April 17, 2010

Defense: Pre-summer camp two-deep projections

With the players is starting their off-season program, summer training camp will be here before you know.

Right now the team is working on the physical factors of camp prior to going to their respective summer military training.

Clearly, one of the benefits of having an early spring practice is allowing for the team recover from spring practice, maintain their summer West Point commitments, along with the coaching staff preparing for their May recruiting trips. GBK.com takes a look at the Black Knights Pre-Summer Camp 2-deep, starting with the defense.







THE DEFENSIVE ENDS

Quick Defensive End

Josh McNary - The All-American defender is ahead of schedule relative to his rehab after coming off of shoulder surgery. By all accounts, he should be 100% prior to fall camp.

Jarrett Mackey - Mackey had a very solid spring and the plus side with the talented sophomore is that he is capable of playing either defensive end position. Mackey took advantage of McNary's rehab status which allowed him to receive plenty of reps throughout the spring. Look for the staff to ensure that Mackey receives more game snaps and someone the staff is counting on in 2010.

Defensive End

Marcus Hilton - For the past three season, the senior Hilton has been unable to break into the starting line-up. However, going into summer training camp, the 6-foot-0, 247 pound Hilton is number one on the depth chart and will be looking for a breakout 2010 season.

Carson Homme - The 6-foot-4, 243 Kennewick, Wash. Native had a good spring and expect him to solidify the end position behind Hilton. Homme, like Mackey (Jarrett) will be looking to see more game reps, while supporting Hilton.

Julius Warmsley - The incoming frosh is someone that Army fans are already familiar with and he should add immediate depth up front. Although, the 6-foot-3 1/2, 255 could play either end spot, he first stop will behind Hilton and Homme. But look for Warmsley to put immediate pressure on both Hilton and Homme as summer training camp unfolds.

Summary

Since there is very little difference in the two defensive end positions, although the Quick has a couple of extra nuisances to the role … but if a player can play one he can play the other. For the aforementioned players, expect to see the most productive of the 4-5 players getting the time on the field. Clearly the leader of this group is All-American Josh McNary.

Having this level of depth and talent to manage relative to game reps is a plus for Ellerson and his defensive staff. Some of it may play out during fall camp, but surely by the first or second game of the season the picture should become clearer.

THE DEFENSIVE TACKLES

Tackle

Mike Gann - The senior Gann is the mainstay of the interior of Army's defensive line. Simply put, the 6-foot-2, 280 pounder bring experience, skill and swagger to the Black Knights' defense and is one of the team's leaders.

Chris Swain - Although it seems that Swain has been playing forever for the Black & Gold, the Oswego, New York product is only a junior. Like Mackey (Jarrett), Swain is just waiting his turn, but even in the holding pattern he must be ready to step in and up when substituting for Gann. This season is breakout time for Swain.

A.J. Mackey - Mackey is coming along and showed progress this spring. Has more of the type of Swain versus Gann, but will need to continue to progress.

Summary

The role and production Swain and Mackey's are significant to optimizing the 2nd half and 4th quarter prowess of Gann. Both players will be called upon in relief, whereby the coaching staff is hoping for very little drop off when they are called upon to spell the senior Gann. "I don't think that we can keep Mike Gann in there every signal play, says Co-Defensive Coordinator, Payam Saadat. "We have to be smart about when we take him out, but the good think is that we think both Swain and Mackey can carry the load when he is not in there."

Bandit Tackle

Nate Combs or Chris Swain - Tipping the scales at light 207 pounds, even in Ellerson's flex defense the sophomore is still smallish. Even so, Combs really impressed this spring and will be given every opportunity to this summer to continue tracking for that starting role.

Justin Schaaf - Schaaf had a relatively quiet spring, but impressed enough to sit behind Combs on our pre-summer camp depth chart.

Bill Prosko - Moved during the middle of spring practice from the Mike position, Prosko is a tough player and will be battling Combs and Schaaf for playing time.

Bobby Kough - The incoming USMAPS product could add help at the DT spot.
If the staff decides to go with the two tackle defensive scheme it will be Swain, where he would slide out. If it's the two flex position, then Nate Combs will called upon and he will be supported by Schaaf and Prosko.

Summary

Some of what will determine which player is on the field will be about the scheme, personnel, depth as well as

THE LINEBACKERS

Mike Linebacker

Stephen Anderson - Like McNary, the Black Knights' captain is making a solid recovery from his end of season knee surgery and should be 100% come fall practice. Anderson's presence is imperative in order for this top tier to be as effective as it has the potential to be.

Kingsley Ehie - One could say that Ehie has jumped to the top of the class by default. The former fullback was able to see significant reps at the Mike linebacker this spring as a result of Anderson and Powell's recovery from surgery and injury respectively. Going into summer camp, Ehie is slightly ahead of Powell, but that could change upon Powell return.

