A look into the Future

With the news that Army has accepted an offer to play in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl all Black Knights football fans have to be happy for this senior class. Most seniors have dealt with three different head coaches from the time they were recruited until the past two years when they were the key figures in the Army resurgence.

As the season dwindles down to the final two games Army fans will say goodbye to stalwarts like Josh McNary, Stephen Anderson, Donovan Travis and Pat Mealy. It will be odd not to see McNary fly off the edge to sack quarterbacks. Fiery Anderson will no longer range from sideline to sideline making tackles and hitting everything that moves. Free safety Donovan Travis will no longer patrol center field picking off passes. On offense four senior starters graduate on the offensive line. Reliable Pat Mealy, the Black Knights best blocking back will also graduate. Armysports.com will look at who will fill their shoes in the future. As always we do not discuss players currently at the prep school till R-Day.

Army will lose half its starters from this years bowl team. Defensive line is a major concern with three starters graduating. One of the key areas will be replacing McNary at quick defensive end. McNary was an honorable mention All-American who set Army's all time record for sacks. The quick end is the linchpin for the double eagle flex defense. The quick defensive end needs to be the best pass rusher. The only returning starter on the defensive line is sophomore Jarrett Mackey who played bandit tackle. Mackey is really a defensive end by trade. Ellerson put him in the lineup because he was better than any other tackle option and was too good of a player to be sitting on the bench. Mackey is quick and rangy with good lateral mobility. Through eleven games this season Mackey has 39 tackles, 3 1/2 sacks and forced two fumbles. Mackey only weights 230 and at times has been over matched at point of attack. Mackey has the frame to add more muscle and if he stays inside I would look for Quentin Kantaris at quick end. Kantaris has the chance to be a big time player at quick end as a pass rusher if he stays healthy and adds weight. Kantaris was a direct admit who is now a backup as a freshman. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Kantaris is a natural pass rusher from Moorpark, California. Kantaris was voted his league's defensive lineman of the year in 2009 after he recorded 16 sacks. He looks like he was born to play quick end in this defense.

The loss of nose tackle Mike Gann is a concern. As we discussed last spring Army lost their top three defensive line recruits when USMAPS stars Julius Warmsley and Jamal Mtshali both left and top direct defensive line recruit Joel Cox who committed to attend West Point this year could not be admitted after his physical. Defensive line is a concern because of lack of size and depth. A.J. Mackey, Jarrett's brother, played well against Air Force and has worked hard in the weight room. Chris Swain started against Temple and did a solid job in 2009 in place of injured Victor Ugenyi. Rich Ellerson told me he really liked plebe Victor Ripley who missed this season with shoulder injury. A two-way tackle in high school, Ripley at 6-4, 230 is the type of athletic lineman that Rich Ellerson and his staff are targeting. Ripley had 24 sacks the past two years including 11 his senior year. An interesting candidate is athletic Shelby Jackson. Jackson was a high school defensive tackle who played center at prep school in 2009 and was converted back to defense this past season. He has athleticism, plays with leverage and has strength to be a terrific nose tackle if he plays defense. Freshman Bobby Kough suffered from the effects of Beast Barracks and was sick early in year. Kough played defensive end at prep last year but was moved inside on JV team. He is a strong kid and he has the frame to add weight.

Replacing Stephen Anderson at Mike linebacker will be difficult. Anderson is a leader, tough, aggressive, super intense with superb instincts and flies to the ball. Anderson is the fiery heart and soul of the Black Knights defense. His backup, former fullback Kingsley Ehie, also graduates. Talented freshmen Reggie Nesbitt, Zach Williams are likely candidates to emerge this spring. Reggie Nesbit is a very talented athlete from Indiana who can project to a number of positions. Nesbit, 6-2, 190 is fast and can pursue. His senior season he had 119 tackles, a sack, two interceptions. Nesbitt has dressed with the varsity and saw some time from scrimmage late against Air Force. Zach Williams was recruited as a quarterback but has played linebacker and contributed on special teams. Chad Littlejohn is a solid tackler who has started at whip linebacker due to injuries but might be a better fit inside. Littlejohn's lack of range has been noticeable in a number of games. Army had to used third and fourth string players at whip linebacker this season and it has hurt. Andrew Rodriguez, last year's starter, injured his back and missed the entire season. Rodriguez was not only one of the best players on the defense in 2009 he also called the defensive signals and was never out of position. If he makes a full recovery it will be a huge lift to the defense. Sophomore Nate Combs was groomed to replace Rodriguez yet he suffered a season ending knee injury on the first defensive series of 2010. If Combs recovers he has quickness to be an impact linebacker or bandit tackle in the flex.

