September 13, 2010

10 Reasons To Be Optimistic In 2010

Ten Reasons to Optimistic In 2010

10. The Sophomore Class - Each weekend when the Black Knights take the field, there they seem to be top heavy with seniors. Four of the starting five on the offensive line are seniors and the core of the defense is senior lead from All-American defensive end Josh McNary, linebacker Stephen Anderson, defensive tackle Mike Gann and defensive backs Donovan Travis, Jordan Trimble, along with Donnie Dixon. But when you look deeper, the line-up is latent with quality sophomore talent. You can start with quarterback Trent Steelman, starting slot-back Malcolm Brown, who continues to improve, along with his back-up, Brian Cobbs. Making his Army debut this season is B-back Jared Hassin and at receiver you have up and coming George Jordan, not to forget offensive guard Frank Allen, who is the only non-senior up front. Defensively there is Jarrett Mackey at the bandit spot, along side of Mackey was Nate Combs at the whip position, prior to his season ending ACL injury in game one. Then at one corner spot is Josh Jackson, who also doubles as the team's punt returner.

9. Coaching - Last season the staff had to coach down, but coming into spring practice the approach to practices and development were completely different and the staff was able for the most part to "coach up". First, there was the expectation that players were able to comprehend and put in to play what that gained from their first year under Head Coach Rich Ellerson's tenure. In addition to the coaching, a full cycle under Brett Gerch's S&C program has paid obvious dividend and you would have to be Stevie Wonder not to see the physical difference in the players. Although Ellerson claimed that after the win over EMU that in some areas of their game plan they became a little too cute, but that is reflection of being in the second year of building this program versus year number one. In 2009, it was pretty vanilla, but 2010 offers up the opportunity for the staff to be effectively creative on both side of the ball.

8. Depth - No, this club is not where it needs to be from a 3 deep perspective, but they are getting there. However, in certain positions and in only 2 years under this staff, the quality of depth at the 2 deep is beginning to match the starters. Case in point … when Army's leading tackler in 2009, Andrew Rodriguez was put on the "physically can't perform list", sophomore Nate Combs step up and in. When Combs went down in the beginning for the Eastern Michigan game, Chad Littlejohn held his own.

And minus his final drive fumble, who can they were not impressed with the performance of Max Jenkins who replaced the injured Steelman at quarterback against Hawaii. Jenkins' showed poise and athletic ability, along with quality decision making that allow the Army faithful to feel that should Steelman be unavailable against North Texas on Saturday, that the Houston, Texas native could effectively run the offense.

7. Offensively - The increased production. Just look at where the "O" is in terms of touchdown after just two games and they have tallied 8 td's compared to 18 all of 2009. Where the team is almost half way home when you compare 2009 and 2010 numbers … and with ten games remaining on the schedule, one could easily see that this is not the same offense that stepped on the field last season, albeit the same ball players.

6. The Running backs - Ironically, the names are pretty much the same from last season, but the hop in the step is different. Yes, newcomers Jared Hassin and Raymond Maples have and will add a different feel for Steelman as he looks to hand-off or make the pitch this season. But Malcolm Brown and Brian Cobbs are proving to be all that the coaches anticipating them to be coming into their second season in the system. Of course there is Mealy, who seems to both more explosive and stronger in what will be his final season in the Black & Gold. With the exception of Mealy, Steelman, Hassin, Cobbs and Brown are all sophomores and Maples is only a freshman. This group will only get better throughout the season and that clearly reason to be optimistic.

5. The Offensive Line - This group came out of the gate strong against Eastern Michigan as the rushing attack piled up 309 yards. This was followed by 259 yards on the ground against Hawaii, who may be the top team against the run that the Black Knights may face all season … at least physically. Merzi, Allen, Peterson, Reed and Johnson are the mainstays and have received the bulk of the reps up front. In fact, this ensemble of hole openers played every offensive snap against Eastern Michigan. Their improvement from last year is one of the major upgrades from the 2009 season … and as they go, so goes the offense.

4. Senior Leadership - Yes, Stephen Anderson is the selected captain, but the role of leadership is not always by designation and that is the case with this 2010 team. As you look up and down the lineup, especially with many of the seniors, that have taken charge. From Mr. Consistency, Patrick Mealy, who has taken the younger backs under his wings, to free safety Donovan Travis, who is like a coach on the field, to Mike Gann who has so much electricity from his defensive tackle spot that just playing next to him it can become contagious. Then there is leading by example and no one does that better than McNary. Simply put, he is a dominant football player and every offensive coordinator must prepare for when they come against the Army defensive. Then there are the road hogs up front and maintain a work ethic that flows down to the underclassmen. But the leadership is not regulated to the senior players … you could see A-Rod on the sidelines coaching and encouraging his teammates during the Hawaii game and his eyes on field are an invaluable asset to this teammates.

3. Attitude …. Which is defined as; a. A state of mind or a feeling; disposition: had a positive attitude about work and b. An arrogant or hostile state of mind or disposition. Take your pick, but either way this team has it and they bring into every single practice and every single game. Their amazing 4th quarter winning drive against Eastern Michigan reflects that attitude. And when they were down by 21 points against a solid Hawaii club … it was that attitude that not only pulled them back into the game, but positioned them to be just one fumble and field goal away from winning the game.

2. Return to Self - Both Josh McNary and Stephen Anderson had Army coaches, teammates and fans holding their collective breaths as they went through season ending surgery and rehab in 2009 and 2010 respectively. Both of these defensive stalwarts worked diligently in their rehab and early season indicators suggest that are 100%, and perhaps even more explosive, quicker and stronger than before. Either way, their presence solidifies Army's attitude defensively.

1. Another Opportunity - While everyone else may be talking about the season, the staff and the players have a different approach. They aren't talking about the season, but the task at hand. Prior to the Eastern Michigan game, the focus and talk was EMU, but after that game it and through that Sunday, the emphasis turned to Hawaii. You can see where this trend is going.

Now that the Hawaii game is over, the eyes are now on North Texas. And if you want to break it down from there, after today the staff and team weren't thinking about North Texas on Sunday, but Tuesday's practice. For this team, everything is about the next event. The idea with this team is not about looking so far down the road that you forget about the current task at hand. For the Black Knights it is about the next practice that allows for them to correct mistakes, preparation for the next opponent and continue getting better individually and as a team. That is applicable to both players and coaches. Even had Army pulled out a victory against Hawaii, the staff knows that they would still have to make the same improvements from Saturday's game and that is what this team is all about … a win or lost does not preclude this squad and the staff from wanting to get better on every snap, getting from one week to the next.

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