January 6, 2010

Part II: A peek into 2010 - The Defense (repost)

Oh the possibilities when you look ahead at the Black Knights' defense for 2010.

They offer a unique component beyond their "swarm" style of play …. Which is to say that at each of the three levels (line, linebacker & backfield), there is a bona fide star setting the pace.

That trio consists of defensive end Josh McNary, linebacker Stephen Anderson and free safety Donovan Travis. McNary leads the nation in TFL and is 4th in sacks. Anderson, prior to suffering a MCL injury against Air Force was leading the team in tackles and then there's Travis, who is in the top half the country with 4 interceptions, is a coach on the field.

Add to that, a very solid and experience supporting cast that consist of six additional players that have started during this current campaign; Gann, Swain, Rodriquez, Erzinger, Aaron and Dixon.

Clearly there is a reason why the Army fans have reason to be optimistic when it comes to the possibilities of this defense in 2010. This is a group that is currently ranked 18th in the nation in total defense in 2009.

DEFENSIVE LINE:

Defensive end

DE - Josh McNary (Sr); Jarrett Mackey (Soph); Zach Watts (Soph); Shola Mustapha (Soph)
DE - Marcus Hilton (Sr), Julius Warmsley (Frosh); Nate Combs (Soph); Bobby Kough (Frosh)

McNary is amazing. Everyone knows he can hurt them but he still gets in and makes plays. If he had two more inches, he'd be NFL material and that still may come to past.

On the other side, look for Hilton to make a pitch for the starting role, but he will have a ton of younger talent looking to have super winter-spring-summers to push for the starting spot opposite McNary.

The two biggest possibilities are Jarrett Mackey, who showed flashes of what he can do when given the opportunity to get onto the field and incoming freshman Julius Warmsley.

Mackey has both the size and athletic ability to be a presence and with a year under his belt, big things will be expected from him.

Julius Warmsley has had a great year at the prep school and next season will allow for the 6-foot-2, 260 pounder to add immediate depth to the defensive end position. It will also provide an opportunity for the Louisiana native to intern under the mentoring of the nation's leader in TFL and 4th leading sacker, Josh McNary.

There will be some names to keep an eye on from this year's JV team, which will include Mustapha, Combs and Watts.

Another incoming frosh will be Bobby Kough, who has some ability there as a DE and some possibility as a nose tackle.

Defensive tackle

DT - Mike Gann (Sr); A.J. Mackey (Soph); Jamal Mtshali (Frosh); Loren Baker (Soph)
DT - Chris Swain (Jr); Broghan Carnes (Jr); Derek Bisgard (Soph);

With the graduation of defensive tackle Victor Ugenyi, the return of Mike Gann is a big plus to the Army middle. Gann is one of the emotional and vocal leaders not only on defense, but the team. His leadership is not in word only, but also in deed. He is a presence in the middle and will be looked upon to a mainstay in 2010. Along with Gann at the tackle spot there is Chris Swain. With his on field play, there is little to no drop of in talent when you he stepped in for Ugenyi.

There is plenty young talent that will not only be pressing for playing time, but a starting spot. With Gann being a lock at one tackle and most likely Swain as his partner in the middle, still look for Broghan Carnes, A.J. Mackey, Jamal Mtshali and Derek Bisgard to make their move. Carnes saw significant time this season as backup. Both Mackey and Bisgard will have a jump on Mtshali, as they will be looking to make an impression during winter workouts and spring practice, whereby the incoming freshman Mtshali will have to wait until he arrives this summer.

Bisgard, has doing great with the JV, but is behind some good players right now, but that could change in 2010. If anything, he is someone who could provide immediate depth behind players like Gann and Swain, as he battles Carnes, along with A.J. Mackey for playing time.

Jamal Mtshali has done a nice job at the prep school and offers some position flexibility to go along with his physical presence inside defensively. Mtshali, who is a raw talent, is a physical specimen in the same mold of a Josh McNary.

Another player that could factor in at the tackle position is Loren Baker.

LINEBACKER:

LB - Andrew Rodriguez (Jr); Andre Shinda (Soph)
MLB - Stephan Anderson (Sr); Kyler Martin (Soph); Andre Shinda[/db] (Jr); Bill Prosko (Jr)
LB - Steve Erzinger (Jr); Josh Powell (Soph); C.J. Shelley (Soph)

This group returns all three of its starters, with Stephen Anderson in the middle (Mike), Andrew Rodriguez (Whip) and Steve Erzinger (Rover).

There is no question that Stephan Anderson is the emotional leader of this team. Like Gann, it is not limited to words, but action as well. Anderson, who was nominated by his teammates as one the 2009 captains as a junior is a hitting machine. Although injuries are part of football and the next guy should always be ready to step in … Anderson's 100% return from his season ending MCL injury suffered in the Air Force game is essential for the defense to reach its full potential.

As emotional as Anderson plays, A-Rod as Rodriguez is commonly called brings calm, but clutch presence to each and every game. He is second on the team in tackles behind Anderson and will only get better as he heads into junior. Winter speed-strength-conditioning should allow the 6-fot-2, 210 pound linebacker to get bigger, stronger and faster.

At the other backer is current sophomore Steve Erzinger. Although he often misreads and just missed the play, he continued to improve week by week during this year's campaign. He is a solid run stopper who has the athletic ability to effectively cause havoc on timely blitzes. Like Rodriguez, the up and coming junior would benefit from winter conditioning.

If Anderson returns 100% and there is no reason to believe otherwise, look for Martin, Shinda and Prosko to battle it out as his backup. Martin brings the speed that Ellerson loves, but lacks size for a middle linebacker. Shinda, who does not have Martin's speed, is athletic and a solid 220 pounds, with the potential to enter into the summer practices in the 225-230 range. Prosko saw action in Anderson's absence and will also be in the mix.

