September 29, 2011

Army looking at depth to offset offensive injuries

Clearly if you have the nation's 3rd best rushing offense that is pushing out 372.25 yards per game, and leading the nation in T.O.P. (time of possession) with an impressive 36.04, you are doing something right.

However, at the end of the day, at the end of the season it always comes down to a team's won-lost record. For the Black Knights of Army, there is the need to have their option offense pumping on all cylinders from the opening whistle until the final gun to make those aforementioned stats applicable to the win column on Saturday, as they host Tulane.

But the offensive success has not come without paying a price over the past couple of weeks and that has been the recent injury bug that is hitting the offense like a common cold.

The plus side is that for the first time in awhile the depth is plentiful for the coaching staff and more specifically, offensive coordinator Ian Shields.

The Offensive Line

The Black Knights have lost (broken leg) the services of senior right guard Joe Bailey, who sadly enough has played his last college football game wearing the Black & Gold. Bailey was playing extremely well and make no mistake about it, his absence does take a bite out of the offensive attack, at least in the short term.

With Bailey out, look for either Matt Villanti, who stepped in at the guard spot against Ball State when Bailey was injured or Robert Kava, who's primary position is right tackle to get the nod.

"Matt (Villanti) is a possibility, but Robert Kava has played guard and he's probably the first guy up," says Army's offensive coordinator, Ian Shields. "We have three tackles, all have played well and Robert being one of those three. Kava can slide in and play guard and Matt can play there, along with Will Wilsond."

For Villanti, who actually replaced Bailey during the Ball State game, the 6-foot-3, 278 pounder from Katy (TX) must become more consistent in his play if he wants the coaching staff to call his number in crunch time.

Moving center Will Wilson is a reflection of the noted depth on offense. The continue emergence of freshman Ryan Powis, along with the potential return of Michael Kime at center, allows for Wilson to step up and in elsewhere on the line.

Powis finally received some game action last weekend, as he played the last 30 snaps against Ball State where he registered 11 knockdowns. And if you ask the coaching staff, he played extraordinarily well.

"We have another day of practice, but I'm comfortable with both those guys (Wilson & Powis) and they're both good players," adds Shields when discussing the battle at center.

Gone, but not forgotten is offensive tackle Derek Bisgard, who won the starting role during spring/summer practices, only to be injured (knee) during the season opener against Northern Illinois.

"Derek just came back and has started to practice again," offers Shields. "He another reason why Kava can go into guard is because we'll have some depth back with Bisgard being back possibly. "If he is healthy and right, that will be a real positive addition."

If Bisgard is able to go full speed, look for him to support Mike McDermott at right tackle.

The Slotbacks

Then there is slotback Trenton Turrentine, who's instinctive style of running compliments the downhill running style of fellow slotback, Raymond Maples and gives Army another weapon offensively. The freshman Turrentine injured his knee against Northwestern and will be out for an extended period of time. For the talented frosh, it appears to be a wait and see relative to having his knee scoped and of course his ability to return this season.

But again, depth and talent are not a concern on this side of the ball. In Turrentine's stead will be another gifted frosh in Terrence Baggett, who many observers feel is on par or if not better than little Trent (Turrentine), as they call him.

Baggett is slightly bigger (6-foot-0, 205) and faster than his plebe running partner.

So look for starter Malcolm Brown to line up opposite Raymond Maples at the slot positions, with backup duties coming from Baggett, Jonathan Crucitti and even Scott Williams. Of course, much of that rotation is depended upon the various what package (Tulane's defense) and what plays Army runs.

Also there's a newcomer in the mix, who has impressed the staff with his play on the JV squad and that's Stephen Fraser. "Fraser has been getting reps this week as well," bellows Shields when discussing Fraser's emergence. "He's a good player and probably starting to pass some of the veterans players .... Fraser is right on their heals.

The Wide Receivers

Wide Receiver has also had its shared of walking wounded. Last week, senior Davyd Brooks did not play due to an injured wrist. The 6-foot-3, 212 pound receiver will be available this Saturday against Tulane.

While up and coming wide out Jared McFarlin was injured in the course of the Ball State game and is probably a game time decision on Saturday.

The plus side is that senior Austin Barr has returned from his injury, but clearly there is a slight drop off in what McFarlin can do versus what Barr brings to the table.

So the foursome on Saturday could be in no particular order, Barr, Brooks, Anthony Stephens Anthony Stephens and Chevaughn Lawrence.

Preventive Measures

On the preventative side of the equation, the staff realizes the pounded that fullback Brandon Dewitt Jared Hassin takes each play ... with or without the ball. Obviously their goal is to get the outstanding fullback through an entire season, injury free and that's where depth and frosh Larry Dixon come into play.

"Larry is doing just fine and doing well," says Shields. "He's going to have plenty of carries in his career here. "He'll have a breakout game and they will go, who's that guy? And we'll go the same guy that was there last week."

Like all of the aforementioned positions, Head Coach Rich Ellerson and his staff's recruiting, development and evaluation of players is a fair barometer of the progress of the Army football program. Of course and as previously noted, it still comes down to the team's performance on Saturdays, and this weekend the Black Knights are looking to go full throttle as they take on the Tulane Green Wave.

Kickoff for Saturday's Army vs. Tulane contest is at 12noon (EST).

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