January 4, 2010

Part I: A peek into 2010 - The Offense (repost)

Every game this season had the appearance of being a "must win" contest for Army, whereby each game had the potential to have its own defining moment in the context of the season.

However, depending on which game you were watching this season, you could not always put your finger on the pulse of how to categorize Army's 2009 football campaign.

And If I were to say that 2009 was a rebuilding season for Army, you might agree, but you may also conclude that it has been a season that saw several possibilities to be bowl eligible slip out of the team's grasp. Many will argue that losing to Tulane, Temple and Duke, could have easily been recorded as wins, which would have resulted in the team being eligible for a bowl game now versus requiring the team to win the final game on their schedule for eligibility.

Clearly, beating Navy and being bowl eligible for the first time since 1996, has tremendous impact on the perception of the program, recruiting, momentum going into spring/summer practices and the 2010 season.

Yes, this final stretch with a comeback win over North Texas and December's match-up against arch rival Navy is an opportunity to gain confidence offensively, but also it will allow the team to take confidence and momentum into the offseason. And there should not have been any doubt, no matter how many positives occurred this season, and there have been several … this was indeed a season in which Head Coach Rich Ellerson was establishing the football foundation to the Army program.

So, if one is to conclude that 2009 was rebuilding, but with progress … then what are the next steps that the Black Knights must take in 2010, and even more so, who will lead the charge?

Well, in Part I of our two part series, GoBlackKnights.com takes a look at the offense and our 2010 projections.

Quarterback: Trent Steelman (Soph); Chip Bowden (Sr); Max Jenkins (Jr); Jim Reitter (Jr); Cody Jackson (Fr)

There is no question that this is Steelman's team and look for the sophomore to be to step up his game in 2010. But rest assure, that there are some specific areas that the signal caller will need to improve and work on, not only to take the next step as a player, but to jump start an offense that has plenty of room to improve upon.

This season, the question wasn't if Steelman could take a lickin and keep on tickin, he showed that he could. However, too often with those hits, you would see him on the sidelines in recovery mode. Hence, the 6-foot-0, 190 pounder, will need to get bigger and stronger in the offseason.

With Steelman's propensity for getting nicked up, it is imperative that whoever is second on the depth chart, he must be more than capable of effectively running the offense without significant drop off.

The logical choice might have been Chip Bowden, who lost out to Steelman this year for the starting role. However, the few times that he stepped in when an injured Steelman was sidelined, the seasoned junior was not effective in moving the offense. In addition, his MCL injury during the Air Force game has put into question if and/or when he will be able to return come summer practice.

That leaves Max Jenkins, Jim Reitter and USMAPS product, Cody Jackson to jump their way up the depth chart. Neither of the three have taken a snap under center at the Division I level, which is some reason for concern, but everyone has to start some place.

Slot-back: Patrick Mealy (Sr); Malcolm Brown (Soph); Greg Cotton (Soph); Lonnie Liggins (Soph); Alfred McDaniel (Sr); Kyle Dravis (Fr); Kelechi Odocha (Soph)

Junior Patrick Mealy, will once again lead the charge at the slot position. Mealy is not the faster, nor the quickest, and is not the most elusive. However, what he continues to be is the most consistent and productive. His ability to run hard between the tackles, as well as hit the corner on an option pitch and take what the defense gives him, has become his trademark.

Someone who the Army fans aren't too familiar, but could make a name for himself during spring practice is converted defensive back, Greg Cotton. The 6-foot-0, 195 pounder, did not come in with the running back pedigree as his fellow classmates coming up from the prep school … Malcolm Brown and Lonnie Liggins, but he could be the explosive-speed guy at the slot, and has the size to go with it.

Of course, both Liggins and Brown may have something to say about the outcome of who ends up where on the depth chart. Brown had his share of reps during the season, but made your typical frosh mistakes with missed blocks, missed assignment and at times running tentatively. Liggins on the other hand saw fewer carries then his plebe counterpart and at times he played as freshman, but showed off his potential on impressive 17 yard gallop against Rutgers and the possibility of things to come. The latter part of the season, Liggins was hampered with a slight knee injury that hindered his game usage.

Speaking of speed, Alfred McDaniel, who is not an every down type of back, should be 100% healthy come spring practice. McDaniel's on field presence should serve as an effective change of pace addition to the offense.

A newcomer to the slot-back mix will be USMAPS product, Kyle Dravis. He has done some nice things at the slot position at the prep school, so he will get some looks this summer to show what he can do. Also, don't count out freshman Kelechi Odocha, who spent this season with the JV squad.

Fullback (B-back): Jared Hassin (Soph), CeDarius Williams (Sr); Raymond Maples (Fr); Kingsley Ehie

The lack of a fullback that can move the pile and break tackles, put the triple option at a disadvantage, whereby next season could seem significant changes in the two-deep … but either way, it will very competitive and tremendous depth.

The proverbial thought has been that the 6-foot-2, 230 pound Jared Hassin, who sat out the 2009 after transferring from Air Force, would have started this past season had the NCAA declared that he was eligible to play. Hassin may actually be the best back on the roster and will add much needed muscle to the fullback position.

Out of the prep school is Raymond Maples, who is another candidate that should see time at the very crowded fullback spot. Like Mealy, the talented prospect can swing to the slot position as well. Don't be surprised if the staff doesn't become creative and have a role where he is doing both. He has flexibility that way and should be one of the better players early on.

