When Dean Campbell switched from coaching Air Force’s running backs to its secondary during the offseason, he tried his best to shed any preconceived notions about his cornerbacks. He didn’t break down film, didn’t look at the statistics and didn’t worry about the techniques junior Chris Sutton and sophomore Carson Bird had been taught by Vic Shealy, who left to become defensive coordinator at UNLV. “I told them, ‘Everybody’s got a clean slate,’” Campbell said. “Vic did a great job with our secondary, but I’ve got to be me. I’ve done things a cer- tain way for a long time and I’ve got certain fundamentals I believe in and I tried to relay that to them.” Campbell’s approach seems to be paying off for the Falcons (2-1), whose secondary will likely be tested again Thursday night in Salt Lake City against defending Mountain West Conference champion Utah (2-1). So far, even against some of the league’s fastest receivers in Wyoming’s Jovon Bouknight and San Diego State’s Jeff Webb, Air Force has shied away from soft coverage on the corners and allowed Sutton and Bird to take chances. Though neither has an interception, they said the more aggressive approach has simplified their techniques and boosted their confidence. “It lets us tighten up a little more and more,” Bird said. “It gives us a lot of confidence to tighten up on receivers, and we’re starting to break on those underneath routes a little bit more.” Though Air Force is ranked seventh in the conference in passing defense at 254 yards per game, it’s somewhat by design. Campbell said Air Force’s top priority on defense is stopping the run, which will often leave the cornerbacks by themselves. Still, the secondary has only given up one big play — a 63-yard pass to Bouknight that was partially the result of a missed tackle. “I think they’re understanding what I want as far as when we’re going to stop the run and when we’re going to defend,” Campbell said. “Our kids have busted their tails. “I think confidence may be the most important trait for a corner because sometimes when you’re out there on an island, you’re exposed. But they’ve got to be able to get back up and challenge them again and so I think as they get more confidence in what they’re doing, they’ll feel more comfortable maybe breaking in front of a guy to try to make an interception.” Perhaps the only criticism of Air Force’s cornerbacks so far is that they haven’t recorded any interceptions despite ample opportunities. In the third quarter last Saturday, Bird had a ball in his hands but couldn’t hold on to it. Wyoming later kicked a field goal on that drive, which loomed large in Air Force’s 29-28 loss. “The last two games I’ve had chances to make interceptions and couldn’t finish the play for one reason or another,” Bird said. “That’s not real characteristic of me or the team. We usually capitalize on plays. That’s why I was on the team (in 2004) as a freshman. I made plays as a freshman and I’m not making them now, so I’m real frustrated.” Sutton knows there will be other chances, especially now that they’ve earned the freedom to take risks. “I think we need to take more chances,” Sutton said. “Taking chances is what the game’s about. We can put ourselves in position more. The more confidence we have playing with each other, it’ll allow us to take those chances because we’re getting more comfortable with our defense.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0258 or firstname.lastname@example.org NEXT Air Force (2-1, 1-1 MWC) at Utah (2-1, 0-1), 5:30 p.m. Thursday, ESPN, 740 AM, 560 AM
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