Redskins

Air Force faces Rice in Armed Forces Bowl

Air Force faces Rice in Armed Forces Bowl

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) Troy Calhoun remembers the day almost six years ago when he returned to Air Force as the first academy graduate to become the head coach.

The Falcons were coming off three consecutive losing seasons, and Calhoun recalls what he was told after taking the job.

``Somebody said, `Hey, realistically, these first five years, if you can catch lightning in a bottle one time, maybe you get to a bowl game,''' Calhoun said Friday.

Try six bowls in six seasons.

Air Force (6-6) makes its school-record sixth consecutive bowl appearance Saturday against Rice (6-6) of Conference USA in the Armed Forces Bowl.

Calhoun's first season ended with a loss to California in the 2007 Armed Forces Bowl, where the Falcons played three consecutive years before going to the Independence and Military bowls the last two years. They are back in Fort Worth after overcoming the loss of 17 senior starters from last season.

``I first found out about this opportunity back in the summer. We knew it would be really a goal for our squad,'' said Calhoun, whose team is the Mountain West Conference representative in the game. ``We had only five starters coming back into this season. ... The first two weeks in August, we were a long, long ways away from being a bowl team.''

Even with the huge turnover in the starting lineup, the Falcons still do well what they have for so long. They run. Air Force is second nationally with 329 yards rushing per game, and won against Hawaii - the victory that got them bowl eligible - without throwing a single pass.

``They are a very disciplined team,'' Rice cornerback Phillip Gaines said. ``You can't try to do too much against this team because that's when they break the big plays. So you just have to be sound, and everything else will take care of itself.''

Gaines broke up 18 passes during the regular season, tying for the national lead. Only four NCAA players have had 20 in a season, the last in 2006. Against Air Force, Gaines may not get many chances to reach that mark, though he knows he has stay focused on the receiver he's covering.

With only seven seniors (three of them tight ends), Rice is in its first bowl game since 2008. The Owls, who lost three games by four points or less, were 1-5 after a 14-10 loss at Memphis the first weekend of October.

``We set our goals to go to a bowl game this season. It was one where we were 1-5 at one point and had to get on a roll,'' coach David Bailiff said. ``It's a tribute to our seniors who every day when our football team came over there, we would not let them have bad days. We drew a line in the sand. We used a lot of the hard lessons early that put us on a roll late.''

Like Calhoun at Air Force, Bailiff is in his sixth season at Rice. The Owls made it to the Texas Bowl in Bailiff's second season, but this is only their third bowl since two postseason games during the 1961 calendar year - the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 and the Bluebonnet Bowl in December of that year.

Since the Falcons' last game, senior quarterback Connor Dietz has graduated from the academy and been commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force.

``He's an officer now, so we have to take orders from him and actually listen to him now,'' senior defensive lineman Nick DeJulio said with a chuckle. ``He's one of our influential leaders.''

Dietz, who followed a pair of four-year starting quarterbacks, is feeling healthy after being banged up toward the end of the regular season, when Air Force lost three of its last four games. He has thrown for 1,127 yards and eight touchdowns and run for 658 yards with five scores.

While Dietz only attempted four passes in the regular season finale after the zero-pass game against Hawaii, he expects the Falcons to mix in a few more passing plays against Rice - if needed.

``We're not the same offense every year, we're not the same offense every game,'' Dietz said. ``When we have to throw, we throw. When we have to run, we run. It's kind of one of those things, where if it's working, why change it? That's kind of how we approach every game. We go in with a big game plan, but if a certain little thing is working, why get away from it?''

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Adrian Peterson is fifth in rushing and, oh yeah, he finally feels fully healthy now

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Adrian Peterson is fifth in rushing and, oh yeah, he finally feels fully healthy now

The version of Adrian Peterson the Redskins have been getting this year — the one who currently sits as the NFL's fifth-leading rusher and the one who has been the team's only consistent offensive threat — hasn't even been the fully in-shape version, according to Peterson.

If you take him at his word, that's a pretty frightening thought for non-Redskins defenses to ponder.

After practice on Wednesday, the 33-year-old was asked about how he's feeling after dealing with ankle and shoulder problems earlier in the season. Those problems are apparently now all behind him.

"Last week, I actually started feeling all the way healthy," he said in the 'Skins locker room. "My shoulder, I'm back to bench pressing. I hadn't done that in three weeks. And so I'm back to doing the normal things that I was able to do. My ankle's feeling good, my body's just feeling refreshed."

Oh, so the guy who's been averaging nearly 75 yards per game on about 17 carries per game and the guy who's scored four total touchdowns through nine contests is only just now back to normal?

Damn.

"Second half has been a blessing to me, you know?" he said. "It was a grind the first eight weeks, and here now, as I stand in front of you, my body's feeling amazing."

Must be nice to be one of the sport's best players of this generation, huh?

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Steelers players plunder Le'Veon Bell's locker a day after missed deadline

Le'Veon Bell decided not to return to the Steelers this season, and his former teammates have apparently decided they can have his belongings. 

The All-Pro running back didn't sign his $14.5 million franchise tag by Tuesday's deadline, and thus is ineligible to play this season.

Steelers player preceded to plunder his locker Wednesday. Defensive end Bud Dupree went right for Bell's cleats, thanking him for the Jordan brand shoes and saying he wishes Bell success.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told reporters he sent Bell his well-wishes, but got no response from his former backfield mate. 

It's unclear what Bell plans to do next, but it's crystal clear the Steelers have moved on, with his shoes in tow. 

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