Air Force Falcons Defensive Preview

Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE

The Air Force defense struggled in 2012, but can they right the ship this season?

Defensive Line

Air Force simply could not get after the quarterback last season, tallying just 17 sacks in 13 games (tied for 103rd in the country). Of those, just 8.5 came from the defensive line, which is... disappointing, to say the least. Luckily, however, top pass-rusher Alex Hansen does return, and brings his four sacks and nine TFLs from last season with him. But he can't be the only member of the line creating pressure. Having Joseph Champaign and Nick Fitzgerald in the end rotation with him helps, though the end result must be (and currently isn't) sacks. The veterans on the ends must make up for the inexperience at DT/NT, where the undersized Dana Luebbe is likely starting.

Depth Chart Projection:

DE: Hansen | Champaign | Riley Cannon

DT: Luebbe | Troy Timmerman

DE: Fitzgerald | Dillon Beschel

Linebackers

This is going to be where the problem lies for the Falcons. Of last year's top tacklers from the linebacker spot, Air Force loses five of their top six, and all but one sack. Last year's rotation did run deep, so there's some experience way down the depth chart, but it's still a very green group for sure. Junior Jared Jones will have to step up immediately into Alex Means' old pass-rusher spot on the outside, but everything else is kind of up in the air, with zero seniors to be found. Size is likely to settle a lot of these positional battles at the other four linebacker spots (several of the younger players come in at under 200 pounds) -- at least for the time being. Expect a steady rotation of players at every spot except Jones's, to see what fits best.

Depth Chart Projection:

OLB: Jones | Reggie Barnes

ILB: Joey Nichol | Kristov George

ILB: Connor Healy | Spencer Proctor

OLB: Steven Sumpter | Ian Imamura

Secondary

As SB Nation's Bill Connelly points out, things were rough for the Air Force secondary last season, but that doesn't mean all hope is lost with three of four starters returning. Look down the depth chart and there are a ton of younger players -- they will indeed improve over time. Where they'll be specifically called upon is in the area of forcing turnovers, where they were mostly ineffective in 2012 (just eight interceptions). Between youth and a soft zone approach, it's obvious defensive backs likes Steffon Batts and Chris Miller were going to record high tackle numbers. But that's not the reason those corners are there. They'll need to play closer to opposing receivers and get a greater nose for the ball this season if they want to become a more effective unit. Tackles are great, but they're better off being racked up by safeties instead (though still, not the best sign of a good defense).

Depth Chart Projection:

CB: Batts | Nick Hughes

CB: Chris Miller | Dexter Walker

FS: Christian Spears | Justin DeCoud

SS: Jamal Byrd | Jordan Mays

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