2011 Army Spring Game Analysis

The Army Black Knights concluded their spring football practice with the annual Black & Gold game at a chilly Michie Stadium on Wednesday. The Spring game matched the offense and defense in a controlled scrimmage that focused on game situations. Using a modified scoring system the offense ran away with a 35-16 victory over the defense.

The scrimmage opened with the team facing off in third down situations. The offense earned one point for a conversion while the defense earned a point for a stop. The offense finished with an 11-8 advantage. The team then practice in the red zone as the ball was snapped inside the 20-yard line. Army's offense scored on four of five possessions earning 24 points. The defense forced two field goal attempts earning 8 points.

Army's star B back Jared Hassin (#7) started and caught a Max Jenkins (#11) pass for a short gain in limited action. Junior B back Dan McGue (#43) scored on two short runs during the first two possessions inside the red zone. Senior CeDarius Williams (#4) also saw time at fullback. There weren't many familiar faces at slotback as starters Malcolm Brown and Brian Cobbs were held out. Marcus McInerney was injured last week and wasn't able to play. Raymond Maples (#1) and Brian Austin (#15) opened the game at A& C backs respectfully.

Maples looks like he's been locked away in coach Brett Gerch's strength and conditioning room since the Bowl game. Every time I see him he looks bigger and quicker. Tiny C back Julian Crockett ( #17, 5-8 168) scored the last red zone touchdown on a short 3-yard run. Crockett has good speed and excellent acceleration. Crockett's twin brother Jordan played cornerback with the second string defense. Junior Kelechi Odocha (#22) saw plenty of carries at A back. Odocha is small but solidly built and has decent quickness.

Scott Williams (#9) was recently switched from wide receiver to slotback. Williams played wide receiver at USMAPS in 2009 and for the scout team last year. Williams, who ran an 11.4 100 meter dash in high school, isn't a homerun threat but had two nice runs and scored a five yard touchdown. Williams recorded over 1,300 all-purpose yards as a high school senior. He has excellent hands, can turn the corner and return punts.

Quarterback was shared by seniors Max Jenkins (#11) and Jimmy Reitter (#6). Both struggled passing the ball completing only 3-of-10 passes. Jenkins overthrew junior wide receiver Justin Allen (#81, 5-10, 179) on the first play of the game. Jenkins completed his only pass in the flat to Hassin. Reitter received most of the playing time out of necessity not actually because of his ability. Watching these two quarterbacks struggling with their throwing accuracy makes Trent Steelman look like the second coming of Joe Montana. Reitter saw more snaps than planned due to junior Steelman and sophomore Chase Cresto (#14) being out with injuries.

Sophomore Cody Jackson (#16) missed the last two weeks of camp with the staff's permission to focus on academics. Jackson is expected to return for this year's summer camp. Jenkins is secure as the backup. Max understands the offense, makes good reads in the option and is a solid game manager if not the world's best passer. The third string quarterback is still open in my opinion with competition expected to come from the prep school and direct admits.

At wide receiver junior Justin Allen was open on the opening play of the game in the end zone and almost made a diving catch on a poorly throw Max Jenkins pass. Allen has really stepped up his game this spring practice both getting open and in blocking. Sophomore Patrick Laird (#19, 6-3 205), who I mentioned last week was having a quiet camp, had an excellent final week. He made a terrific diving reception in Monday's practice. In the Black & Gold spring game Laird caught a 20-yard pass from Reitter which was the longest pass play of the game.

Jared McFarlin dropped the only pass thrown his way. I was a little surprised after the game that Rich Ellerson mentioned he thought McFarlin had a "solid spring". McFarlin (#88, 6-5 195) possesses the type of size offensive coordinator Ian Shields likes in his receivers. I don't question Jared's ability but I expected more. McFarlin, in the 2010 Upstate/Downstate New York post season All-Star game, was named MVP and has a lot of natural ability.

