The Air Force Falcons have built a proud reputation of being the program many of its fans and football experts would compare to the "Little Engine That Could". You can almost imagine the thoughts of Air Force football players in their past glories telling themselves..."I think I can...I think I can" as they defeated teams they never should have competed with on the gridiron.
For the Falcons to get back to Little Engine status, they will have to fix the engineer problem that plagued them in 2013. This past season saw the Falcons use four different quarterbacks as they derailed to a 2-10 record (0-8 in the Mountain West), the worst record in the short history of Air Force football history. From the suspension of starting quarterback Jaleel Awini (now a walk-on at the University of Colorado) to the injury of Kale Pearson and the up and down years
of Nate Romine and Karson Roberts, the Falcons had quarterback issues that even the most downtrodden teams could not have imagined.
Should the Falcons get a solid engineer in place, the Air Force skill positions appear to be ready to burn the coal and move the Falcons up and down the field. The running game, utilizing lots of motion to open up the triple option attack, will be hoping for a completely healthy and focused season from senior tailback Jon Lee. The past 12 months haven't been the best for Lee, as during the season he battled ankle and knee injuries and then missed part of spring practice because of academic issues.
When healthy however, Lee can make a difference for the Falcons as he averages 6.3 yards per carry in his Air Force career. Lee will see help at tailback from the likes of Devin Rushing, Paco Solano and Aaron Clinton-Earl who saw action for the Falcons in 2013.
The heart and soul of triple option football is the fullback dive and the Falcons have an experienced and productive fullback in senior Broam Hart. The Alvarado, Texas native, a recent nominee for the Allstate American Football Coaches Association Good Works team, had 113 carries for the Zoomies last year gaining a team leading 469 yards and scoring six touchdowns.
If Hart can continue to pound the middle of the line the Falcons should be able to control the ball and help improve on last year's modest time of possession number, which averaged out to 27:34 a game. The Falcons are a ball-control team that relies on keeping the football away from the opponent and staying on schedule with down and distance. This was a problem that plagued the Falcons last year, committing a higher than usual number of penalties (53 for 435 yards) and turnovers (12).
Discipline is the name of the game for Air Force, and last year's squad lacked in that department. An area that the Falcons could improve from 2013 to 2014 is in its passing game. The most pleasant surprise from 2013 was probably the play of Jalen Robinette, who will be a sophomore in 2014. As a frosh, Robinette caught 16 passes for 291 yards and 3 touchdowns.
When you consider Air Force runs the ball 60% of the time or more, those are impressive numbers for a freshman. A physically imposing figure at 6'3 and 220 pounds, Robinette figures to easily surpass those numbers in 2014 and provide whichever quarterback wins the job in camp a solid, steady target.
With Robinette being the leader, the Falcons could see an improvement in the air game as there are a number of weapons for Air Force quarterbacks to target - including senior Sam Gagliano (13 receptions - 233 yards - 2 TDs) and junior Garrett Brown (19 receptions - 237 yards - 1 TD). Air Force will feature some height in their passing game as well with 6'5" junior wide receiver Myles Barnes and 6'6" tight end Marcus Hendricks looking to be solid red zone targets.
It will be even more important for the quarterback situation to settle itself out as the offensive line is in a bit of flux as only two starters return to a unit that finished seventh allowed (nine) and helped open up holes for the 11th center Michael Huser Jr. will be the key returner to the Falcons offensive line in 2014. He led the Falcons in pancake blocks with 70 last season, a first under Head Coach Troy Calhoun.
Besides Huser Jr., only junior Matt Rochell returns to the offensive line, meaning that this group will be largely inexperienced. While Air Force has a fairly basic blocking scheme which relies on proper angles and technique to open holes against defenses that routinely out-man them by 40-60 pounds, filling three offensive line spots means that there could be growing pains for the offense (especially the offensive line) in 2014. The schedule offers little help as Air Force travels to Wyoming in Week 2 and Week 4 brings the Boise State Broncos to Colorado Springs.
Baptism under fire will be the best way to describe the Falcons offensive line training in 2014. For the "Little Engine that Could", the morale of the story was that no matter the obstacle, believing in yourself will help you conquer great feats. This is the path that lies in front of the 2014 Air Force Falcons: finding a productive quarterback, utilizing great skill positions and getting production from an inexperienced offensive line are the obstacles that lay in front of the Falcons.