March 9, 2011

Army closes out spring with the Black & Gold game

A situational "spring game'' by the Army football team Wednesday night failed to shed any light on what had transpired during the past four weeks. Which is to say there was some good and some not so good as camp ended a couple of days before spring break.

"Offensively,'' coach Rich Ellerson said, down on the chilly Michie Stadium turf, "we're ahead of the curve I think. Defensively we have some gifted guys, but they are young. If I'm frustrated it's because there's a couple of guys on the defensive interior that I didn't get a chance to see because of a nag or a pull. Guys we were hoping to materialize there didn't get to practice.''

He was referring to senior Chris Swain and junior A.J. Mackey, both of whom missed the majority of the spring with injuries and did not suit up Wednesday.

Offensively, we're ahead of the curve I think.

- Head Coach Rich Ellerson

"On the defensive front,'' line coach John Mumford offered, "I think Jarrett Mackey had a good spring, and we're counting on him. And Chad Littlejohn had a good spring. Zach Watts had a little hamstring last week so he didn't finish out, and he's another guy we're counting on. But with the guys that were out we had some young guys step in so that was a benefit to them. They had a chance to get better, although I wasn't too pleased (Wednesday).

"The offense went through us like (poop) through a goose. In all, though, it was a productive spring. We got a look at a lot of kids,'' he added, "but there's a lot of work to be done.''

Ellerson was pleased with some of the linebackers, specifically Brian Zaineraitis and Clayton Keller at the flex positions. And he has been pleased with the guys stepping in at safety, both sophs-to-be Tyler Dickson and Thomas Holloway. "I like our safeties,'' Ellerson said.

"I thought that was one of the highlights on the defensive side of the ball. Again, very young obviously.''

And corner John Hughes is also coming along well.

Offensively, quarterback Jimmy Reitter took snaps with the second unit behind Max Jenkins, who of course ran with the first team all spring as Trent Steelman sat out recovering from shoulder surgery. "In another spring, he wouldn't have been able to get all those turns,'' Ellerson said. "But clearly he can make some plays.

"Obviously Max has had a thousand reps'' he added, "and he looks like he's had a thousand reps.''

Although there are four spots open on the offensive line, Ellerson was pleased with the gap closed by those who came out of camp with the first unit.

"Those newcomers aren't all that new,'' he noted. "They stepped in and stepped up and were really productive, and I was really pleased with that transition. And I was surprisingly pleased with the play at center. Will Wilson and (Michael Kime) really did a nice job there. I didn't think we'd be as far along there, so that was encouraging. The physical maturity is going to be a race - how physical can we get. But athletically we have a chance.''

Ellerson also singled out sophomore receiver Jared McFarlin as having a, "solid spring.''

Without being specific, Ellerson said he was also pleased with the effort of several of the upcoming sophomores. "For only being six or seven weeks from the end of (last) season, some of those guys really took a step forward. They stepped back, they train, they lift, then they play back that movie over and over again in their head and then they step back out here and they look like they're so much further ahead.''

The evening began with position drills after the team trotted onto Blaik Field for warmups at 5:05 p.m. An hour later it was 11 against 11, rotating first team offense against first-team defense, then 2nd vs. 2nd and 3rd vs. 3rd.

Actually the field was active an hour earlier when a handful of outgoing seniors, including Stephen Anderson, were running patterns in a "pickup'' game, all wearing their Army gray sweats.

In the official "game'' there were no live kickoffs or punts, with situational series ranging from snapping the ball on a third and three to a third and six, as well as first and ten. Essentially the plays were run inside the red zone.

With a scoring system that gave points to both sides of the ball, the offense (black jerseys) defeated the defense (white jerseys) 35-16. Fullback Dan McGue scored on two short runs, and Julian Crockett also scored a TD from in close. Eric Osteen connected on a field goal from around the 35, while Alex Carlton missed one from a similar distance.

"There's still a lot of work to be done,'' reiterated Mumford. "In the off-season they can get stronger and faster. The kids in their summer assignments, they have to go out and work on their position skills too.''

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