Army Spring Football- Week 2 Recap

The Black Knights opened their second week of "spring" practice with limited contact drills on Monday and Wednesday. On Friday they practiced without pads. Saturday was the first controlled scrimmage of the spring with the offense and defense facing off against each other in situational matchups.

Steve Erzinger was elected captain. There were erroneous published reports that the senior to be Erzinger would be moved from Rover to Mike linebacker to replace the departed Stephen Anderson . It was confirmed that Erzinger will stay at Rover. Erzinger is a great role model and one of the hardest workers on the team in the weight room and on the field. Erzinger posted 76 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 1 1/2 sacks and had five passes battled down. Erzinger was inconsistent at times this year overplaying his gap responsibility and being beaten in coverage a few times for touchdowns. Erzinger also drew some very costly penalties this year that contributed to losses in the Hawaii and Rutgers games. That said, he is the best returning senior on the team and has been a very solid player the last two years.

The Mike linebacker looks like a competition between Reggie Nesbit and Justin Trimble. Nesbit is a very talented athlete from Indiana who has sideline-to-sideline range and can pursue. His senior season in high school he had 119 tackles, a sack, two interceptions. Nesbit has dressed with the varsity and saw some time from scrimmage late against Air Force. Trimble is the third member of his family to play for the Black Knights. Last season due to injuries he was thrown into action in the opener late against Eastern Michigan and did a nice job. On the season he appeared in 11 games and had five tackles. Like Nesbit, he is a very good athlete and starred at wide receiver in 2009 at the prep school. Like all positions on the front seven, size is a concern as both Nesbit and Trimble only weigh approximately 200 pounds each.

Up front on defense Clayton Keller has played very well this spring. Keller played on the JV team last year and has been impressive firing off the snap at defensive end during drills. Keller played both linebacker and quick end at USMAPS in 2009. Keller stands 6-2 and weighs 220 pounds. Clayton hails from Salisbury, Conn., and is a big effort player who goes all out, can pursue and is physical. In a game I saw him against Hudson Valley Community College playing for Army prep, Keller had a sack and quarterback hurry.

Chad Littlejohn is being looked at in the bandit tackle position. It's a move that makes sense in my opinion. Littlejohn was third on the depth chart in the spring but was forced into extensive action at whip linebacker after Andrew Rodriguez and Nate Combs went down. Littlejohn is a solid tackler but his lack of range was noticeable in a number of games. Littlejohn weighs 234 pounds so he could potentially play with his hand on the ground. Special teams ace sophomore Zac Watts has secured his position as starting whip linebacker. Watts recorded 20 tackles during the 2010 season and has the athleticism the position demands. Like most young players he made some mental mistakes at times after he became a starter and was occasionally out of position. Watts made the biggest play of his career sacking SMU quarterback Kyle Padron and forcing a fumble that Josh McNary scooped up on a bounce and ran 55 yards for a touchdown.

We reported Shelby Jackson was moved back from defense to the offensive line last week. Jackson, however, wasn't moved back to the center position he starred at for the prep school but to left tackle. Jackson has excellent feet, athleticism and can get to the second level which is critical for an option lineman. Other position changes noticed were Matt Luetjen, who was recruited as a quarterback where he played on the JV team, moved from safety where he played for the varsity late last year and now to Rover backing up Erzinger. Wide receiver Casey Hughes has switched to cornerback.

Okay, it's official. I'm concerned about the lack of size at nose tackle and overall size on the defensive front four. The nose is a concern since that player has to play two gap in this scheme. For the last five years Army received exemplary play from Tony Fusco, Ted Bentler and Mike Gann at nose tackle. All weighed in at 280 to 300 pounds. Currently A.J. Mackey weighs in as the biggest player on the front line at just 266. Army took a big hit last year when their top three prep and direct defensive line recruits left before R day. The staff had a nice late recruiting run of defensive line recruits this year but none of those players are going direct. Outside of A.J. Mackey and Chris Swain the only potential contributor I currently see is Bobby Kough. Last year as a freshman 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 has the frame to add weight.

On the positive side Raymond Maples has looked terrific at "A" back. Maples twisted his ankle on the first carry of his college career against Hawaii, then broke a bone in his hand which limited him at times during his freshman year. Maples is a tough kid who played hurt and despite the injuries averaged 4.5 yards a carry. How tough? Ask Notre Dame's star middle linebacker Manti T'eo. When T'eo filled a hole to tackle Maples the freshman hammered into him breaking T'eo's nose. T'eo said "I didn't know what it was. I just couldn't feel my face,... [I] knew something was wrong and when I looked down and saw blood coming out."

Maples is now healthy and looks a lot faster. Maples is not a true burner but is able to burst into the open field. Maples is quick runner with tremendous vision. He has excellent feet, reads blocking well and runs to daylight. He runs much bigger than his size and finishes his runs. He's shown good hands in the passing game catching a 34-yard touchdown pass against Duke. Maples is also a willing blocker and had a chance to learn from one of the best blockers in Pat Mealy. Remember Maples played "B" back or fullback at the prep school so he also had to learn a new position in addition to dealing with the demand of being a plebe. I'll be surprised if Maples is not a vastly more productive player this fall.

The highlight of the scrimmage was quarterback Max Jenkins 27-yard touchdown strike to senior wide receiver Justin Allen. Allen started his career at West Point as a cornerback, was switched to slotback in 2009 then to wide receiver in 2010. Safety Ty Shrader was hurt during the week and missed the scrimmage. Shrader will likely miss the rest of spring practice.

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