Of course, in the fullback mix will be CeDarius Williams, who was hurt most of the 2009 season and Kingsley Ehie who has a ton of game rep advantage over Williams and all the "B" back candidates. However, with the potential impact of Hassin, Maples and if Williams is at full speed, the three players would most likely be ahead of Ehie on the depth charts and could be the odd man out.

Two other players that could factor in at fullback are freshmen, Brad Gallik and Dan McGue. Both may find their roles more skewed towards blocking, with an occasional carry.

Wide Receiver: Davyd Brooks (Jr); George Jordan (Soph); Jameson Carter (Sr); Austin Barr, Justin Trimble (Fr); Brian Austin (Soph)

If someone were to suggest at the beginning of the season that captain and converted offensive tackle to receiver, Ali Villanueva might be the most valuable piece to the Army passing game, you might wonder if they were drinking Ellerson Kool-Aid. But Villanueva's weekly progression made him a match-up nightmare of defensive coordinators and cornerbacks and ended the season as the Black Knights leading receiver. However, the 6-foot-10, 270 pound receiver, along with fellow senior receiver Damion Hunter are closing out their Army football careers as they step on the field for the last time when the face off against Navy.

Who will step in their place? Well you can pretty much pencil in Davyd Brooks as a lock to start at one receiver spot. The 6-foot-3, 200 pound sophomore has all the physical tools, now he just needs the playing time. Like his predecessor, Villanueva, look for Brooks to show progression as the season unfolds. Although not a speedster, he is very athletic and serves as a big target for quarterback Trent Steelman.

Another receiver who will need to mature through OTJ, will be freshman, George Jordan, who can put himself in a position to get the nod opposite Brooks, but will need to have a solid spring practice to prove to the coaches that he is the guy. He is still not there with the mental side of things, but he should be as spring unfolds.

The former wide receiver, Jameson Carter who transitioned to the slot-back role this year, could add immediate dividends at receiver. However, the staff may be reluctant to move him to receiver, because he's played his best football the latter part of the season at slot, but he is a guy who is a wild-card that allows for some flexibility. He is currently used from the slot as a receiver half the time anyway, so it will be interesting to see how he will be used this spring and summer.

Freshman Brian Austin spent 2009 fine-tuning his talents on the JV squad. He is similar to Carter, where he has the skill set to play slot or wide receiver. He is not as big as the staff would typically like their receivers to be, or as physical as they would want in their slot-backs, but there is no question that Austin brings speed to the equation. There also may be a place for him in the kick return game as well, which is an area that will require an overhaul for 2010.

At receiver, don't count out USMAPS product, Justin Trimble, who has played well down there (prep). Clearly he has the bloodlines, but he is also a guy who can get some looks at defense. Bottom-line, he is just a good player.

Austin Barr will have to have a solid spring to break into the rotation. If this past season is any indicator, look for no more than the staff to use three maybe four receivers per game.

Offensive Line: Zachary Peterson (Jr); Seth Reed (Jr); Anees Merzi (Jr); Joe Bailey (Jr); Frank Allen[/db] (Soph); Mike McDermott (Jr); Brad Kelly (Jr); Mike Weich (Sr); Matt Villanti (Soph); Aaron Retter (Soph); Jon Neill (Soph); Shelby Jackson (Fr)

In addition to this being an inexperienced line, it was also a group that was starting from scratch, as it was learning entirely new schemes. As the season unfolded, the left side of the line was more problematic as offensive coordinator once called it.

One the biggest challenges for the offense was not moving the ball, but scoring in shorter field aspect of the game, especially the red-zone. Of course with the smaller offensive line that is not as physical, the ability to push people around down in that area of the field is a challenge for the Black Knights.

But with a year under their belt, this is a unit that could actually represent the final piece to the puzzle relative to a breakout 2010 season.

Let's start with the man in the middle and for the Black Knights, that would be center Zachary Peterson, who has been stellar throughout the season and should project the same for 2010.

Fellow junior Seth Reed should hold down the right guard spot, and like Peterson, had a solid junior campaign.

With the graduation of Fritz Bentler at left guard, the candidates will include Anees Merzi, who could also be a candidate at tackle and Joe Bailey who started two games, where he did a nice job stepping in. Up and coming freshman Frank Allen received reps in practice with the 2's and occasionally with the 1's during the football season, when he relieved starters from time to time. With a good spring ball under his belt and he'll develop and should be a contributor for the 2010 season.

At the left tackle spot, Mike McDermott , Brad Kelly and Merzi will have every opportunity to stake their claim on the position that was problematic throughout the 2009 season.

Another player they has not been able to break into the lineup and who came into the program with tremendous upside is junior, Mike Weich. He has been hurt so often this year, where he just hasn't been full speed with his knee to be a down in - down out competitor. However he does play on the punt team and has been valuable there.

The next level consist of a trio of youngsters, who are just a notch below their fellow freshman, Allen. Matt Villanti, Aaron Retter and Jon Neill round out these former USMAPS prospects, who all have some upside and are pretty physical players. It will be interesting to see how they grade out as they get more reps in the system. They have been on the scout team a lot during the 2009 season, but also have been receiving valuable reps in the B squad games.

The most promising newcomer to the line competition will be center Shelby Jackson, who is one of the better players down at the prep school this season and has a great motor. The incoming freshman is going to be a very good football player for the next four years and has the position flexibility to be either a guard or tackle.

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