Army Incoming: Defensive Backs

ARMYSPORTS.com continues to review this year's incoming freshman class by position. Army's defensive backs graduated longtime starters Donovan Travis, Donnie Dixon and lost cornerback Richard King to a suspension. Fortunately for Army fans, this year's incoming freshman class offers some immediate help from the United States Military Academy Prep School.

Overall this is one of the fastest incoming classes of defensive backs in recent Army history. ARMYSPORTS.com will now take a look at the new Black Knights defensive backs.

One of the concerns when Rich Ellerson brought the Double Eagle flex defense to West Point was if he had enough speed on the roster at cornerback. While the Army defense has been effective, they have been burned over the top for big plays the past few years in some Cover One schemes. Last season at the United State Military Academy Prep School cornerback Marques Avery (6-1, 180) from Pasco, Washington demonstrated he had the talent to be an ideal field cornerback in this defensive scheme. In high school Avery played strong safety his junior year. His senior year he was moved to wide receiver and was a big play threat catching 18 passes for 483 yards (26.8 avg.) while scoring 6 touchdowns. Avery was one of the faster football players on the West Coast as a senior in 2009 running a 10.7 100 meters and finishing fourth in the state in the 100 meters.

At the prep school last season Avery was moved to the most demanding position in the flex defense, field cornerback, and excelled in practice and the opener. Unfortunately an early season shoulder injury ended his year but he really impressed the prep staff. In the opener against Hudson Valley CC he made three tackles and made an amazing leaping over the shoulder interception. After the interception he demonstrated his speed with a nice long cross field interception return. In the second game of the year versus Nassau Community College Avery was shutting down the wide receiver opposite him when his season suddenly ended. Marques tackled Nassau CC's big fullback but landed awkwardly and suffered a season ending shoulder injury.

Avery is simply a terrific athlete. He is fluid, agile and super-fast. Avery can plant and drive on the ball. He has excellent hands and tracks the ball well in the air. Marques has the man-on-man cover skills that the Army staff wants in a field cornerback. Avery possesses excellent size for a cornerback. Too often the last two years Army's smaller cornerbacks looked at times like little kids playing against their big older brother as they were out leaped or out muscled for the ball. That shouldn't happen with Avery. For a tall cornerback (6-1) he has the excellent hip turn, quick feet and instant acceleration you want in a cornerback's skill set. Avery has tremendous potential but I don't want to make him sound like Deion Sanders right now. He didn't play cornerback until last season at USMAPS and then played only one and a half games which hurt his development. The good news is he is healthy now and ready to contribute. Hopefully the shoulder injury was a fluke injury and he isn't injury prone because he does have a rather thin frame. The Army staff will give Avery immediate reps and with the loss of Richard King. I expect at a minimum that Avery is the nickel back as a plebe.

Free safety Hayden Pierce was another defensive star last season at the United State Military Academy Prep School who should compete for a varsity spot at free safety. Pierce is a 6-3, 180 pound player with 4.47 speed in the forty yard dash. Pierce played both wide receiver and cornerback at Esperanza high school in California. Pierce was named second team All-Sunset league but he was underrated. Hayden showed his athleticism and talent before his senior year when he impressed at the West Ultimate 100 Combine in summer of 2009. At USMAPS last year Pierce played better than advertised. He hasn't generated a lot of buzz with Army fans that followed the Black Knights prep team but he impressed me every game. Pierce made an interception in the opener against Hudson Valley CC. The next game he had seven tackles and an interception versus Nassau CC. In the upset win against prep powerhouse Milford Academy he blocked a punt and recovered it himself in the end zone for a touchdown. In the win over Stevens Tech he made a leaping interception at midfield.

Watch Pierce on the field and it is clear that he is a talented player. He is very alert, smart and has instincts you can't teach. He diagnoses plays extremely well and has a natural feel for the game. Pierce is also very athletic and possesses very good speed for a safety. He shows a burst to the ball and as a former receiver has excellent hands. Pierce is a sure open field tackler with a smooth stride that gives him terrific range. Watching his game he looks like Donovan Travis with a lot more speed and superior man coverage skills. If the staff gives him the reps this summer, he should compete for the free safety spot. I wouldn't be surprised if he won the starting spot as a plebe. With Pierce competing against good players like sophomores Tyler Dickson and Thomas Holloway, free safety is the deepest and most talented position on the defense in my opinion.



