Last year this time, there was uncertainty surrounding the potential of the Black Knights' offense. Yes, there was some experience up front on the offensive line, albeit somewhat limited.
The "O" was going to be lead by second year starting quarterback Trent Steelman, who was still just a sophomore, although a tough as nails signal caller overseeing Army's triple option.
The guy most fans were waiting to see finally dress in the black & gold was Air Force transfer and fullback Jared Hassin. But then again, the 6-foot-3, 235 pound Hassin had yet to take a Division I handoff or take a hit.
The list could go on, but you get the picture. There were questions on top of questions that second year head coach Rich Ellerson was hoping would manifest positively once the 2010 got underway. So, kicking off 2010, it appeared that the senior heavy defense, which was returning starters named Anderson, McNary, Gann, Travis, Dixon and Erzinger to name a few, would have to carry the team until the offense caught on and up.
And for the most the defense did its job, but the offense came out of the gate not missing a beat.
The 2011 Theme - Defense
Now here we are in 2011, with a similar theme, but this time it is on the defensive side that is lacking in experience. The Army offense, which has the potential to be the top rushing offenses in the nation will have to return the 2010 favor.
As the Black Knight concluded their spring practice, it is clear that youth stands out, which translates to inexperience. "We are a young team defensively," shares Co-defensive coordinator Payam Saadat.
With spring practice in the record books, the coaching staff has a solid idea which pieces to the puzzle are in place. Although come R-Day, the staff will have the benefit of the talent coming up from the prep school, which has some players who will add to the depth chart immediately.
GoBlackKnights.com takes a look inside the defense, which will have to mature and step up in a hurry.
"We're looking to leverage our youthfulness and somewhere about the month of October, where the young talent that we have is going to blossom after four games
the first four games of September. Or the second half or the latter 2/3 of the season they can start to get comfortable," Co-defensive coordinator Saadat acknowledges, although he also recognizes that the cupboard is not bare when it comes to the quality of young talent.
"But this squad does have some talent to get up and go and that is something we have to considerably leverage and that is what we are going to try and do."
In addition to the returning varsity players, there should be several key players from the USMAPS that could add value immediately. Players that could help are defensive lineman Jacob Drozd, cornerback Marques Avery, along with Geoffery Bacon.
Incoming freshman Ryan Alexander could add some value upon his arrival.
Clearly counting on the prep guys to add depth is a continuous part of the programs progression and if that is not happening that way, then something is not clicking at prep relative to development. However, over the past several years, that has been the case and this incoming group will be no different.
With the drastic turnover of personnel from last year's team, it is safe to say that the staff has looked to redesign their thoughts when considering the front and various schemes.
• Quick Defensive
• Interior Linemen (Bandit, NG & DE)
• Whip ... look for the incumbent to play anywhere; hand on the ground or in a two point stance.
Don't anticipate the staff having a full commitment to locking in any of the following players to the role of Bandit, Nose Tackle or Defensive-end positions. Each player and role can and will be interchangeable.
As such, certainly don't expect the defense to wow anyone with their height and weight.
At the interior linemen spots, which consist of Bandit, Nose Tackle & Defensive End, you will have A.J. Mackey (266 pds), Bobby Kough (240 pds.), Corey Watts (220 pds.), Chris Swain (260 pds.), Clayton Keller (220 pds.), Brian Zalneraitis, Chad Littlejohn (234 pds.), Tom Houser (240 pds) and Shane Finnane (235 pds).
Another player to keep an eye on up front is Quentin Kantaris, who is still a plebe and has some growing to do physically, but he is a quality player.
"One of our top defensive players is Jarrett Mackey," states Saadat of Mackey, who will move from the inside Bandit spot and take over at the Quick defensive end position vacated by the graduation of Josh McNary.
Then there's up and coming Zach Watts at the Whip spot.
The spring saw the defense experiment with Captain Steve Erzinger in the middle and then in his normal outside linebacker spot.
"We tried various combinations, as we were doing some things that were fairly rudimentary," Saadat shared with GBK. "Like we did up front, we taught a bunch of different techniques and fundamentals to a larger group of individuals. Which meant a bunch of different positions, i.e., the Sam, the Mike and the Rover are all interchangeable at any given time."
If the season were to start tomorrow, Erzinger would be manning the middle.
At the Rover you have Justin Trimble and Reggie Nesbit, with Trimble having a slight edge over Nesbit. Also in the mix was CJ Shelly.
At the Sam, you can look for another sophomore in 5-foot-11, 195 Lyle Beloney taking over for Donnie Dixon, who will be graduating. With RJ Speidel on the shelf with an injury this spring, walk-on Anthony Daniels stepped in and made a name for himself as Beloney's backup.
At the cornerback, there is a wealth up experience, but each player will have to turn their game up a notch or two.
The field corner spot will be manned by returning starter, Josh Jackson. More will be expected from the 6-foot, 185 pound junior this season. Behind Jackson you have fellow junior, Waverly Washington, who had a solid spring.
At the boundary corner you have seasoned veterans in seniors Antuan Aaron and Richard King. Both players were up and down during the 2010 campaign, and must come out early playing solid football.
If the aforementioned corners don't make things happen right out the gate, don't be surprised to see Casey Hughes to get a look. The native of Reading (Pa) showed well this spring and if anything, he will add depth the secondary.
As mentioned, the USMAPS has been an effective filler for the varsity program, immediately and not 2-3 years down the road. One such player that will have immediate impact is cornerback Marques Avery.
The 6-foot-1, 195 pound Avery has all the physical tools and don't be surprised to see him pushing for a starting spot by mid-season if not sooner.
At free safety there are two newcomers in sophomores Tyler Dickson, who leads the way and Thomas Hollaway who came out of nowhere to battle Dickson for the starting spot. Both players will see the field, but Dickson is probably the better overall athlete of the two.
"Our top two defensive players are Steve Erzinger (linebacker) and Jarrett Mackey (quick defensive end)," shares Saadat.
Yes, there's Erzinger and Mackey and certainly these two will lead the way when it comes to leadership and their play.
The next wave of talent will have to play first before "that a boy" acknowledgment, although Zach Watts isn't too far behind relative making some consistent noise on the field, but the other eight must step up and make this defense competitive.
In order for that to happen, this defense must have consistent play across the board. The supporting cast must live up to a degree of expectation relative to their projected ability.
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