February 12, 2011

An Early Look: Army's 2011 Defense

How good will the Army defense be in 2011?

As much as the offense has concerns with the departure of 4/5 of the offensive line, the departure of key players to graduation may be more impactful on the defense.

How do you replace the school's all-time sack leader in Josh McNary, your two-time captain and leading tackler in Stephen Anderson, a free safety that pulled down 11 career interceptions in Donovan Travis, not to mention starters like nose tackle Mike Gann, strong safety Donnie Dixon, safety Jordan Trimble, along with backup contributor in defensive end Marcus Hilton … and yet try to maintain the same level of effectiveness in shutting down your 2011 opponents' offenses?

Without a doubt this will be a season of transition with the loss of several multiple year starters.

If the season were to start tomorrow, the only players that would be a lock to get on the field right now are Rover Steve Erzinger, Whip Zac Wattsand defensive lineman Jarrett
. At corners, Josh Jackson (JJ)
and Richard King would walk out there again, but every other position is up in the air.

There are also some intangibles involved in the 2011 defense.

For example, you can talk about Andrew Rodriguez and Nate Combs coming back where they both played the Whip position. A-Rod and Combs are the two guys whose status remains to be seen due to their respective injuries. However, if they do return they could add value to the lineup in the fall.

Although both players were logged in at the Whip linebacker spot … If the "D" goes to the double flex look then you could possibly have both guys on the field at the same time should they return this fall. One would be bandit and the other at the whip spot.

Hence, personnel will dictate which defensive scheme will make its way onto the field.

There are plenty of questions heading into the 2011 spring ball that must begin to be answered.

GoBlackKnights.com takes an early look at the defensive line, linebackers, and defensive backs.

Defensive Line

Don't be surprised to see Jarrett Mackey to get a shot at the quick position vacated by McNary. The sophomore has great ability, but the question will be his acceleration and the spring is when it will be determined if he can play the quick role. In 2010, the 6-foot-2, 234 pound defender was often at a major weight disadvantage playing on the inside, but he compensated with his athletic ability and finished the season with 4 sacks, which was second on the team only behind McNary.

If Mackey is moved or not from tackle to the quick spot, expect for freshman Quentin Kantaris to get make his presence felt. He only hits the scales 215, so look for the native of Moorpark (CA) to add a little more to his mass to his 6-foot-2 frame.

Coming up from the prep school is Jacob Drozd, who should find himself in the mix of the competition upon his arrival this summer.

Projection: Mackey & Kantaris


Assuming that Jarrett Mackey is designated as the quick defensive end, there are three potential candidates for the bandit role. A.J. Mackey, Chris Swain and freshman Bobby Kough. As you will see, all three are interchangeable and can fit into other positions on the defense.

The bandit role can be one of two things … hands down in the ground or hands up and these three will have to really step up their game to make it work effectively.

Projection: Swain & Mackey

Nose Tackle

Army fans had become accustomed to seeing "big" Mike Gann manning the middle of the defensive, where he spent much of his time creating havoc which allowed players like Stephen Anderson to roam free. Well, Gann is gone and the cupboard is relatively bare … so who will step in?

Again, AJ Mackey's (255 pounds) name could appear and if so, he will battle to get into the starting lineup at nose tackle or bandit role.

Another player to keep an eye on is the aforementioned Kough, who was an outstanding player two years ago at the prep school and someone who may be up to the task of stepping in nose tackle spot. He saw lots of practice time last season.

The downside? Kough is light in the pants, but then again who isn't on the defensive line.

Once again rounding out the trio is junior Swain may either play nose or bandit or both. Swain has the tools, but he needs to produce starting this winter and spring.

Projection: Mackey (AJ) & Kough

Defensive End

The term interchangeable is synonymous with Black Knight defenders and Mackey (A.J.) could also fit this role, where he started against Air Force in 2010.

This is a position that will need for someone to step up in the spring, along with addressing the issue surrounding the depth.

Don't be surprised if 3-star incoming freshman, Ryan Alexander doesn't turn some heads upon his arrival, especially if the current roster of players don't take advantage of spring practice.

Projection: Mackey



Sophomore Zach Watts proved last season that he has some talent and we feel very comfortable penciling him in at the Whip linebacker spot.

But also in the mix will be 6-foot-0, 230 pound junior Chad Littlejohn who started 8 games last season and registered 30 tackles.

But there is plenty of opportunity for others to make a name for themselves this spring.

Incoming prepster A.J. Armstrong brings some skills to the table and will get a look when he arrives this summer.

Projection: Watts & Littlejohn


With the departure of two-year captain and leading tackler Stephen Anderson, along with back-up Kingsley Ehie, the staff will be hard pressed as we are to pencil someone in at the middle linebacker spot.

Reggie Nesbitt, who weighed in at 214 pounds could be one of the guys that will be considered.

Let the truth be told, don't be surprised to see a prepster in the battle for the starting spot. But there could be a chance that Littlejohn could be moved over … perhaps.

Projection: Nesbitt & Littlejohn


As mentioned, senior to be Steven Erzinger is a lock at the Rover. Last season, the Texas native finished second on the team in tackles, only behind Stephen Anderson. Erzinger, who recently tipped the scales at 221 pounds plays from sideline to sideline very well, but is equally as effective with his aggressive play in various blitz packages.

Who will backup Erzinger? Well, freshman Justin Trimble has all of the tools and was able to see some brief action as a plebe. With a year of winter conditioning under his belt, along with participating in his first spring practice, the 6-foot-, 207 pound linebacker should elevate his game.

Projection: Erzinger & Trimble

Defensive Back


This is a position that needs to see its seasoned veterans to step up, immediately. In 2010, Antuan Aaron regressed and eventually saw himself playing backup to King & Jackson.

There are some good corners at the prep school, but a position that will need help immediately … at least to develop depth.

Marques Avery and Issac Winters make their way north from the prep school and should make their presence felt immediately. Both players are very athletic and also add game time speed to the secondary.

Hayden Pierce and Lamar Johnson-Harris (corner and safety) and Geoffrey Bacon, along with Michael Cermak. Also keep an eye on Akintunde Akinniyi

Projection: Jackson & King

Sam (Strong Safety)

Matt Luetjen will be in the mix at the strong safety spot and don't be surprised to see Jonathan Crucitti who is playing baseball this spring

Robert Speidel is another candidate at strong safety, along with Lyle Beloney

Projection: Luetjen & Speidel

Free Safety

Ty Shrader is someone who may be lacking in when it comes to his physicality, where his listed 5-foot-10, may be a stretch. But the Alabama native is not lacking in heart, which he shows whenever the opportunity presents itself for him to get on the field.

You also have a name that Army fans may not be too familiar with and that is Thomas Holloway. Promising freshman Tyler Dickson is an question mark relative to being with the team and hence his return is uncertain.

Lamar Johnson-Harris who is coming from the prep school could project at corner or safety.

Projection: Holloway & Shrader

Conclusion: Our projections are just that … projections. It always has and it always will be determined on the practice field. It's a clean slate for all the players as they work hard during winter S&C and prepare to show their talents to the staff starting during the upcoming spring practice and carrying it over to the summer. That is where starting jobs are won and lost, along rank on the depth chart.

Keep it here on GBK as we prepare to move into our spring practice coverage.

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