Can Haaziq Daniels Earn All-MWC Team Recognition?
What Does The Depth Chart Look Like At Quarterback?
The 2022 Falcons boast a roster that has a lot of returning talent in critical positions. To the fortune of Air Force, they have a proven and experienced playmaker returning at the most important position on any teams roster, quarterback.
Haaziq Daniels figures to be under center this fall, which is great news for Air Force fans. However, history would strongly suggest that he won’t be the only player at the position to be counted to win games. While the Falcons have been fortunate to see multi-year starters lead them over the course of the past few seasons, that fortune has also been in conjunction with very capable and experienced depth behind them. We’re talking about the kind of depth that is depended on to sub, start and win games.
Necessary depth at the quarterback position isn’t unique to Air Force alone. But with the style of offense they play, it tends to be a preparation exercise for when needed, not if needed. Because of that, Troy Calhoun, Mike Thiessen and the rest of the staff have to ensure there is a quarterback room that is equal parts capable and expecting, when it comes to seeing the field.
Today, we are are going to examine that quarterback room.
QB1: Haaziq Daniels
Entering fall camp, Haaziq Daniels should be fully entrenched as the starting quarterback. This will be his third year as the lead signal caller, and if his rate of progression continues, this could be a spectacular senior season for Daniels.
Thrust into action in the COVID shortened 2020 year, Daniels was a relatively unknown commodity as a sophomore. As the season unfolded, he proved a capable engineer of the triple-option offense. When he was on, you could see a ton of potential. But there proved to be adversity as well. Much like that season was for the Falcons, so was Daniels performance.
Probably the most important thing in all of that crazy 2020 as it relates to Haaziq Daniels though, was he was obviously developing. There were critical blunders mixed with glimpses of brilliance. And there was certainly more good than bad.
All of that first year starting experience set the tone for a much more linear trajectory of improvement. While his completion percentage dipped slightly in 2021, his effectiveness and overall development as a passer was obvious. Just as Louisville, who Daniels carved up in a bowl game performance to remember.
His ability as a runner was never really in question. In fact, the only change in standing in that regard was the fact that he put defenses on notice that he has homerun speed to compliment good vision and decisiveness when carrying the ball. This was evident when he ripped off a 94 yard touchdown run against Florida Atlantic.
If his development continues at the current trajectory, Haaziq Daniels should be in the conversation as an All- Mountain West Conference Team selection. Accounting for 18 total touchdowns (11 rushing and seven passing) last year, Daniels looks to be a truly distinguished duel threat quarterback with plenty of weapons around him. If he fulfills his potential, this should be a special season for him and the Falcons.
Zac Larrier clocked the FIFTH-FASTEST 200-meter time in Air Force history (20.99) to finish fourth in the meet! pic.twitter.com/uxqPmtKrqV
— Air Force Track & Field/XC (@AF_TFXC) April 10, 2022
The Two-Deep: Larrier/Jones/Brittain
It seems there is a sentiment that the departure of Warren Bryan leaves Air Force with a void at the backup spot under center. This is a bit misguided if you really look at who is still on the roster for the upcoming season, and consider that Bryan only saw the field in three games in 2021. Let’s be clear, Bryan was very effective when opportunities arose, but most of that playing time came in 2020, not in 2021.
When it comes to production and game experience, Mountain West Track Champion Zach Larrier is actually atop that list. Most of his damage game at the end of the year, and in a change of pace package. But the track star was very effective as a runner, gaining 106 yards on just 12 carries (nearly 9 yards per carry) along with a touchdown. While Larrier has yet to prove himself as a passer, the ability to operate the run game from triple-option is really what’s paramount for success at Air Force.
The name you don’t want to lose sight of looking at the depth chart this year, and essentially making his case to start next season (2023) is Jensen Jones. The Florida native has gotten a jersey and traveled with the team ever since he got on campus in 2020. Pretty impressive for a quarterback at a service academy. Jones has amassed 40 yards on just six carries (one touchdown) in his time thus far at the Academy. His ability to earn a place traveling with the team from day one tells a lot about how he is viewed by this coaching staff.
