Army Spring Football- Week 1 Recap

The Black Knights opened their third pre-spring, spring football practice under the leadership of head coach Rich Ellerson last week. After completing Army's first winning season since 1996 Army football is faced with the task of replacing all the defense's impact players and the entire offensive line.

Some Army fans may ask why spring football practice begins so early at West Point. Ellerson used the same schedule last season. He believes that by moving up "spring" practice the players get in two full cycle of weight training and conditioning before the end of the semester. This schedule he believes should help maximize players' ability to improve their strength and size, do speed work and get healthy in case of injury.

Practice on Wednesday and Friday was conducted without pads while Saturday practice featured and a lot more hitting that last season as the staff tries to take the measure of possible replacements for last year's starters. I've listed all player in the notes below by the class year they'll be entering this fall to provide a better perspective of this year's team and to avoid confusion.

With quarterback Trent Steelman out recuperating from off season shoulder surgery senior backup Max Jenkins has seen most of the reps with the first team in practice. Jenkins has made a few nice throws and as usual has been efficient running the offense. It was good to see Cody Jackson back in uniform after he left the JV team early last season. Cody Jackson was one of the California recruits that Ellerson was able to convince to commit after he was hired . Jackson did a nice job in leading the 2009 United State Military Academy prep team to 23 points per game. The 6-foot-0, 200 signal-caller did a solid job running the option. At San Mateo high school in 2008 Jackson passed for 1,327 yards and rushed for 832 yards. Jackson has above average quickness which he illustrated with a 41 yard touchdown run against Navy prep in 2009. The lefty Jackson will not remind anyone of Steve Young throwing the ball but he has decent arm for an option QB. A fully committed Jackson would definitely improve the depth at the quarterback position.

The rebuilt first team offensive line looked initially like we expected with left guard Frank Allen returning and seniors Mike McDermott (6-6, 257) and Brad Kelly (6-5, 250) at tackle. Two juniors Matt Villanti (6-3, 272) and Will Wilson ( 6-2, 284) have taken the lead at right guard and center respectfully. Others who have looked good included Derek Bisgard, a 6-1, 252 junior who was converted from defense last year and sophomore Dan Whitaker (6-3, 250). It's official that after being bounced around that former USMAPS standout center Shelby Jackson, who was converted back to defense last season, is back at center.

On offense sophomore wide receiver Anthony Stephens, who impressed me last summer, had a nice first week demonstrating good hands and a nice burst. Stephens , those father is a West Point graduate, has emerged from an under the radar walk-on to one of the most talented wide receivers on the team. Stephens is a tall, rangy, big target at wide receiver. He is a smooth, fluid runner with the ability to adjust to the ball. I expect him not only to replace the recently separated sophomore George Jordan but to put pressure and challenge last year's starters Davyd Brooks and Austin Barr for playing time.

Unlike the offensive line which the new replacements are establishing themselves early, the safety spots seem to be an open casting call. The candidates include sophomore Tyler Dickson, who was the prep school's defensive MVP in 2009, overachieving junior free safety Ty Shrader who was Travis's backup last season, converted JV QB Matt Luetjen who played some on special teams with the varsity in 2010, physical sophomore Lyle Beloney and direct admit sophomore Thomas Holloway. Two others in the mix are sophomore J.R. Woodward, a 6-4, 205 pound player who was recruited as a quarterback then converted to wide receiver in 2010. Woodward, who has added 20 pounds to his frame over the last year, played safety in high school. As always Rich Ellerson looks for the best position that a player like Woodward, who is a good athlete, can help the team. Sal Interdonato of the Times Herald-Record reports senior George Fletcher is back with the team after missing last year. Fletcher blocked well as a freshman slotback in 2008 under Stan Brock. Fletcher started at slotback in 2009 but was replaced by more talented freshman slotbacks and moved to safety.

Some noticeable faces missing are C-back Brian Cobbs and defensive back Kyler Martin who competed with the Army track team at the 2011 Patriot League championships this weekend. Cobbs ran a best time of 7.06 in his three 60 meters heats that allowed him to qualify for the finals where he placed sixth. The 60 meters event was won by Army track star Alfred McDaniels who had some limited playing time on the Army football team in 2009. Martin ran an 8.46 in the 60 meter high hurdles qualifying for the finals where he finished eighth. Army star Domonick Sylve won the event with a time of 7.91. A-back Jonathan Crucitti will miss spring practice since he is playing for the baseball team. With these player out the staff has moved Marcus McInerney to slotback. McInerney was originally recruited as a slotback by Stan Brock but played linebacker at USMAPS and then some rover and linebacker on the 2010 JV team.

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