Last year Trent Steelman became the first Army plebe to start the entire season at quarterback The physical maturation and the 20 pounds he gained in the offseason resulted in the improvement in his game. Steelman has rushed 93 times for 355 yards and seven touchdowns. He already has scored more touchdowns than he did last year. Steelman has shown terrific leg strength in breaking tackles. He's done an excellent job in reading the option and his decision making has been sound. Except for the opener against Eastern Michigan were he had three wayward pitches to the motion backs his pitches have been clean. The biggest improvement in Trent has been in his passing. Steelman on the season has completed 55.8 percent of his passes for 388 yards and 4 touchdown with no interceptions. Steelman's passing mechanics can betray him at times but like the rest of his game it's improved as the season has progressed. Steelman has made excellent decisions to throw the ball away and has shown good pocket awareness on last drive. Steelman is the main reason Army leads the nation in turnover margin. Last year Steelman showed he was a gamer. This year he's proven he's a winner and the best Army quarterback since Ronnie McAda.
Backup quarterback Max Jenkins has rushed 11 times for 30 yards and one touchdown. Jenkins has completed one of three passes for twenty yards. Max Jenkins did a good job replacing the injured Steelman against Hawaii until his fumble cost Army a chance at a potential game winning field goal . He had a formation issue and failed to communicate a check but for his first real playing time the staff was happy with his performance.
The "B" backs have earned a B. Air Force transfer Jared Hassin has lived up to the hype and has been impressive. Hassin has rushed 80 times for 393 yards and has scored six touchdowns. The 6-3, 218 pound Hassin has shown himself to be a bruiser with good speed. Hassin has been battling with a sore back that limited his effectiveness for a few weeks. Hassin is once again rushing full steam as he carried the ball 25 times for 145 yards and two touchdowns against Tulane. He's showed good hands as a receiver catching four balls for 42 yards. Jared exhibited some rust after not playing competitive football for two years. Hassin needs to do a better job protecting the ball as he's fumbled a few times but its been recovered by Army. He's missed a few blitz pickups most notably against Hawaii that cost Army a potential big play pass to Malcolm Brown. Backup fullback Jacob Bohn is a 5-9, 215 pound maximum effort player. Backing up Hassin he's rushed 14 times for 57 yards. He had a nice 19-yard run against North Texas.
Slot backs: A
Slot back Malcolm Brown has thrived in new offensive look. As primary "C" back Malcolm Brown has rushed 50 times for 280 yards. Brown has averaged 5.6 yards a carry and scored three touchdowns. Brown who struggled with his assignments at times as a plebe has lived up to coach Ellerson's expectations as a sophomore. Rich Ellerson flatly declared "Malcolm Brown is one of our best football players." The other "C" slot back is converted defensive back Brian Cobbs who's used his terrific speed to rush for 204 yards and three touchdowns. Team leader and starting "A" back Pat Mealy's off-season work really paid dividends as Pat was noticeably quicker until he was injured recently. Mealy has averaged 5.4 yards a carry rushing for 184 yards and two touchdowns. Ian Shields calls Mealy an exceptional blocker. Talented plebe Raymond Maples twisted his ankle on the first carry of his college career which has limited him at times. Despite the injury Maples has averaged 4.2 a carry. Direct admit Jonathan Crucitti has blocked extremely well when playing in the place of the injured Mealy. He had his best game against Duke when he ran nine times for 44 yards. Blocking on the perimeter by both the slot backs has vastly improved from 2009.
Wide Receivers: B
Austin Barr has emerged as the favorite receiver of Steelman with 9 catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns. Barr is 6-4 and has the size that offensive coordinator Ian Shield likes in his receivers. Wide receiver Davyd Brooks was the star of spring and summer camp running precise routes and getting open. Brooks hasn't played at the same level during the season. For the season Brooks has five catches for 69 yards. Brooks scored his first touchdown of the year against Tulane last week. Brooks also drew a key pass interference penalty that set up a touchdown. Brooks is Army's most talented receiver and needs to be more involved. He's been held without a catch in three games this year. Sophomore George Jordan is a talented athlete who has five catches for 54 yards. Jordan had a key 16-yard reception that started the game winning drive in the opener against Eastern Michigan. The truth is in an option system blocking by the wide receivers is more important than the number of catches. This years receivers has done a great job blocking on the move and have really improved over last year. It is the reason why the new fly sweep play has worked so well.