A couple of young backers that spent the 2009 season developing their skills with the JV team are Josh Powell & C.J. Shelly, who are somewhat undersized, even for an Ellerson style defense. So getting bigger and stronger would be a plus for them this winter and spring.

DEFENSIVE BACK:

With the exception of free safety Donovan Travis, none of the other players have a lock on the starting positions.

The graduation of Mario Hill means that one cornerback spot will lose a player that started 22 consecutive games. Clearly that's a lot of experience that will be lost, but there will 3 or 4 guys that will be competing for the starting role, as well as position on the depth.

At some point in their careers, returnee, Richard King and Jordan Trimble were starters at corner and course returning 2009 starter is Antuan Aaron. Along with Travis, Donnie Dixon started all the games at strong safety.

The plus side with many of these defenders is that they are interchangeable and can play multiple positions. That is very significant because it is not unusual to see 7 or 8 guys playing throughout a game due to the multiple defensive backfield schemes that the Black Knights utilize.

CORNERBACKS

CB - Antuan Aaron (Jr); Richard King (Sr); Jordan Crockett (Fr); L.B. Brown (Sr); Davonte Anderson (Fr)
CB - Josh Jackson (Soph); Jordan Trimble (Sr); Brandon Porter (Fr); Brian Cobbs; Waverly Washington (Soph)

The cornerback may be the deepest position of any on the team. Not only does it provide depth, but friendly competition for playing time and making each other better.

Come spring practice … it will be open season and the best will win out.

Antuan Aaron returns, where he was the boundary corner. In the first half of the season, the junior-to-be defender showed growing promise, but appeared to digress during the final quarter of the season and gave up too much yardage in notable passing situations. Aaron needs to become more consistent because there are no guarantees of a starting position, especially with the return of Richard King.

King, who had to sit out this season, is very fast, tough and will come and hit you. Remember he was penciled in at the starter at the boundary corner during spring football prior to his brief separation.

King has the physical ability to do handle both corner positions, and was even being looked at during the spring at free safety. He has the foot speed, quickness to play field corner and cover out there, but the boundary is the idealistic because he is the better tackler and the more rugged of the two (Aaron).

The plus side with each and every one of these players is that they are interchangeable and can flip from one side to the other.

Should both Aaron and King battle it out for the boundary spot, look for Josh Jackson to be the primary candidate coming into spring ball at the field corner. But like boundary corner, there is competition. Prior to suffering a knee injury, Jordon Trimble is guy who has started at corner earlier in his career, but has played the Sam (strong safety) spot to help out the team when he was called upon. It will be interesting to see where the coaches line Trimble up come spring practice.

From the prep school, there are a trio of corners that will be trying to make a name for themselves when they arrive this summer; Brandon Porter, Davonte Anderson & Jordan Crockett.

Another name to know is Waverly Washington who spent most of this developing his skills with the JV team, falls into that same mold (interchangeable) and could play either corner or safety, and more specifically the boundary corner. He can run, but is still learning the defense.

SAFETIES

FS - Donovan Travis (Sr); Desmond Lamb (Sr); Ty Shrader (Soph); Tyler Dickson (Fr)
SS - Donnie Dixon (Sr), Jordan Trimble (Sr), George Fletcher (Jr); R.J. Speidel (Soph) ; Will Holder (Soph);

The mainstay of the entire secondary is Donovan Travis. As one observer close to the program pointed out, "he is as good as we've had here." He is a coaches' coach on the field, and his ability and range make him a presence against both pass and run. Like A-Rod, Travis has the ability to be in the right place at the right time.

Desmond Lamb missed the recent game against North Texas, and his status with the team is a question mark. In Lamb's absence as one of the backups to Travis, Ty Shrader, who is relatively small for a free safety and who has spent the majority of the season playing on the JV squad, showed why he will be competing for playing time next season. Making his first appearance of the season in the North Texas game, saw the freshman recover a fumble and make his first career interception that sealed the win for Army.

Ty Shrader, who has spent the majority of the season playing on the JV squad, showed why he will be competing for playing time next season. Making his first appearance of the season in the North Texas game, the smallish free safety had a fumble recovery and the interception that sealed the Army win.

Incoming freshman, Tyler Dickson, who came into the system as a wide receiver, has done a great job a free safety down at the prep school. He is a very good athlete and could add immediate depth and value to the secondary.

At the strong safety (Sam) spot, Donnie Dixon started each game this season and will most likely maintain that role going into 2010. However, Dixon appeared to be out of position and make several mistake in pass coverage and will have to turn his game up going into his senior year or even more specifically, spring practice. Because next in line and breathing down his neck is Jordan Trimble. With a season under his belt at the Sam position, the converted cornerback should push Dixon for the starting role and/or playing time.

George Fletcher is another player that has transitioned into the strong safety position after spending his 1 years on the offensive side of the ball. Fletcher, who has had to fight off the injury bug since he stepped onto the West Point campus, received his first game action at the Sam spot against North Texas. "Fletch" is a very physical player and once he assimilates to the schemes of his new role, he could be a very effective player.

Unlike those infamous words of NBA star Allen Iverson, who once said, "I mean, listen, we talkin about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, we talking about practice, …"

Yes, these are our projections, but it is those practices that provide every player the opportunity to showcase their skills. Just when it may appear that you have it all figured out, there is a player like a Brad Marren who digs deep down inside, who is not concern with projections, where he establishes himself in practice and propels himself to a starting role or a player that see significant playing time.


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