Army Preseason Camp Notes: Week 3

Rich Ellerson opened this week past week having no practice on Monday as all West Point cadets started class. While the off day was planned well in advance you wouldn't blame Ellerson if he stopped practice just to end the rash of players being hurt. Coach Ellerson has spoken about the depth at West Point being "fragile" in regards to experience.

This fall with so many inexperienced players and positions unsettled and up for grabs the Black Knights have been a little more physical in practice than the probably were last year.

Last week we discussed the loss of starting senior cornerback Antuan Aaron, who was expected to be the starting boundary cornerback this season, suffered a career ending back injury this week. While the other injuries aren't as serious they have severely limited a number of players. At the beginning of camp returning junior linebacker Nate Combs looked fit and in great shape after he was cleared to play. Nate had a great spring practice in 2010 and initially won the bandit tackle spot. After Andrew Rodriguez suffered a back injury Combs was moved to whip linebacker. Combs suffered a season ending knee injury against Eastern Michigan on the first defensive series of the year. In speaking with Rich Ellerson on Tuesday [look for the full interview on starting this week] he explained that Combs isn't all the way back. Once contact began during practice Combs was banged around and it was clear that he isn't as quick or moved as well as he did before the injury. Defensive captain Steve Erzinger and cornerback Justin Allen also missed time with minor injuries.

On offense a number of key projected starters have missed extensive time or been limited in their ability to practice at full speed. Last year's starting wide receiver Austin Barr hasn't practiced full speed since being injured in the bowl game versus SMU. Both "C" backs, Malcolm Brown and Brian Cobbs, have been limited with injuries. Brown and Cobbs have struggled staying healthy since they became starters.

With all the injuries and the inexperience of the roster the focus of Saturday's scrimmage was simulating real live game conditions. The staff ran the team through its pre-game warm up routine, a coin toss, substitution patterns and halftime. The coaching staff also worked on their game day duties on the sideline and in the press box. The scrimmage was controlled with the team focused on down and distance and situational play.

Eric Osteen has kicked off well this summer. During Saturday's scrimmage his two kickoffs reached the goal line and the two-yard line. I believe he will be an upgrade over Matt Campbell the last two seasons whose kickoffs were notoriously short. Plebe Larry Dixon and sophomore Jon Crucitti were back deep to return the kickoffs. This summer sophomore Raymond Maples and plebe Terrence Baggett has also been used on kickoff returns. Wide receiver Jared McFarlin continues to impress with summer. He demonstrated terrific body control on a sideline catch setting up a touchdown. McFarlin, a sophomore, is a taller, faster target than the injured Austin Barr he is currently replacing. McFarlin is more talented than Barr but Austin is a better blocker when healthy. McFarlin is stronger than he was last year but still needs to build his lower body strength and work on his blocking. Fellow receiver Anthony Stephens has the same issue. Stephens was open deep early in the scrimmage but Trent Steelman overthrew him. Both Stephens and McFarlin are very good receivers but this is an option offense and their blocking needs to become more consistent.

The defensive line continues to be a concern watching some of the matchups at the point of attack. The coaches maintain a positive attitude about the situation but this week when speaking with Rich Ellerson he admitted that while, "We are a more athletic team, we're a faster team but we are going to be small even by our own standards." Ellerson is being frank in that while the double eagle flex relies on quickness and speed they would like to be a bit bigger in the middle. Cal Poly's defensive lines under Ellerson were bigger than the current Army front line group. This staff isn't making any excuses and is prepared to battle with the current inexperienced group. The truth is they have no other options. The 2007 USMAPS class and the direct class of 2008, like most of Stan Brock's two years of recruits, have been whittled away by attrition. There are only two seniors on the current defensive line roster and only one Chad Littlejohn, a converted flex linebacker, is expected to start. Last season Army's top two defensive linemen at United State Military Academy Prep School decided not to attend West Point. They lost their top direct admit during the physical evaluation process and he signed with Ball State. The bad news continued this summer when Chris Swain, who was going to be a senior and had seen plenty of playing time, was separated from the Academy. Quen Kantaris, a talented pass rusher, who had seen playing time as a direct admit plebe left West Point over the summer. The good news the staff added a number of talented defensive linemen this spring but all of those players are attending the prep school this fall. The staff has to play the hand they've been dealt. Hopefully they are good enough and soon we will see.

A couple of player we mentioned this spring are on the roster but will not play this fall. Bobby Kough is a defensive tackle he mentioned as a player to watch this past spring. Kough experienced an extremely difficult plebe year. Kough suffered from the effects of Beast Barracks and was sick early in the year. Kough (6-3, 250) played defensive end at prep school in 2009 but was moved inside on JV team last season. He missed most of spring practice with an injury. Kough's father tragically past away last season and Bobby fell behind academically. He will sit out this spring and look to get back into the mix next spring. He moves fairly well for his size and can be a factor if he plays. Another player we mentioned this past spring as a player to watch, sophomore quarterback Cody Jackson, is academically ineligible to play this fall. Jackson was a recruited after Ellerson was hired and did a nice job in leading the 2009 prep team offense to an average of 23 points per game. Jackson has struggled academically since arriving at West Point. He left the team both in the fall and this spring with the staff's permission to focus on academics. Jackson is a left- handed throwing quarterback with above average speed but until he solves his off the field academic issues he won't be a factor on it.

One quarterback that made his mark on the field returned this week to watch practice. Rollie Stichweh, captain of the 1964 Army team, stopped by to watch practice. Stichweh was recruited as a halfback and moved to quarterback under head coach Paul Dietzel. Stichweh was quarterback for two legendary Army-Navy games. In 1963 as a junior he nearly defeated Heisman winner Roger Staubach and the No. 2 ranked Midshipmen. Army failed to manage the clock and time ran out with Army on the two-yard line going in. In the 1964 rematch Stichweh playing quarterback and safety beat Roger Stauback 11-8 during their senior years breaking a streak of five straight Navy wins in the Army-Navy classic. Top Stories