Offensive Line: B+
The four returning seniors on the offensive line center Zach Peterson, guard Seth Reed, right tackle Jason Johnson and left tackle Anzee Merzi have lifted their collective games in their second season in this offense. The emergence of physical sophomore Frank Allen has really improved left guard play this year. They've also done a good job in pass protection for a option team. Army has averaged over 275 yards rushing and 32 point per game the first half of the year. That is a reflection of the big guys upfront.
Defensive Line: B+
Quick defensive end Josh McNary is a pass rushing beast and Army's best player. McNary has great initial acceleration, speed, moves, quickness and a burst off the corner. McNary has seven sacks, 31 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, a fumble recovery and two forced fumbles. Enjoy watching the balance of his senior season in an Army uniform. Nose tackle Mike Gann, 10 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks, impact doesn't often show on the stats sheet but he's done a good job. Sophomore Jarrett Mackey is really a defensive end playing bandit tackle. Ellerson put him in the lineup because he is better than any other tackle option and too good of a player to be sitting on the bench . Mackey is quick, rangy with good lateral quickness. On the season Mackey has 19 tackles, a sack and forced two fumbles. Mackey only weights 230 and at times has been overmatched at point of attack. Marcus Hilton has played well with 19 tackles, one sack and three quarterback hurries. Army has struggled containing physical running teams that have come right at them this year like Temple and Eastern Michigan. For the season the Black Knights rank 47th in the nation in rushing defense.
This was expected to be the strength of Army's team with all of the starters returning from a defense that was ranked 16th in the nation in 2009. The problem started when whip linebacker Andrew Rodriguez injured his back and missed the entire season. Rodriguez was not only one of the best players on the defense he also called the defensive signals and was never out of position. Sophomore Nate Combs was groomed to replace Rodriguez yet he suffered a season ending knee injury on the first defensive series of 2010. Chad Littlejohn is now the starter and had good games against Tulane and Eastern Michigan but there's been a noticeable drop in talent at whip. Stephen Anderson has had a complete recovery from last year's knee injury. Anderson leads the team in tackles and had a key interception against Duke to set up an Army touchdown. Team captain Anderson is a tough, aggressive and super intense Mike linebacker who flies to the ball. At times his eagerness causes him to take poor tackling angles. Anderson is the fiery heart and soul of the Black Knights defense. At Rover junior Steve Erzinger worked hard in weight room this past off season but hasn't been as productive as last year when he recorded 71 tackles. On the season Erzinger has 30 tackles and four passes battled down. However Erzinger has been caught out of position a number of times this year not playing his gap responsibility. That might also be attributed to Rodriguez no longer making the defensive calls.
Defensive Backs: C
Army's defensive backs rather pedestrian speed. has been exposed at times against a number of teams they have faced. However for the season they've allowed a 55.8 percent completion percentage, eleven passing touchdowns while picking off five passes. Antuan Aaron plays field corner which is the most demanding position in the flex defense since the Black Knights we play so much cover one. I've seen some of the criticism of Aaron, much like Mario Hill last year, in which he gets more grief than he deserves. Corners will give up some plays in this defense. Aaron isn't very big but he understands the scheme and is a sure tackler. Richard King lost his starting job at boundary cornerback to Josh Jackson. King is a better technician than Jackson but Josh is the superior athlete and faster. Jackson had a rough game against Hawaii and has talent but needs to shore up his technique. Free safety Donovan Travis' shoulder problem has limited his playing time and has hurt Army's coverage. SAM safety Donnie Dixon is a solid player but isn't that fast and struggles often in pass coverage. Jordan Trimble has played well when called upon.
Special Teams: C
Army punter Jonathan Bulls has averaged 40 yards a punt with seven punts inside the 20. Army's punt coverage has been outstanding allowing an average of just two yards on ten returns. Other than against Temple the kickoff coverage has been solid. The Black Knights have done a great job of forcing special teams turnovers. Last year junior kicker Alex Carlton seemed to be resilient if not always clutch as he converted 18 of 24 attempts. Carlton has struggled this year hitting just 4 of 10. Matt Campbell kickoffs have been short. Josh Jackson has shown good speed on a punt and a kickoff return.
Rich Ellerson and the staff have changed the losing culture at West Point. This team now plays smart, avoids turnovers and expects to win. Offensive coordinator Ian Shields has revamped the double slot option offense with a new half bone/winged look. The new "fly" sweep series has been tremendous.
Army does a great job with misdirection and mixing up the pitch and dive back. Defensive coordinators Payam Saadat and Chris Smeland have done a great job moving Josh McNary so teams can't effectively double team him.