The third person in this collection is Ben Brittain. Similar to Jones, Brittain earned a jersey and traveled with the team as a freshman in 2020, this was a year removed from his first season which was spent at the Academies Prep School. This means that Brittain has seen and operated this Falcon offense in some capacity for three years now, ahead of his Junior season.
In fact, all three of these Cadets are in their Junior year, so their competition for playing time won’t end anytime soon. Let’s hope a majority of their reps in 2022 come in mop-up duty from a few engineered blowouts.
Names to Know: Turner/Smith/Reasoner/Hodges
The previous section may come as no surprise to most Air Force fans, though there is probably a pretty substantial awareness gap when you move on from Haaziq Daniels. But if you were to look at the full landscape as it relates to quarterbacks currently at the Air Force Academy, there are a few other players that are worth getting to know.
How can you start anywhere but with a quarterback who’s first name is Cannon? Well in this case, we’re talking about 2020 commit Cannon Turner. Another in the dearth of Juniors, Turner has yet to get the opportunity to make an impact in a game situation. However, this high IQ Cadet has distinguished himself in the classroom being recognized on the All- Academic Team for the Mountain West Conference.
Did we mention there are a lot of Juniors at quarterback? Well the last one to get covered here is going to be Jake Smith. One of the players who took a semester away from the Academy during the COVID impacted season, in what we’ve come to know as a ‘turnback’. Smith probably get’s most commonly recognized for his high school distinction as the opposing quarterback who defeated former number one overall pick, Trevor Lawrence in their high school state championship game.
Thanks NEISD for the feature! Excited to get up to Colorado Springs this summer ⚡️⚡️⚡️ https://t.co/zktm75I2qB
— Ty Reasoner (@tyreasoner_2) May 14, 2021
Out of the 2021 recruiting class, Ty Reasoner will be battling for position as a future Falcon signal caller as well. The Texas product was the definition of a duel threat quarterback in high school collecting over 6,100 yards of total offense with 70 combined touchdowns, rushing and passing.
It’s generally dangerous to invest too much in a current year recruiting class enrollee at a Service Academy. However, the Falcons have a 2022 three-star commit by the name of Kemper Hodges coming to the Springs. Part of a pretty exciting recruiting class overall, one can only hope that Hodges and company aren’t part of that massive turnover that inevitably happens in those first 12 months at a U.S. Military Academy. Hodges is the most highly rated quarterback prospect to commit to the Academy according to 247sports.com in the last decade. For perspective, that includes former Elite 11 prospect and eventual transfer departure, Ryan Brand (2014 commit Keenan Curran was the highest rated- but never entered the Academy at quarterback).
While Haaziq Daniels isn’t getting quite the attention as a Falcon that former Mountain West Wire player of the year, Donald Hammond III did; he certainly could be on his way to the same credentials. Daniels truly could end the year as one of the most effective duel threat quarterbacks in the country. I know that may sound a stretch, but that’s probably because he’s in the same conference as Jake Haener that he’s so far under the radar. Don’t sleep on Ziq’.
As far as the insurance behind Daniels, it feels like the staff is more than comfortable with the guys in line. I’m not so sure Zach Larrier is the primary backup, because he is so versatile and talented, you can expect him to have packages that get ball in his hands a variety of ways. Larrier is going to be part of the offense I believe, and not purely in case of emergency.
The quarterback room may not match the proven depth and talent that the linebacker group brandishes. But that’s not a slight, because that linebacker room is as good as it gets. But the quarterbacks have plenty of talent, and unless you follow closely what’s gone on in Colorado Springs, your probably not going to recognize just how good this position group is until someone not wearing a number four jersey just engineers 10 minute scoring drive, tearing out the soul of the opposing defense.
The scenario described isn’t meant to be an exaggeration of what could happen, whilst being unlikely. This is probably going to happen, and to more than one team. No-one wants to see Haaziq Daniels get injured; but if he’s not able to go for whatever reason, don’t be too quick to weep for Air Force, they’re better prepared to thrive in this circumstance than most.