NFL dream flickers for service academy alums


Army 1st Lt. Chad Campbell has one preseason game left to prove he's an NFL linebacker. (Getty Images)

It started out with so much promise. Air Force 1st Lt. Chad Hall peppered the highlight shows hauling down long passes as Philadelphia Eagles coaches lavished praise on one of three service academy alums competing in NFL training camps this summer.

However, the harsh reality of the NFL is starting to catch up to the  three lieutenants now that most NFL teams have finished three preseason games and coaches have to make hard decisions over who will end up on their 53-man rosters.  Right now, it doesn’t look too good for Hall, Army 1st Lt. Caleb Campbell and Air Force 2nd Lt. Ben Garland. Slots on the practice squad look like the best case scenario.

First, you can pull Garland out of the equation immediately. The standout defensive end who graduated from the Air Force Academy last year has to serve two years before he can apply for early release from his active-duty commitment. The real question for Garland will be if he accepts a pilot slot, which would add on five years to his service commitment and likely end his NFL dreams.

Hall and Campbell are the ones with the most riding on their summer NFL performances. This is their shot. If they don’t at least make a practice squad, they return to active duty.

At this point it seems an spot on the practice squad is the best both can hope for. Hall has had the better camp between the two, but he fell flat in the third — and what most coaches say is the most important — preseason game.  He misjudged two punts in the second half. Special teams is where he needed to excel. He didn’t Saturday and now the long odds of him landing on the active roster for the opening weekend just got longer.

Campbell has similarly struggled this summer. The Detroit Lions moved him from his college position of safety to linebacker. He logged three tackles Saturday and again looked slow on his reads. From all accounts, it has been a challenge from Campbell to pick up both the speed of the NFL and a new position all at the same time. For this reason, he would make a good candidate for the practice squad, which would allow him more time to learn the position.

So this is it. Cut down day is Sept. 4. It says a lot about all three players that they have made it this far. They have one more week of practices to impress coaches along with the final preseason game, where they will see plenty of the field as most teams sit their starters in the fourth preseason game.

Hall needs to look dangerous in the return game with at least one long gainer on a punt return. Campbell must show Detroit’s coaches that he has the potential to grasp linebacker and prove to them he’s worth the investment of keeping on the practice squad.


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