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Sky’s the Limit for Appalachian State

By Jim Johnson
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The 2017 iteration of the Appalachian State Mountaineers have no discernible weakness, at least amongst the starting lineup. As far as that's concerned, this is a perfectly constructed football team, for what it wants to do.

That's why they will, at worst, win a share of the Sun Belt championship, if they don't take it outright.

Everything starts on defense with the Mountaineers, a group that has led the Sun Belt in total defense every year since joining the conference.

Last year, they gave up touchdowns on less than 18% of opponents' possessions, good for second in the conference and 12th, nationally.

Senior safety A.J. Howard attributes the sustained dominance to the coaching.

"They put us in the right positions, we have a great a scheme and the right guys to fit those roles, because of how they teach us," Howard explained.

Defensive Coordinator Nate Woody's base 3-4 is anchored by preseason all-conference selections Tee Sims, at defensive end, and Myquon Stout, in the interior. Both Sims and Stout were ranked in the top 50 of the Sun Belt Top 100.
Caleb Fuller is also a returning starter that will line up opposite Sims, at the other end spot.

Eric Boggs and Devan Stringer highlight yet another, in a long line of, dominant linebacking corps. Like their line counterparts, the pair were named to the first and second Preseason All-Sun Belt teams, respectively.
Anthony Flory, who will join Boggs as the other starting inside linebacker, will be a first year starter with big shoes to fill in the wake of John Law's departure, but played significant snaps as a reserve, in 2016.

Opposite Stringer, the second outside linebacker is Rashadd Townes, a pass rush specialist that missed the 2015 season due to injury but came back last year to have at least a shared tackle for loss in three separate appearances, even playing in just ten games.

Clifton Duck is the best cover corner in the conference, and one of the best in college football. He was a freshman All-American, a year ago, and tied for first in the league with 13 passes defended.

Had Latrell Gibbs stuck around, this would have had an argument as one of the nation's elite cornerback duos. Still, Brandon Pinckney and redshirt freshman Shemar Jean-Charles, should more than hold their own.

Josh Thomas is a plenty capable safety that's shown the versatility to drop back into single-high coverage or come up and make plays in the box. Finally, A.J. Howard is one of the more underrated defensive backs in the conference, albeit in an admittedly loaded group of safeties.

"When the defense is playing good," quarterback Taylor Lamb began, "I can play free out there. I know if I make a mistake, the defense will make a stop or force a field goal, so the confidence in my defense helps me."

"I remember last year I called my dad," the signal caller recounted, "about two-and-a-half weeks into camp. I said, 'Dad, I don't think we're going to be very good on offense this year.' But they're just unbelievable. It makes us better getting to go against them in practice every day."

Lamb trails only Baker Mayfield amongst active quarterbacks, as far as wins as a starter. He's not the most elite passer in the league, but he utilizes his ability to improvise, when necessary, and ended up in the top five in the league for rushing touchdowns, last year.

As a sophomore, running back Jalin Moore compiled over 1,400 rushing yards en route to becoming the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year.

Shaedon Meadors emerged as Lamb's go-to-guy, as a junior, with over 700 receiving yards, and was a first team All-Sun Belt preseason selection.

"You can throw up a ball and Shaedon Meadors can go get it," said Lamb. "You can hand the ball off to Jalin Moore, and he can go get you 10, 15 yards -- maybe break one."
"He's gotten stronger and faster than I've ever seen him," Howard added, about Meadors.

Zy Letman provides a big bodied, red zone threat, opposite Meadors, and dynamic slot receiver Darrynton Evans is always a threat to go the distance.

Tight end Levi Duffield has already proven himself as a key contributor when it comes to run blocking. He has the ability to offer a solid safety valve for Lamb, as Barrett Burns did before him.

Left Tackle Vic Johnson was named to the 2016 All-Sun Belt Newcomer Team, after starting all 13 games. Senior Beau Nunn, is, at worst, the second best right tackle in the conference, and was selected to the preseason All-Sun Belt first team, alongside right guard Colby Gossett, who is the best offensive lineman in the league.

And Tobias Edge-Campbell and Ryan Neuzil should have a relatively easy transition into the two open spots in the interior of the line, simply by nature of the guys that they lineup beside.

Again, this team doesn't have all that much room for improvement.

When pushed to identify any sort of weakness, Lamb stated, "We just need to make sure we have the confidence to play four quarters.

To the same question, Howard replied, "We need to force more fumbles."

Those answers are, effectively, the same as saying, "We don't have any."

It's hard to disagree.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP