Army D-Line: Here's Comes the Beef!

Last season Army football fans watched the Black Knight defense struggle much of the year as Army posted a mediocre 3-9 record. One of the biggest culprits was an undersized and at times over matched Black Knight defensive line that struggled at the point of attack. The Black Knights defensive line especially had problems against the bigger offensive lines of teams from the MAC.

Army was blown out on the road by all four MAC opponents it played this season by a combined 174-89 margin. The Black Knights allowed 43.5 points per game against the MAC.

Some fans pointed the finger at Army head coach Rich Ellerson and stated that this was a result of his emphasis on speed over size. While it's true the double eagle flex defense Rich Ellerson invented places a premium on speed and quickness, Ellerson never intended for Army to be so small upfront. For comparison while coaching at Cal Poly in 2008 against Wisconsin his starting nose tackle weighed 270, the defensive tackle weighed 260, the quick end was 235 pounds and the other defensive end was 254 pounds. That Cal Poly group was from a FCS school, not exactly fielding massive players, yet it outweighed the 2011 Army front four by over 110 pounds.

Last season's starting lineup was a result of Ellerson and the defensive staff just dealing with the hand it was dealt. After Chris Swain left the academy before last season the senior defensive line class offered no significant help. The only senior starter on the defensive line was 217 pound Andrew Rodriguez who was moved from whip linebacker to defensive end around mid-season. When Ellerson arrived at West Point the staff inherited some defensive line players recruited by former coach Bobby Ross like quick end Josh McNary, nose tackle Mike Gann and defensive tackle Victor Ugenyi who thrived in the flex defense. After they and others graduated, the staff's own defensive line recruits in 2009 and part of 2010 experienced an extremely high attrition rate. All of the potential impact defensive line recruits of 2009 are no longer with the program. Backup defensive ends Clayton Keller and Corey Watts are the only defensive linemen left on the roster from the 2009's recruiting class. It resulted in last season's struggles to stop opponents running game. Army was stuck essentially playing defensive ends as tackles and linebackers as defensive ends.

Rich Ellerson and the Army staff have focused this off season on recruiting more size. So far Army has landed five defensive line prospects. Todd Blatnik is a physical 6-2, 282 pound defensive tackle from Wisconsin that has the size and strength to play nose tackle at Army. Blatnik was an excellent shot putter in high school as well as an All-Conference defensive tackle. Stefan Moreau is a 6-3, 235 pound defensive end from Armagh high school in Pennsylvania. Like many recruits in the Ellerson era he is also an accomplished track and field performer. Moreau was a district champion in the shot put. On the football field he was named to the first team All-Johnstown Area.


Army's emphasis on the "brotherhood" was taken literally when two brothers of current Army players committed. Lance Baggett is the brother of Army plebe running back Terry. Lance is a 6-1, 250 pound player from Chicago Military Academy who could project to quick end in the flex scheme. In watching the JV and scout team I noticed at times the on field production of a short walk-on sophomore Shane Finnane. Finnane is an active player those motor never quits but even by last year's Army standards he's undersized standing barely six feet tall for a defensive lineman. Looking at him play I thought it was too bad he wasn't taller and bigger. This recruiting season Army just produced a bigger version of Shane when his brother Evan Finnane chose Army over Air Force. Evan is a lot bigger than his brother at 6-2, 260 pounds with the frame to add more muscle the next few years. Last season Finnane made 56 tackles and posted four sacks for St. Edward high school in Illinois. Jack Hanley is another Army defensive tackle recruit who chose the Black Knights over an offer from Air Force. Hanley is a 6-3, 265 tackle from Ohio who is strong and active. Hanley made 50 tackles last year and recorded five sacks.

This fall Army's defensive line returns three starters. Zach Watts may return to whip linebacker but I believe defensive tackles Holt Zalneratis and Jacob Drozd have nice upsides to their respective games. Both were engulfed at times up front but are good athletes, who can move and possess the frames to add muscle. They should benefit from the experience they received as starters. A.J. Mackey returns for his senior year and except for the Temple game his play improved in the second half of the season. His brother, defensive end, Jarrett Mackey should be ready to return this fall. Jarrett Mackey suffered a serious knee injury in the opener last year and left West Point to rehab. He returned this semester but will miss spring ball. If healthy Jarrett is an impact player.

In addition to the new recruits and the returning starters, the prep school offers potentially plenty of help. The strength of this years United States Military Academy Prep school's (7-2) very good defensive team was its defensive line. The USMAPS defense produced three shutouts last season. The defensive line at the prep school was very productive and physical. The prep school team's defensive line actually outweighed Army 2011 varsity lineup and averaged nearly 250 pounds across the line. As is our policy at ArmySports.com we will not discuss individual prep players until after R-day when they officially commit and join the Long Gray Line. We will feature the 2011 USMAPS players in detail during ArmySports.com "Incoming" players features that will appear shortly after R-day. The bottom line is that the staff has done an impressive job in "beefing" up their defensive line this off season.

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