Army Football: What to look for, part I

The Black Knights open their football preseason camp this week. Army head coach Rich Ellerson will be looking for the team to rebound after a very disappointing 3-9 2011 campaign. The 2012 Black Knights return most of their key starters on offense that led the nation in rushing. Army's young defense struggled last year. It has to replace its captain and best player in Steve Erzinger.

With the conclusion of Beast Barracks the 2012 Army football team will begin to take shape. Here are some of the issues ArmySports.com will be following.

Key position battles.
Right Guard
The starting right guard position is up for grabs with last year's starter Matt Villanti an academic casualty. Sophomore guard Stephen Shumaker looked good working with the first team this spring. Shumaker played at the United States Military Academy Prep School in 2010. The six foot, 280 pound Shumaker is built like a fire hydrant but is strong and surprisingly quick. Army offensive coordinator Ian Shields told me this spring that, "He's [Shumaker] a good player, he's physical and he's explosive getting out of his stance. He's fundamentally sound." Junior Zach Reichert (6-2, 251) took advantage of extra reps he received during camp and moved up the depth chart. He should compete with Shumaker for the starting spot. Reichert is mobile and has solid technique. The Black Knights have a lot of versatility on the offensive line with Will Wilson and Michael Kime, who are battling for the right tackle spot, having the ability to play any position on the line.

Kicker
Inconsistent kicker Alex Carlton has graduated. He had a poor senior season and the staff lost faith in him. Carlton hit only three field goals the entire season with a long of just 23 yards. Senior Eric Osteen won the kicking job this spring. He nailed both his field goal attempts in the Armor-Infantry spring game. Osteen has a strong leg and did a good job on kickoffs last year. His approach to the ball can be uneven on field goal attempts at times which can affect his accuracy. His main competition should come from plebe Dan Grochowski. Grochowski had an excellent season last year at USMAPS. He had no problem adapting to kicking field goals off the ground rather than a kicking tee like he did in high school. Grochowski has a very steady, consistent and powerful follow through. He missed only one field goal attempt last year. Dan hit two clutch field goals drilled on a very windy day in Newport, Rhode Island against Navy Prep that provided the margin of victory. Grochowski, despite hitting a 57 yard field goal in high school, has a very good but not a huge leg. His longest field goal at USMAPS was from 47 yards out. Osteen is better on kickoffs.

Boundary Cornerback
Senior Waverly Washington and junior Tyler Dickson enter this summer in a virtual dead heat for the starting spot. Washington lost his starting job last year after being torched in the opener against Northern Illinois. Washington has ability but he practices much better than he plays on Saturdays. Tyler Dickson is a physical player who played safety and middle linebacker last year. Dickson can handle the run support responsibilities of a boundary cornerback in this defense. The question with Tyler is if he has the ability to turn his hips and if his feet are quick enough to handle man-on-man coverage against top notch receivers. If either struggle look for fast back-up field cornerback Marques Avery, a sophomore, or talented plebe Chris Carnegie, who played at USMAPS last year, to get in the mix here.

Rover
Captain Steve Erzinger seemed like he played almost every defensive snap at Rover since Rich Ellerson was hired. It will be interesting to see who replaces him. Two juniors Justin Trimble and Thomas Holloway are in a tight battle for a starting spot. Trimble is the leader for the position coming out of spring. Last season Trimble replaced Reggie Nesbit at Mike linebacker after the blowout loss to Northern Illinois in the opener. With Justin at Mike linebacker Army played two very good defensive games in a row against quality opponents. Trimble played only two games the rest of the way as his season was derailed by injuries. Trimble has the athleticism and ability to cover the position requires. He is competing against Thomas Holloway who played in every game last year and started six games at free safety. He finished second on the team in tackles (76 tackles, 1 Int.) last year. Holloway is a smart and alert player who is a sure tackler. He has only average speed at best for a free safety so moving him closer to the line of scrimmage at Rover plays to his strengths.


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