At the prep school defensive back Lamar Johnson-Harris played a number of positions. He is from Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he played both running back and defensive back in high school. Johnson-Harris is a quick, small, undersized 5-9, 175 pound player who probably will play boundary cornerback at West Point. Johnson-Harris showed some man-on-man coverage skills. Harris is small but he is not tiny or frail. He is well built with a muscular frame. Lamar moves well and can change direction. Despite his size he is physical, a good tackler and plays like a SAM safety. Johnson-Harris has a nose for the ball and excels on special teams coverage. His best game was against Navy prep when he was everywhere making four tackles and breaking up two passes.



Another defensive back from the prep school is Isaac Winters. Winters saw most of his time at USMAPS at cornerback. Isaac's father served in Iraq and just retired as a Sergeant Major after serving 20 years. Winters was born in Germany when his father was stationed there but played most of his high school ball in Washington State at two different schools. He played safety and running back in high school. Winters played in the US Army All-American game in January 2010.

At USMAPS Winters (5-9, 175) had four tackles against Hudson Valley CC in the opener. Against FDU JV his interception set up a touchdown. In the King college JV game he helped shut down their passing game at cornerback. Isaac also played well against Stevens Tech and in the Valley Forge game.

Winters is a good athlete with excellent straight line speed. He's run a personal best 4.43 forty yard dash and a 10.9 100 meter dash. He's a solid tackler and is aggressive. He played mostly safety in high school. He'll need to work and improve on his technique and his change of direction skills out of his backpedal if he stays at cornerback. His athletic ability could have him project to safety, rover or even A or C back but he'll probably play defense in my opinion.



Akintunde Akinniyi played SAM safety last season at USMAPS. Akinniyi played linebacker and running back at Creekview high school in Texas. He originally signed letter of intent to play at Southeastern Oklahoma but changed his mind late in the process after Army's FBS offer came in. Akinniyi made the play of the game in the opener against Hudson Valley CC when he broken up a fourth down pass in overtime to seal the comeback win. He also made five tackles. Against FDU Akinniyi made another five tackles, two behind the line of scrimmage and broke up a pass.

Akinniyi (6-1, 195) has average speed for a strong safety. He is physical and is quick to support against the run. He is a solid tackler with average range and cover skills. He could also transition to rover or linebacker.

Army's 2010 defensive back class has three direct commits. One of those players is Duran Workman who is a hard hitting strong safety with good size, instincts, toughness and speed from West Virginia. Workman ran a 4.57 speed in the forty yard dash at a combine. He was rated one of the top 50 prospects in the East in the underclass combine of 2011. His junior year he made 68 tackles and picked off two passes. As a senior he showed his toughness when he broke his wrist in the second game of the year but never missed a contest. He finished the year with 53 tackles, including 6 1/2 for losses, and four interceptions. After the season Workman had surgery on his wrist and he's now 100 percent. He proved that during June's North-South West Virginia High School All-Star game. Workman was named the South's defensive MVP after intercepting two passes. During our recruiting recap I incorrectly said that Workman would go to the prep school but he actually qualified as a direct admit

Duran (6-0, 205) was a four year varsity starter and played quarterback, tailback, fullback and wide receiver. Due to the wrist injury he played only defense his senior year. He'll probably play safety but might be fast enough to compete at cornerback. Workman chose Army over an offer from VMI. He committed early so other teams like Marshall, Ohio, Navy and Colgate never officially offered him but did express interest.



Addison Holstein from Florida looks to be another great addition to this deep class at safety. Holstein has good size (6-2, 195) strength (can bench press 325 pounds) and speed (4.52 in the forty). Holstein had been the quarterback at Lecano high school in Florida through his junior year before converting to safety his senior year. Holstein has the size, speed and workout numbers you want in an Army safety. He demonstrated excellent range, athleticism and hitting ability but is still learning the position. He is an excellent athlete who ran track and played basketball at Lecano. Addison received a lot of interest during recruiting season. The physical Holstein chose Army over offers from Stanford and Colgate along with interest from other programs like Duke, Toledo, Vanderbilt and all the Ivy League schools.



Kendal Frederick is a 6-1, 185 pound direct admit free safety from Fort Wayne, Indiana. Fredrick was an accomplished sprinter in high school. He possesses surprisingly terrific speed having run a 10.7 100 meter dash in high school. Fredrick was a member of his high school's state championship 1,600-meter relay team. Kendal was named to the first team on the AP All-State football team.

To be honest at first glance Kendal seems lanky and doesn't appear to be a terrific athlete. However once the whistle blows it is a different story. At the NLA 7-on-7 combine Fredrick showed how talented a player he is during coverage drills. Scout.com reported how Fredrick consistently made plays. He played cornerback and showed surprising coverage skills. He has excellent ball skills and demonstrated deep recovery speed. His future is as a safety but he has real ability. Fredrick chose Army over offers from Ohio and Ball State.



Next: A look at Special Teams and Athletes.

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