August 29, 2012

Despite key injuries, Ellerson happy with progress

Army football's 2012 season has reached that hunker-down stage that means the first kickoff is almost here.

The Black Knights have wrapped up training camp and head coach Rich Ellerson and his assistant coaches are engrossed in watching video to prepare a game plan for the season opener Sept. 8 at San Diego State.

"Beginning this morning it's game week," Ellerson said Wednesday afternoon. "We're 100 percent focused on our first opponent. We're very conscious of our relative health going in Monday. We had an aggressive training camp and now we've got to work hard for the next few days to get as many of the strains and bruises and pulls behind us. We want to go into that first game with the players feeling as well as they will all year."

The primary health concerns at this point are senior defensive end Jarrett Mackey (knee), senior wide receiver Malcolm Brown (hamstring) and sophomore center Ryan Powis (non-snapping left hand).

Mackey is trying to make a comeback from reconstructive knee surgery after he suffered torn ligaments in last year's season opener. The Black Knights thought the 6-foot-1, 235-pounder would be ready for fall camp, but he has been limited to non-contact drills. He isn't expected to be ready to be cleared to play early in the season, but Ellerson doesn't feel Mackey's season is in jeopardy.

"I will make this prediction: By the second half the season he'll be all the way back in the saddle," Ellerson said. "The first half is a little problematic. He has to get himself cleared and then he'll have to get some rust off. We'll see how that goes."

Ellerson is confident Brown (5-foot-11, 181), who is making the switch from running back to wide receiver, can resume full-speed work starting with Monday's practice. He began training camp strongly before tweaking his hamstring.

With Army's depth in the offensive backfield and Brown's natural skills as a wide receiver, the coaches were hoping Brown's health would be enhanced without suffering the pounding a running back endures. Although disappointed Brown was sidelined after the first week of fall camp, Ellerson expects Brown's to be ready for the opener.

"Malcolm is a natural receiver," Ellerson said. "He's elusive with the ball in his hands. I'm encouraged by that move. He had a great first great six or seven days. He's played a lot of football here and it's a long season. I don't worry about him getting up to speed. He does create another dimension for us."

Powis (6-foot-0, 248) is ready to return to practice with the exception of determining whether there is a risk to further injury to his left hand. He won't be cleared until then.

"We have to make sure it's safe for him to go out and get banged around," Ellerson said. "We're still doing some fact-finding on his situation."

Powis' unclear status has an already young offensive line in flux. With Powis and left guard Frank Allen the only returning starting offensive lineman, Army moved Will Wilson, who started three games at center last year before Powis took over to start the final eight games, to right tackle in spring ball. But Wilson has returned to center in Powis' absence. Junior Michael Kime, who started the opener at center last year, was the No. 2 right tackle behind Wilson coming out of spring ball.

Despite the key injuries, Ellerson believes Army's new off-season conditioning resulted in the players as a group reporting to training camp in better shape than past years. The Black Knights had more opportunities to coordinate their offseason conditioning around their summer military duties in order to maintain their offseason weight and strength gains.

And now that classes have started at West Point, the morning practices allow the players better use of their time to meet their responsibilities as Cadets and athletes.

"We think we're ahead of where we have been physically," Ellerson said. "I think we saw some benefits from the schedule we used this spring and this summer. I'm obviously rooting for this to work because I've been an advocate of it since I got here (for the 2009 season).
"Now that it's in place, I'm feeling pretty good about it. The football and the events that are expected of the Cadets during the week are sequenced much better. The days are flowing better, but, of course, the proof will be on the scoreboard as we get into the season. But right now it feels like we have a happier, healthier and more focused outfit."

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