The Army Black Knights kicked off their week of spring practice with their second consecutive physical two hour scrimmage on Sunday. The Army offense squared off against the Army defense. The Black Knight offense ran its usual system. The defense simulated various option defense looks like odd man fronts, the 50 defense, a 4-2-5 look and a 3-5 defense among others. Unlike the last three seasons the offense is not undergoing any formation changes. They are running the same system as last year.
On Monday after two consecutive days of hitting the offensive line and running backs looked like the just returned from battle with so many players sitting out practice. The week began with over twenty players wearing "red" no contact jersey on Monday after the physical weekend practices. The team seemed sluggish at the start of Monday's practice. There was a noticeable lack of snap and crispness when the Black Knights opened their third consecutive practice. Head coach Rich Ellerson stopped practice early in the morning session because he didn't like the intensity and effort. After Ellerson spoke to his troops the effort and intensity picked up noticeably. The Black Knights spent the rest of their time on the field practicing at a tempo that seemed like they had to catch a bus.
The team spent Monday breaking off into different units practicing drills. Trent Steelman had his best practice throwing the ball this spring. The passing drills before Monday had been rather erratic but this practice Trent was hitting all of his receiving targets in stride. Junior E.J. Tucker has emerged as the leader for the starting wide receiver job opposite Patrick Laird. Tucker has average speed and quickness but in practice he's demonstrated reliable hands and can block in space. Anthony Stephens, who was the starter on opening day last season, Chevaughn Lawrence and Michael Hudson look to be running behind them for the backup spots. For the second consecutive year the staff is considering the possibility of moving Malcolm Brown from C back to wide receiver. Brown hasn't been involved in that many contact drills this spring and has had trouble staying healthy during his career. Last season he played hurt the entire season and the new wishbone backfield limited his carries. He led the Black Knights with two touchdown receptions last year. If moved Brown would be the fastest receiver and has the best hands on the team. Look for another running back Jon Crucitti to be tried wide receiver this summer. Crucitti had off season surgery on his shoulder and won't practice with the football team this spring.
On Wednesday the team practiced at the Foley Athletic center in full pads with a limited roster. Over 25 players had to once again sit out the contact drills. Army head coach Rich Ellerson said, "We're getting some great stuff, but what's frustrating is that we have so many offensive skill guys unable to practice due to injury. We have a few guys with strains and sprains that we would like to get back on the field soon. We've stayed relatively healthy on defense, but we can't quite take advantage of each other. That's been a little bit frustrating, but hopefully we'll have a chance to get ourselves well before we get into the weekend. We have another really good physical, combative, competitive weekend on tap as we head into the last week of spring."
Junior Raymond Maples returned to full contact drills on Wednesday after sitting out Monday's contact drills due to a sore thigh. Maples showed no ill effects during one on one tackling drills when he made a sharp cut against cornerback Marcus Jackson that left him in the dust. Maples continues to be a workout warrior in the off season. His physical improvement since his initial season at the prep season has been striking. A few more months in the weight room they might have to name a Transformer after him. Maples was Army's best offensive player last season and is poised for another outstanding campaign.
Friday's practice was dialed back a notch from earlier in the week. Practice opened with a short workout followed by a ninety minute practice in helmets, pads and shorts. The team was divided up for the Black & Gold spring game scheduled next Saturday at Fort Benning, Georgia. Friday's workout had the first team offense matched against the first team defense. Justin Trimble, who did a solid job early last season at Mike linebacker before suffering an injury, looks to be in the lead for the rover position.
The biggest news from Friday was the announcement that special teams coach Joe Ross is leaving the staff to take a job in the private sector. Ross had been a very effective recruiter in the Midwest since joining the program three years ago. Ross had landed 14 recruits this past recruiting cycle and had been an assistant coach that was able to win head to head recruiting battles against the other service academies. Some fans have discussed this in terms of special teams play. To me, that is not the issue. This is a huge hit to the team on the recruiting front were the Black Knights have really improved the last few seasons with a big assist from Ross. Replacing Ross with a good coach who can recruit is essential for head coach Rich Ellerson.
