Army Preseason Camp Notes: Week 1

Army opened its Preseason camp August 1 as the Black Knights began preparations for the 2011 season. Army enters its third season under the leadership of Rich Ellerson. Last year Army posted its first winning season since 1996. This summer the Black Knights have to replace a number of key contributors who have graduated.

Senior linebacker Steve Erzinger was named team captain this spring. The past two seasons Rich Ellerson alternated team captains until mid-season when the other two permanent team captains were selected. As a head coach Ellerson had always selected his captains this way. This season the team said they know who they want to be their captains and don't need to wait till midseason. With West Point being the leading leadership training ground in the world, I assume Ellerson deferred to the players since they would know a leader when they see one. The team voted senior linebacker Andrew Rodriguez and senior quarterback Max Jenkins as the other two captains.

"It's a great honor to be chosen by your classmates and teammates, I feel really fortunate and grateful that my teammates would do that for me," said Rodriguez.  Rodriguez who missed last season because of a back injury, has looked fit and is moving well. The staff has him practicing in a blue jersey at whip linebacker to limit contact early but if he can remain healthy he looks like the old 2009 A-Rod.

There has been some confusion that has been widely misreported regarding the current defensive line depth chart. The confusion began when the official Army web site reported a different alignment than the spring training depth chart. Everyone has Jarrett Mackey at quick end and most have his brother A.J. Mackey at nose tackle. That information is correct.

The confusion started when it was incorrectly reported that defensive tackle Brian Zalneraitis and Chad Littlejohn, who are scheduled to compete at the bandit position, are now "defensive ends".  Defensive end Corey Watts and backup Clayton Keller were reported as defensive tackles when they are actually defensive ends. One report had Corey Watts at nose tackle. This made no sense to me so I reached out to defensive coordinator Payam Saadat who confirmed that currently Zalneraitis and Chad Littlejohn are still defensive bandit tackles and Watts and Keller are defensive ends. Coach Saadat made it clear that this is a fluid situation where people may be moved and tried at different positions. Saadat says only Jarrett Mackey has been anointed as a starter.
  
I think the confusion might have resulted from the writer at GoArmysports.com not completely understanding the Double Eagle flex defense. (
http://army.scout.com/2/1018129.html)  The Army defensive staff groups the defensive line and the whip linebacker, because he lines up just off the line with his toes even with the back of the nose tackle, as the front five. Coach Saadat explained this to ArmySports.com readers this spring.  "We just have groups of guys right now to be honest with you...We have a group of guys playing quick ends. We have a group of guys who can be interior linemen for us. [The defensive end is grouped here] We have a group of guys that can be a whip linebacker.  That's how we approached it right now. More so for the sake is that no one's been anointed...there's a group [of defensive linemen]. If the group can seize the skill sets they are being taught, I think there can be a multiple of people produce the desired output of what we are asking our defensive line to do. "When discussing the defensive end position Army's staff groups that position with the interior linemen which may have led to the confusion. As Black Knight fans are aware Rich Ellerson promotes position flexibility and  will move people around to get the best talent on the field. Bottom line the defensive line two deep we reported last spring (http://army.scout.com/2/1072385.html and http://army.scout.com/2/1071271.html) is current except that backup quick end Quentin Kanataris, who we mentioned last week left the program, will most likely be replaced initially by the incoming USMAPS defensive linemen Jacob Drozd. As coach Saadat clearly stated this is subject to change but these positions are where the defensive linemen began this past week.

Wide receiver is the one area of the offense in which head coach Rich Ellerson is still looking to develop a playmaker. Army returns both of last year's starters, Davyd Brooks and Austin Barr. The staff is looking to see if they can develop depth and add more speed to the wide receiver rotation. Brooks, despite leading Army in receptions, had an inconsistent season last year. Barr, who was injured late in the SMU bowl game missed all of spring practice, is expected to be out a few more weeks.
 
The staff move all round athlete sophomore Jonathan Crucitti, who played A- back last year, to wide receiver. Crucitti is a dual sport recruits who also plays baseball at West Point. Playing A-back as a plebe, Crucitti impressed with his blocking and versatility. Wide receiver is not a new position for him. In high school Jonathan caught 79 passes for 1,262 yards his senior season. During Friday's live scrimmage Crucitti caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from Trent Steelman. Crucitti blocking on the perimeter would really enhance the running game. To emphasize his versatility, Crucitti also practiced with the punters and punted well.
 
Last year's United States Military Academy Prep team starting wide receivers, plebes Chevaugh Lawrence and Michael Hudson have looked good so far but have seen most of their time with the second team. I liked both of these players at the prep school last year. Lawrence is a tall, physical confident receiver with good speed who will go over the middle and catch the ball in traffic. Hudson was converted from quarterback to wide receiver last year at USMAPS. He catches the ball well and demonstrated some run after the catch ability. 

Other returning receivers are vying to move up the depth chart. Junior Justin Allen, who was the best all round receiver during spring practice, had an uneven week catching the ball. Allen's main strength lies in the fact that he is a terrific, physical blocker. Two sophomore wide receivers, Anthony Stephens and E.J. Tucker, made their presence felt the first week. Both are seeing practice repetitions with the first team. Sophomore Anthony Stephens saw plenty of playing time this past spring. Stephens is a smooth route runner with sure hands. Stephens may be the most talented pass catcher on the roster but has to improve his blocking to get on the field. Tucker, who was originally recruited by Stan Brock, played very well this week.  At USMAPS E.J. played linebacker and safety. He was tried at slotback and ran track last spring. Tucker (5-11, 195) has above average speed and caught a touchdown pass on a slant route during drills.
 
Direct admit freshman burner Lawrence Scott is being tried at wide receiver initially. Scott was one of the fastest high school football players in Missouri last year. Lawrence has run 10.8 in the 100-meter dash and 21.91 in the 200-meter dash. The 5-11, 190 pound Scott was Parkway South's leading receiver as a senior when he caught 23 passes for 331 yards and five touchdowns. Lawrence has excellent hands, exceptional acceleration and has legit top end speed.  

Junior Nate Combs has taken the early lead to replace Stephen Anderson at Mike linebacker. Combs had a great spring in 2010 and initially won the bandit defensive tackle spot as a flex player. After Andrew Rodriguez suffered a serious back injury, Nate was moved to whip linebacker. In the opener Combs suffered a season ending knee injury on the first defensive series of 2010. He missed this year's spring practice because he was still recuperating from knee surgery. Co-defensive coordinator Chris Smeland believes Combs's transition to Mike linebacker will allow Ezringer to return to rover after Erzinger played Mike linebacker this spring. If he can stay healthy Combs is a talented player who will upgrade the linebacker spot. The linebacker position seems to be a lot deeper than expected with Andrew Rodriguez, Kingsley Ehie and Combs all returning to the team.

A group of Army players visited Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand a few days before summer camp began. Le Grand was paralyzed during the Army-Rutgers game last October when he tackled Malcolm Brown on a kickoff return. Newly named team Captain Max Jenkins was one of the players who visited LeGrand. Jenkins stated, "It was awesome to see Eric after all this time, He has a great personality. You hear about all the articles and all the tragic things but you hear how he is working hard and his determination and it just inspires everyone throughout the country. It was an amazing experience." LeGrand has made progress since his injury and his mobility has improved.


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