Josh Powell - As mentioned, the sophomore linebacker wasn't able to perform this spring because of injury, however the staff has high hopes for Powell. Only tipping the scales at 190 pounds, Powell will still need to step up his game this summer.

Summary

Both Ehie and Powell should be able to supply with reps when Anderson is off the field and offer solid back-up competition at the Mike and even make Anderson a better player.

Whip Linebacker

Andrew Rodriguez - This spring, Rodriguez picked up where he left off in 2009. He is a consistent performer that knows exactly where to be on the field at all times. He is very rarely out of place in a defense that requires for each player to know their role and be in that role for total team effectiveness. A-Rod is an extremely hard worker at everything during practice, which is was evident by his team leading 85 tackles in 2009.

Chad Littlejohn - The 6-foot-0, 229 pound Littlejohn remains as the backup behind A-Rod.

Rover Linebacker

Steve Erzinger - The junior backer started every game last year as a sophomore and showed continued improvement this spring. The Houston (Tx) native continues to show progress and the staff is looking for him to have an outstanding junior year.

Sean Westphal - Spring practice was the time for the senior to elevate his game and although he did not perform poorly, there was the hope that his productivity would be more conclusive. However, as it stands now, he is Erzinger's backup.

Summary

The trio of Anderson, Rodriguez and Erzinger not only compliment each other's style, but supplement one another's weaknesses as well. This may be by far the best group of Army linebackers that have played together in recent memory.

THE SECONDARY

Cornerbacks

Autuan Aaron - The junior corner continues to mature as a player and big things are expected of him going into the 2010 season. Although only 5-foot-9, there are times that the Texas native plays bigger then his registered height. Clearly not afraid to go head-to-head with an opponent's top receiver, the confident Aaron should now be able to take his game to that next level.

Richard King - For the fans that have not seen King perform, many may be surprised at his overall athletic ability. One of the fastest members on this year's team, King appears to be a lock to start opposite Aaron. Don't be surprised if you see King handling kick-off and/or return punts or kicks … he is that athletic.

L.B. Brown - This spring, Brown showed that he can be counted on to add value to the secondary. He is very talented and can play both the boundary or field corner positions. Hence, the smallish corner (5-foot-6, 165 pounds) will go into summer camp as the back-up to both Aaron and King.

Josh Jackson - The sophomore cornerback add solid depth and gained valuable experience last year on special teams and even occasionally at the nickel back position.

Davonte Anderson - The should be interesting to see what the USMAPS does this summer.

Free Safety

Donovan Travis - Although Travis is still lean, he has added 10 pounds to his frame, yet has improved his overall speed throughout the off-season. Coming off a team leading four interception 2009 season, the senior safety is looking to enter summer camp 100% healthy and pick up where he left off before being hurt to the Navy game.

Ty Shrader - A very pleasant surprise in 2009, where the bulk of his reps came while playing on the JV team. But when his number was called to move up and play with the "big boys", he took advantage and now sit second on the depth chart behind Travis.

Sam (Strong Safety)

Donnie Dixon - Take your pick … Dixon-Trimble or Trimble-Dixon. Either way, the friendly competition for number one or playing time will continue throughout summer camp.

Or

Jordan Trimble - After starting at cornerback two years ago prior to being injured, it appears that Trimble has found a home at strong safety. As noted, look for the senior to share time with Dixon throughout the season.

Robert Speidel - R.J. as he is called, will take on the role of backing up both Trimble and Dixon at the Sam spot. He isn't necessarily a number two as much as a number three on the depth chart. But when you put Dixon and Trimble side by side, it makes him a number two by default.

Lyle Beloney - Although the incoming prep school product could see immediate time via special teams, don't be surprised to see him push his way onto the three deep.

Summary

If the season started today, Dixon would probably start, but Trimble would play as much as Dixon.

Between Travis, Dixon and Trimble you have three guys who can play those two positions. So they represent a starting three for those two safety positions.

If and when the Black Knights line-up in the Nickel scheme, look for L.B. Brown or Trimble to step onto the field.

CONCLUSION

On paper, this group has the opportunity to do something very special, but there are many variables that could determine their overall success. For example, depth - Not much concern relative to depth at the skilled type positions. When it comes to the backend position and because the staff does some very similar things in those roles, you have the ability to move players over if needed.

But clearly having more depth at the down linemen position is always a plus, especially at tackle is still a concern going into the summer. You always want more depth upfront because that is where the high contact positions are and injuries often prevail.

There is a solid first five and good second in some spot, but must be creative in other spots.

The offense must be more consistent throughout 2010, which will allow for the defense to play more aggressive, quality field position and more rested. Despite injuries to Anderson and McNary … overall the Black Knights have fared well in this area and hope to repeat that luck in 2010.
As such, the upcoming season for the defense could be something special to watch.


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