Army's Challenge: Fear Not, Fumble Not

Waste not, want not. Any football organization could thrive on such a stance. Army wasted an inordinate amount of possessions due to fumbles in 2011. To be more precise, the Black Knights led the nation with 22 lost fumbles, including a whopping 17 fumbles in six of their losses. This was a jarring surprise for a team that had one of the best turnover ratios in college football in 2010.

Turnovers are a part of the game, and fumbles often seem to be a matter of luck. However, when fumbling becomes as systemic as it was for Army last year, it begs attention. A player hits the ground wrong, or a defensive player makes a great play, the inevitable fumble ensues. But is it really that arbitrary? Frank Wilson thinks not.

Wilson, currently running backs coach for LSU, has long been a vigorous advocate for ball security. Apparently, he's been successful. Wilson coached current New England Patriots' running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis while both served tenure at Ole Miss. Wilson's emphasis on protecting the ball was not lost on Green-Ellis. The running back has not fumbled once in his four years in the NFL.

"If you are on the street and you fall, you put your arms out to stop the fall," Wilson explains, "It's the same thing in football. When you are being tackled, you try to break your fall. We have to retrain the muscle memory."

In order to do so, Wilson came up with a series of custom-tailored drills for his running backs. First, he taught his backs that instead of holding the ball at waist level with one hand, they should hold the ball under their right arm, tucked against their chest, with their left arm wrapped around their right. Then, the drills. Wilson's drills relentlessly placed players in positions where they would fall, and he demanded that they go down without using their hands to break the fall.

He had them make cuts holding the ball against their bodies. Over and over and over again. He also attached a leather strap to the ball, and trailed the players, pulling the strap in attempt to dislodge the ball. He told them that holding the ball against the shoulder pads and never letting it go was a learned behavior. His backs had to learn if they wanted to stick around.

Rich Ellerson, take note. There are some other widely known ways players can reduce the chance of fumbling. For instance, covering the tip of the football with the index finger helps prevent defenders from stripping the ball. Also as basic as it sounds, players should think twice before stretching the ball out to get extra yards. Another somewhat obvious tip for a player hoping to hold onto the ball is to hold the ball in the arm closest to the sideline, as tacklers will typically be coming from the inside shoulder.

With QB Trent Steelman and RB Raymond Maples returning, Army's offense has the potential to cause problems for opposing defenses. If Ellerson can instill the right attitude and mechanics in terms of ball security, this offense should be a force to be reckoned with. Can a team "learn" not to fumble? Now would be a good time for the Black Knights to find out.

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