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Falcon Positional Unit: Previewing the Offensive Line

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An all new starting unit

News this week that O line stalwarts Nolan Laufenberg and Parker Ferguson have signed free agent contracts with NFL teams is an indicator that the Falcons have some work to do this year. Losing two NFL caliber players from a critical unit of a team that depends on consistent yardage in the running game is a concerning fact.

However, looking at this fact from the positive side, one has to wonder how two offensive linemen and one offensive/defensive lineman from a G5 team who were overlooked by all P5 teams could develop into potential NFL contributors. To me, the answer lies in the system and in the coaching.

Over the last 10 years, the Falcons have averaged 300 yards rushing per year. It doesn’t matter how many NFL linemen or which running backs they have, the numbers are remarkably similar every year.

That doesn’t mean that the Falcons are always going to win a lot of games. The other aspects of the game (Defense, Special Teams, Passing Efficiency, etc.) obviously are very important to a Falcon team that often doesn’t have super human athleticism.

One major determining factor of success for the Falcons is the efficiency of the run game. In recent years, measuring efficiency has been a major objective of a multitude of analytic organizations who have developed various metrics they use to quantifiably evaluate a team’s chance of success and to identify areas of needed improvement.

Over the last three years, the Falcons, with All-Mountain West offensive linemen like Laufenberg, Ferguson, Kyle Krepsz, Scott Hattock, Connor Vikupitz, and Griffin Landrum, Air Force has been among the most efficient offenses in the country. Here are some examples: #1 in lowest stuff rate last 3 years (percentage of time stopped at or behind the line), #3 in lowest momentum killers (turnovers, stops on 3rd and 4th down, 10+ yard penalties, etc.), #2 in eating >3 minutes off the clock per possession, and #4 in effectiveness on 1st down.

The point is the Falcons have been consistent in moving the ball and converting possessions into points. With a complete changeover of the offensive line, we have to expect some degradation in this effectiveness unless Steed Lobotzke and Coach Calhoun have some rabbits to pull out of their hats. I should note however that Lobotzke has produced a first or second team All-MW offensive lineman in each of the four years he has coached the offensive line.

This brings us back to the system and the style of coaching practiced at Air Force, or any of the Academies for that matter. The system is the same every year. Maybe a few new plays will show up every year, but everything revolves around the option. The players do it over and over. For the most part the offensive linemen position is dominated by juniors and seniors who have had time to refine their execution and to bulk up in the weight room. Laufenberg and Ferguson were exceptions to the rule when they started as sophomores.

If any of you read Phil Steele’s college football preview every year, Steele usually notes in his reviews of the Academy teams that “Service academies rarely return a lot of starters but oftentimes still fare well.” That’s the system and I’m not overly concerned with the changeover.

So, on to the depth chart.

Depth Chart

Left Guard:

  1. Kris Campbell
  2. Wesley Ndago

Left Tackle:

  1. Everett Smalley
  2. Ethan Schofield

Center:

  1. Cody Mercer
  2. Thor Paglialong

Right Tackle:

  1. Ryan Booth
  2. Ethan Schofield

Right Guard:

  1. Hawk Wimmer
  2. Jason Madeiros

Hawk Wimmer, Ryan Booth, and Kris Campbell

These three should form the core of the line and provide the leadership to guide the less experienced Diesels. Each has good size (it’s comforting to see so many 300-pounders after many years of very undersized linemen at Air Force) and considerable playing time in reserve last year.

Cody Mercer

Mercer was expected to provide backup on the line last year, but had to sit out the season rehabbing a bad knee. He participated in spring practice and should be ready to go next fall.

Wesley Ndago

Ndago should see his first playing opportunity this year. He came into the Falcon program last year as the highest rated offensive lineman draftee ever. At 6’ 2” and 300 lbs., he appears poised to make a splash this year, assuming he has adapted to the demands of the option offense.

This article concludes my review of Falcon positional units after spring practice. Thanks for reading.