In he defensive backfield Army will return its cornerbacks but lose their top safeties. Donovan Travis and Donnie Dixon have been stalwarts in the Black Knights revival. Jordan Trimble played well when called upon to fill in at safety. He struggled at cornerback against Air Force. The current back up at free safety behind Travis is overachiever Ty Shrader. Shrader lacks size and speed but has a nose for the ball. Freshman free safety Tyler Dickson has the most talent of the potential replacement for Travis. Dickson is a converted high school wide receiver who was the prep school's defensive MVP in 2009 at free safety. Tyler is six-foot, 189 pounds with 4.6 speed. The Sam safety is wide open. Freshman Justin Trimble at 6-0, 200 has impressed doing spot duty at Rover. He has the speed to help at safety.

Matt Luetjen was recruited as a quarterback where he's played on JV team but is being groomed as a safety with varsity. Plebe Lyle Beloney has played SAM safety for the JV team. Beloney is 5-11, 181 strong safety from Katy, Texas. Beloney has 4.48 speed and chose Army over Air Force and the opportunity to be a preferred walk on at Kansas. Beloney has speed, range, can cover and is quick to support against the run. Sophomore Sean Maag is a physical hitter but has battled injuries.

On offense one of the keys to this year's turnaround is the improvement of the offensive line. With the exception of the Notre Dame game the line has played well as the team has averaged 28.5 points. After this year's bowl game four seniors graduate. Only physical, athletic 6-4, 275 sophomore Frank Allen will return at left guard. In a preseason interview with coach Rich Ellerson stated, "I'm encouraged where we are but as I say it becomes fragile then. Anees Merzi, Seth Reed, Zac Peterson and Jason Johnson have all those turns and you can't replace those turns." Well this spring they will have to start that process. There are some candidates with experience. Seniors to be that have seen reps like Joe Bailey, who started three games in 2009, Mike McDermott, who started four games in 2009 and Brad Kelly who's been a backup the past two years. Current sophomores on the offensive line like Matt Villanti, Will Wilson, a center who has struggled with injuries, Derek Bisgard, a converted defensive tackle and Tom Houser should form nucleus of the new offensive line. Freshman offensive tackle Dan Whitaker, a USMAP grad, has impressed offensive coordinator Ian Shields on tape with his athleticism and aggressive play. Army has another ten freshman offensive linemen on the roster that will have a chance to move up the depth chart this spring.

Army returns all its skill position players except for team leader and starting "A" back Pat Mealy. Mealy is an exceptional blocker but talented plebe Raymond Maples should step up next year. Maples twisted his ankle on the first carry of his college career against Hawaii, then broke a bone in his hand which has limited him at times. Despite the injuries Maples has averaged 4.5 yards a carry. Maples has the chance to be a very productive back. Maples is quick runner with tremendous vision. He has excellent feet, reads blocking well and runs to daylight. Maples is not a true burner but is able to burst into the open field. He runs much bigger than his size. He's shown good hands in the passing game catching a 34-yard touchdown pass against Duke. Maples is also a willing blocker. Maples will be a lot better player next year after an off season in Brett Gerch's strength and conditioning program.

The bowl bid to Armed Forces Bowl will give these and other players extra repetitions that should enhance their development. It will be interesting to see who emerges to the top of the depth chart this spring as the Black Knight attempt to build off their success in the Rich Ellerson era.

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