By: chalifour.eric | 5/5/12, 12:09 PM EDT
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You can read the entire Army Black Knights preview in Athlon Sports' 2012 National magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
HEAD COACH: Rich Ellerson, 15-22 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Ian Shields | DEF. COORDINATOR: Payam Saadat, Chris Smeland
After a high-ankle sprain and knee injuries cost quarterback Trent Steelman essentially four games a year ago, he was held out of the Spring Game with a leg injury. It was not deemed serious, which is a good thing, because the Black Knights badly need their senior leader, who has made 34 career starts and totaled better than 4,000 yards of offense running the option. Angel Santiago received some valuable experience when Steelman was out last season. A.J. Schurr, who attended the academy’s prep school last year, will also be in the mix for backup duties.
The Black Knights’ option attack, which churned out a nation’s-best 346.5 rushing yards per game in 2011, returns all other key contributors. Raymond Maples became the third sophomore in Army history to run for 1,000 yards while averaging an eye-opening 7.3 yards per carry. Jared Hassin, who became the second sophomore to reach 1,000 yards when he did so in 2010, returns to running back after moving to fullback a year ago. Malcolm Brown and Larry Dixon will be key ball-carriers again. This group, however, must do a better job with ball security after the Black Knights led the nation in 2011 with 22 fumbles lost.
Graduation has left vacancies at receiver that could be filled by juniors Patrick Laird and E.J. Tucker.
Sophomore center Ryan Powis anchors a line that boasts a strong left side featuring seniors Frank Allen at guard and Ben Jebb at tackle.
Coach Rich Ellerson noted that the interior of the defensive line was one of his chief concerns heading into the spring, a concern that was somewhat alleviated by the efforts of sophomore Rich Glover and junior Bobby Kough. Having Glover and Kough, who sat out an injury-plagued 2011, at tackle will allow Holt Zalneraitis to move from tackle to outside linebacker. Jarrett Mackey, whose 2011 season was cut short due to injury, could be a factor at defensive end.
There is plenty of manpower ready to step in at Rover for the graduated Steve Erzinger. Justin Trimble, who was hindered by injuries last season, and Thomas Holloway, the team’s leading returning tackler, will operate in that spot. The versatile Holloway was a safety last season. Ellerson has been impressed with the growth and consistency of middle linebacker Geoff Bacon, who saw action in all 12 games as a freshman in 2011.
The secondary is one of the most experienced units on the team. Senior Josh Jackson (22 career starts) and sophomore Lamar Johnson-Harris are returning starters at corner, but keep an eye on junior Tyler Dickson.
Ellerson felt good about the spring performance of Eric Osteen, who is in line to take over the placekicking chores. Senior punter Chris Boldt must improve on his 39.8-yard average, and the return game needs a significant upgrade after ranking 113th nationally on both punts (3.7 ypr) and kickoffs (18.7 ypr).
Keeping Steelman healthy is of paramount importance, but Ellerson has placed much emphasis on finding the right parts for the defensive line and improving the play on special teams.
“If we stay healthy, then physically we will be more competitive because we have matured with guys getting older and stronger,” says the coach. “It will be all for naught, however, if we don’t have other fundamental issues resolved.”
If those things are resolved, the Black Knights could be back in the bowl picture, especially with a schedule that features seven games at Michie Stadium.