Position shuffle helps Air Force football brace for the unexpected

Air Force football coach Troy Calhoun on the sidelines in November, 2016.


By BRENT BRIGGEMAN | The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) | Published: August 16, 2017

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Tribune News Service) — Center Alex Norton lined up at guard for Air Force on Monday. Next to him, Ernest McQuade slid from guard to tackle.

These weren’t depth chart moves based on Saturday’s scrimmage, but rather an early contingency for the unknowns that might arise later this season.

In short, the Falcons want to play their five best available linemen at all times; so training players at different spots in mid-August will provide a jump on that should the need arise.

“It builds shuffle depth,” offensive line coach Steed Lobotzke said. “If you lose somebody up front, you always want to promote your next-best lineman, no matter where he’s at. You don’t want to just promote the guy that’s behind the injured guy.”

Norton is used to the shuffling. He played center as a sophomore, then started every game at guard as a junior. He moved back to center over the spring and is one of the few players on the depth chart whose name can be written in ink instead of pencil.

Still, he was happy to see things from a line spot a few feet away from what he has becomes used to, and without the responsibility of the snap.

“I think it’s a good philosophy,” Norton said. “You don’t want to go into a game week and then an injury happens and nobody has practiced that position.”

The line stands to add to its depth later this week when Jake Barnhorst practices for the first time in August. He has been held out with an achilles tendon strain, but should return Wednesday or Thursday.

That will likely send McQuade into a backup role – either at guard or tackle. He’ll be prepared for both.

“Now’s the week to do it,” coach Troy Calhoun said of the position shifting that took place all over the field. “It may be a one-week deal, maybe longer than that.”

Other moves on Monday included Garrett Kauppila shifting safety spots, with free safety James Jones moving up to take first-team reps alongside strong safety Kyle Floyd.

Cornerback Brett Baldwin, back from an ankle injury suffered in the first practice, worked with the first team at times as he enters a battle with Robert Bullard and Dailen Sutton for the spot opposite Marquis Griffin.

And at tailback, sophomore Nolan Eriksen rotated in for reps with players on the two-deep roster as Benton Washington watched with an elbow in a brace after an injury on Saturday. This was the first indication that one of the sophomore tailbacks had shown separation from the group, but Calhoun downplayed it by noting that Eriksen’s fellow sophomore Christian Mallard made a strong run for a touchdown in Saturday’s scrimmage.

“We’re still looking at a bunch of guys,” he said.

When Jake Barnhorst returns later this week, Air Force will be able to field the starting offensive line it expected. That group is Barnhorst, a senior, at left tackle; senior Ryan Beveridge at left guard, senior Alex Norton at center, junior Griffin Landrum at right guard and senior J.C. Rast at right tackle.

Seniors Neal Bess, Ernest McQuade, R.J. Slater and Jordan Tyler are the most experienced backups.

Pushing the group are a group of sophomores that include tackle Colin Marquez, guard Wolfgang Rehbock and center Chris Michell.

©2017 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
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