Upfront on the offensive line the only holdover, starter Frank Allen, didn't play. Allen was held out for precautionary reasons after being banged up in practice. If this was a real game he would have played. The new look first team offensive line featured Brad Kelly and Derek Bisgard at tackles, Joe Baily and Matt Villanti at guard and Will Wilson at center. The offensive line outplayed their defensive teammates in the trenches.

After practice Army head coach Rich Ellerson discussed the offensive line.

"Obviously we have some new guys in there, but those newcomers aren't all that new," said Ellerson. "Those are guys that have been in those positions in a backup role. They stepped in and stepped up and were really productive. I was pleased with that transition. I was surprisingly pleased with the play at center. Will Wilson and Michael Kime did a nice job there. I thought we'd be serviceable there, but not maybe as far along as we are. That was encouraging."

Unfortunately the glass looked to be less than half full on the defensive side of the ball. On the interior defensive line some of the players expected to assume lead roles have been out with injuries. Junior A.J. Mackey, who is expected to be the nose tackle position, had surgery on his hand and has been held out this spring.

Chris Swain was also injured almost all spring. Swain dressed for the Black/Gold game but missed almost all practices. In addition two sophomores viewed as potential contributors, Bobby Kough and Victor Ripley, continued to battle the injury problems that plagued them last fall. Junior Tom Houser (# 54, 6-3 240) finished practice as starting nose tackle. Houser was switched from offensive tackle to defense this spring. Sophomore Shane Finnan (#64, 6-0 235) saw most of the time on the second team at nose tackle. At bandit sophomores Corey Watts (#56, 5-11 220), Brian Zalneraitis (#88, 6-2 220) and converted senior whip linebacker Chad Littlejohn (#59, 6-0 234) battled for playing time.

Junior Jarrett Mackey (#34 last year #94, 6-2 230) started at quick end. Sophomore defensive end Quentin Kantaris (#53, 6-2 215) started on other side. Sophomore Clayton Keller (#44, 6-2 220) showed his speed at times during the scrimmage.

At linebacker captain Steve Erzinger (#9, 6-1 222) played Mike linebacker. Earlier in camp Ellerson had stated that the plan was to keep Ezringer at rover. At rover was converted quarterback sophomore Matt Luetjen (#4 6-1, 205) while walk on Anthony Daniels played whip. Sophomore Reggie Nesbit (354, 6-2 190) saw time at whip linebacker. Junior Kyler Martin (6-2, 200) played Mike linebacker and C.J. Shelley played linebacker. Shelley, a junior (#51, 5-9 197) nailed fullback Dan McGue with a big hit. The front seven is a huge concern in my opinion. Not only is Army undersized but depth is a huge issue. The front too often struggled to get off blocks and the inside out pursuit was late as Army slotbacks were able to turn the corner repeatedly. If this was the 2011 home opener against San Diego State and freshman All-American running back Ronnie Hillman the Black Knights would have given up 350 yards rushing based on what I saw Wednesday night. The front seven has a lot of questions which have to be answered by underclassmen because the 2011 senior class other than Swain offers virtually no size that can help.

The defensive backfield was a bright spot with sophomores Tyler Dickson (#16, 6-0 195) and Lyle Beloney (#15, 5-11 195) opening as the new safety tandem. These two teamed together at the prep school in 2009 and both have excellent range and are physical players. Fellow sophomore Thomas Holloway (#11, 5-11 190) continues to push for a starting job. Holloway had the hit of the game when he unloaded on slotback Julian Crockett. With Josh Jackson being held out, converted wide receiver sophomore Casey Hughes continues to impress at cornerback. Hughes (#6, 6-1 185) offers good size for a cornerback. Having seen Hughes in action at the prep school at wide receiver I never would have projected him to cornerback.

Give credit to this staff for its flexibility and vision on getting the best talent on the field. Seniors Antuan Aaron (#3, 5-9 187), James Wittingham (#10, 5-10 186) and sophomore Julian Crockett (#27, 5-8 160) saw most of the time at cornerback in the spring game.

In the kicking game Alex Carlton finally missed one from 37 yards after finishing the year hitting 11 consecutive field goals. His backup Eric Osteen nailed a 30-yard field goal.

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