August 30, 2012

Army's offense seeking to add passing game threat

Army can move the ball prodigiously without throwing it. We know this from the Black Knights standing atop the national rushing chart last season with 346.5 yards a game.


But Army also wants to contend for the Commander-in-Chief's trophy, bowl bids and Top 25 rankings. For that kind of success, the Black Knights need to at least add the threat of the pass, even their triple-option offense.


"We're never going to be balanced by other people's definition, but the idea is we're going to punish you for being unbalanced," said Army head coach Rich Ellerson, referring opponents overplaying the run. "We can be unbalanced, but if you get unbalanced we can punish you."


Army wasn't able to exploit passing opportunities last year and only managed five touchdown tosses. The longest gain through the air didn't even cover half the field -- 45 yards.
















We're never going to be balanced by other people's definition, but the idea is we're going to punish you for being unbalanced.










- Army head coach Rich Ellerson











The Black Knights were last in the nation throwing the ball, placing 120th out of 120 schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision. They gained only 605 yards and completed only 39 percent -- 37 of 98 passes with four interceptions).


Finishing last, though, doesn't necessarily raise a red flag for a team running the triple-option. Navy and Air Force, who also run the triple-option, placing 119th and 113th, respectively. However, Navy and Air Force threw for significantly more yards and touchdowns despite their low rankings. Air Force totaled 1,821 yards and 16 touchdowns and Navy 1,029 yards with 10 TDs.


Army is addressing its lack of a passing game by shifting senior Malcolm Brown from the depth-laden offensive backfield to wide receiver. Brown, a 5-foot-11, 181 pounder, has been injury prone carrying the ball, so that's one reason to move him to receiver. But another is he has proven himself to be the Black Knights' best receiving running back.


"He gives us another dimension," Ellerson said.


Ellerson says Brown knows what to do with the ball after the catch. He tied for second on the team with seven receptions, was second in yards with 163 and he was the only player with two touchdown catches. His 45-yard gain was Army's longest pass play of the season was a catch-and-run by Brown.


Brown tweaked his hamstring the second week of fall camp and has been sidelined, but he is expected to be full strength when he resumes practice on Monday in preparation for the season opener Sept. 8th at San Diego State.


Patrick Laird, a 6-foot-3, 219 pound junior, is expected to start opposite Brown. He only caught one ball for 14 yards last year, but Ellerson says he's playing his role in fall camp.


"He's had a good camp," he said. "He's a big strong target as well as a good blocker."


Army feels confident shifting Brown outside since the Black Knights have two promising sophomore backups replacing him on the depth chart at A-back, Terry Baggett (6-foot-1, 200) and Trenton Turrentine (5-foot-9, 206).


Baggett played in three games as a freshman before a toe injury ended his season. He carried 10 times for 53 yards (5.3 yards per carry average) with one touchdown and a long run of 25 yards. Turrentine also played in three games with 21 attempts for 98 yards (4.7 average) and four touchdowns and a long of 22.


"Terry Baggett has come back from the broken toe and had a great training camp," Ellerson said.


Ellerson also is confident Turrentine can contribute when he's healthy, but with his hand wrapped in a cast he can't handle the ball right now.


"He's in good shape and we'll have him shortly," he said. "The question is when he'll have the ability to catch since our running backs have to be able to catch the pitch; that's hard to do with a cast on."


Army's other questions to answer on developing a passing threat are up front. The Black Knights broke spring drills planning to line up three returning starters with sophomore center Ryan Powis sandwiched between senior guards Frank Allen and Matt Villanti.


However, Allen (6-foot-4, 261) may be the lone returning starter for the opener. Powis (6-0, 248), a Rimington Award candidate as the nation's top center, has been sidelined in camp with an injured non-snapping left hand. Villanti didn't return to school for what are believed to be academic reasons.


Senior Will Wilson (6-foot-2, 290), projected to start at right tackle, may have to move back to center, where he started three games last year before Powis won the job with his eight starts. Wilson's backup is junior Michael Kime (6-foot-2, 243).


Ellerson said sophomore Stephen Shumaker (6-foot-0, 264) has moved into Villanti's role.


"Shumaker has had a good training camp," Ellerson said. "We're not surprised by that, but he didn't play much last year. He had an OK spring, but he's had a really good training camp."


At left tackle, senior Ben Jebb (6-foot-5, 243) emerged from spring drills as No. 1 He was sidelined in fall camp, but he resumed limited contact in Tuesday's practice.


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