Saturday's practice saw the Army offense defeated the defense in a controlled scrimmage, 33-23. Each side of the ball "earned" points for their play. It was a contact scrimmage with live blocking in full pads but the skill position players, who have been banged up this spring, wore flags. Exactly like flag football they were considered "tackled" and down when a defensive player grabbed one of their two flags on each hip.
The first team offense featured some less familiar names due filling in for injured starters like running back Kelechi Odocha, right guard Steve Shumaker and right tackle Will Wilson. Shumaker might press last year's starter Matt Valenti, who is sitting out the spring while recovering for off season surgery, this summer for the starting job. Wilson is a versatile backup who can play anywhere on the offensive line but started only because tackles Michael Kime and Derek Bisgard are hurt. The senior Odocha is not likely to be in the regular rotation once everyone is healthy. Senior Ben Jebb looks like he has solidified his hold as the new left tackle. Jebb's played well this spring.
Trent Steelman continued his excellent week of practice once the scrimmage started. He ran the offense crisply. He was very efficient throwing the ball. His new favorite target, Patrick Laird, made a nice diving catch of a low throw. Laird isn't very fast but is a determined blocker and catches everything thrown his way. It's a huge improvement over the last few years when far too many passes were dropped. Backup quarterback Angel Santiago ran the second team and showed his quickness and speed on a number of runs and scrambles. Angel scored a touchdown on fifty one yard run when he ran by and through the scout team. It was easily the most exciting play of the scrimmage.
On the defensive side Bobby Kough and Richard Glover are the new inside tackles on the first team defense. The return of Kough (6-3, 250) and the improved play and maturation of Glover (6-0, 270) provide the Black Knights with some much needed size on the interior of the defensive line. Last year's the Army's varsity starting defensive line was far too small. The defensive line at the prep school was even larger than the Army varsity. Ellerson has been pleased with the improvement of the defensive line this spring. They need it because it seems last season's defensive tackle A.J. Mackey has been separated from the team. He is no longer on the roster. A.J. still attends the academy but it is unclear if he will rejoin the football team for his senior year. Sophomore Richard Glover has stepped up in Mackey's absence. Richard Glover saw some time with the varsity as a plebe. He was the starting nose guard in 2010 at the United States Military Academy Prep school. Glover possesses a stout blocky build. He is powerful and has a short explosive leg drive. Glover is hard to move at the point of attack. Glover is quick and tenacious and will get under and into a center. He has played well this spring and is in the lead for the starting job.
Zach Watts, the Black Knights best returning defensive lineman from last year, remains at quick end. Holt Zalneraitis has been moved from bandit tackle to a more natural strong side defensive end position. It's a lot better fit for Holt's skill set. Last year's other defensive bandit tackle co-starter, sophomore Jacob Drozd, started at whip linebacker. Jacob is a tremendous athlete who is the ideal flex player who can play up or with his hand on the ground. Tyler Dickson continues to be the new starter at boundary cornerback. Last year's starter Lamar Johnson Harris has been moved to field cornerback behind Josh Jackson. The only surprise to me on the first team defense was perennial over achiever Ty Shrader starting ahead of last year's starter Thomas Holloway at free safety.Follow @ArmySports
Army Spring Practice- Week 3 Review
ArmySports.com Top Stories
Army: The Lesson-Free LossSportswriters, talk-show hosts, TV pundits, everyone in between, it doesn't matter: People who write or talk about sports for a living want to assign some meaning to the game they…
ArmySports.comYesterday at 10:59 PM
Highlights: Army falls at Buffalo in overtimeThe Army Black Knights suffered a disappointing 23-20 overtime loss to the Buffalo Bulls on Saturday. Look inside for highlights of the game.
ArmySports.comMonday at 12:56 PM
Head to Head: Army at BuffaloAfter a long trip southwest to take on UTEP, this road game is a much easier travel destination for a Black Knights team looking to continue it's unexpectedly perfect start to the…
ArmySports.comFriday at 10:29 AM
Three Keys: Army at BuffaloIt has been a stunning start to the season for Army who, after just three games, have already surpassed their win total for the entire 2015 season. This Buffalo game is another one…
ArmySports.comThursday at 1:07 PM