It will be a challenge for the Knights to manage a winning season in 2011.
By: Athlon Sports | 6/4/11, 12:21 PM EDT
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HEAD COACH: Rich Ellerson, 12-13 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Ian Shields | DEF. COORDINATOR: Payam Saadat, Chris Smeland
Trent Steelman has started at quarterback in all 25 games since arriving at West Point and has done an outstanding job operating the Cadets’ option attack. He rushed for 721 yards last season — second on the team — and was efficient when asked to throw the ball, completing over 50 percent of his passes and throwing only three interceptions in 133 attempts. The junior from Kentucky was held out of spring practice while recovering from surgery on his non-throwing shoulder. He is expected to be ready in time for the opener at Northern Illinois.
Army ranked eighth in the nation in rushing last year, churning out just over 250 yards per game on the ground. Steelman did his part from the quarterback position, but the Cadets’ top rusher was fullback Jarred Hassin, who averaged 5.3 yards per carry en-route to his 1,013-yard season. Patrick Mealy is gone, but Army returns three slotbacks who rushed for at least 200 yards.
The Black Knights have ranked last in the nation in passing in both of Rich Ellerson’s two seasons, but they do feature a couple of wideouts who have proved capable of making the big play. Davyd Brooks and Austin Barr caught only 15 and 14 passes, respectively, but both averaged more than 15 yards per reception.
Junior guard Frank Allen is the sole returning starter on the offensive line, but Ellerson was pleased with the work of this group during spring practice. He singled out junior Will Wilson, who is expected to start at center.
The news wasn’t so good in the spring on the defensive line — due in large part to some injuries. The biggest area of concern is in the middle of the Black Knights’ 4-3 front. Junior A.J. Mackey is a candidate to start, where he would join his brother Jarrett, a rush end who recorded four sacks last fall.
Linebacker Steven Erzinger, the leading returning tackler and a recently named team captain, returns and is expected to man the middle. There will be stiff competition to fill out the other two spots.
The Cadets are in good shape at cornerback, with senior Antuan Aaron and junior Josh Jackson. The spotlight is at safety, where three contributors were lost to graduation. Sophomores Lyle Beloney, Thomas Holloway and Tyler Dickson were solid in the spring and will be in the hunt for significant playing time.
Kicker Alex Carlton returns for his senior season after making 15-of-22 field goals. The punting chores will be left to either senior Kolin Walk or junior Chris Boldt. Neither has taken a snap in college. Jackson was the primary return specialist last season.
The Cadets broke through in Ellerson’s second year, enjoying their first winning season since 1996 and earning their first bowl win since ’85. It will be a challenge to maintain that level of success — in the short term — due to the heavy losses suffered on the offensive and defensive lines. Army will need a big season from its two leaders, Steelman on offense and Erzinger on defense, to return to a bowl game for a second straight year. The schedule — which begins with three bowl teams (Northern Illinois, San Diego State and Northwestern) and also features road trips to Miami (Ohio), Air Force, Vanderbilt and Temple — is not easy.