg, and now he needs to be more consistent from midrange to deep. He has to start doing more from beyond 30 yards.
Outlook: Assuming Bartholomew will be a decent punter with a little bit of work, the special teams, overall, should be among the best in the Mountain West. The return game is phenomenal, the kicking game is solid, and the coverage teams should be excellent again.
Unit Rating: 8

- 2010 Air Force Preview | 2010 Air Force Offense
- 2010 Air Force Defense | 2010 Air Force Depth Chart
- Air Force Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006