The future is now for Army's secondary

The Black Knights secondary has been torched for 557 passing yards and five touchdowns in their first two games of the 2012 season. With the defense allowing an average of nearly 42 points per game changes need to be made.

Editor's Note: Lawler submitted this article on Sunday, the day after Army's 41-40 loss to Northern Illinois. According to a recent Times Herald-Record article it appears that many of the changes Lawler recommends are actually being implemented by the Army staff.

We saw that start at halftime when starting cornerback Waverly Washington, starting free safety Ty Shrader and Rover Thomas Holloway were benched after a half where they allowed 28 points. The only "stop" was when Jordan Lynch took a knee after taking over on the 8-yard line with 12 seconds left in the first half.

The removal of Ty Shrader from free safety was necessary at the start of the third quarter. Shrader, a senior, won the starting free safety job this spring. The coaches love Ty because he's a big effort and smart player. In watching Ty play I can understand what they see in his play. Ty is the son of a high school coach and it shows on the field with his ability to understand coverages. Shrader has seen playing time since he was a freshman and knows the system. The problem is he is physically not an FBS safety. He is too small and too slow. He can help as a nickle back but lacks the speed to play centerfield in this double eagle flex system. The first two games I've seen him correctly run to the ball on running plays or deep patterns offering help but not having the speed to cut down the angle in time to make the tackle.

I believe this is the last time that senior boundary cornerback Waverly Washington fools the staff. Washington took the lead for the starting boundary cornerback job late during spring practice. He was hurt the first few days of summer camp and after Tyler Dickson's shaky performance earned his starting spot back with a good week of practice. He has some ability but continued his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde routine by practicing much better than he plays on Saturday. His performance against Northern Illinois was a near replica of his disastrous outing the year before both in coverage and run defense. As I said this spring with this meltdown I believe the staff will just move on and play others. At half time they chose Tyler Dickson who started the opener. Dickson struggled but made a few plays with an interception and defending a two point conversion. He was torched most of the second half by Northern Illinois Martel Moore who beat him for two touchdowns. In the second half he allowed four completions over 27 yards to the Huskies receivers. I always believed Dickson was a safety being asked to play cornerback. This spring I wrote it was unclear if Tyler has the ability to turn his hips and if his feet are quick enough to handle man-on-man coverage against top notch receivers. We discussed these concerns when I analyzed the depth chart for Armysports.com after the spring game. LINK.

With Hayden Pierce out at SAM safety in the first half with a shoulder injury Justin Trimble moved from rover to SAM. Trimble failed to pick up Luke Eakes crossing the formation on The Opening drive and left him uncovered for a 38-yard pass reception. Later the Huskies isolated him in man coverage where Lewis burned him for a 69-yard touchdown pass. Trimble was moved back to his normal rover spot in the second half. He saved a touchdown with a big hit on a potential reception in the third quarter. Thomas Holloway started as Rover and was ineffective. For the second game he recorded no tackles and was benched in the second half. He was beat by Tim Semish who made a great one handed catch in end zone on the opening drive. Holloway 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. I thought since he has only average speed at best for a free safety that moving him closer to the line of scrimmage at Rover would play to his strength but he shown he can't get off blocks.

So what should the staff do besides complain about the secondary? They tried to turn up the pressure with the pass rush but until Jarrett Mackey returns this mid-season this remains a weakness. Blitzing even more than usual left slower cornerbacks in man coverage which they couldn't handle against Northern Illinois. The good news is, I believe, the staff has some answers on the team in this incoming plebe class from the United States Military Academy Prep school. The SAM safety will be fine once Hayden Pierce returns. Pierce wasn't able to start but, in a gutsy effort, played in the second half with an injured shoulder. He helped shutdown the deep middle in the second half. Pierce is very alert and is a sure open field tackler with a smooth stride that gives him excellent range. Army needs him back in the lineup.

At rover and free safety I would get plebes Alex Meier and Brandon Fusilier Jeffires in the lineup as starters or at least playing a lot more snaps. Both players can play rover or safety. Alex Meier was the defensive MVP last year at the United States Military Academy Prep School. Meier was a very physical player who doesn't miss tackles and has excellent closing speed. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time and simply makes a lot of plays. He led the USMAPS team in tackles. Against the Huskies Meier made three tackles and laid out to knock down a pass when he played late in the game. Brandon Fusilier Jeffires started the second half in place of Ty Shrader. Brandon did a solid job recording three tackles. Fusilier Jeffires is the son of former Houston Oiler Pro bowl wide receiver Heywood Jeffires. Fusilier Jeffires is a talented player who played Rover and some SAM safety last fall at the United States Military Academy Prep School. Brandon is well built, physical and can run. He hustles, likes to hit, and doesn't miss many tackles. If I made the call I would move Meier to starting Rover with Trimble as his backup. With Meier moving from backup Mike to rover I would return Tyler Dickson to Mike linebacker where he started two games last year. I would keep Fusilier Jeffires at free safety.

The boundary cornerback is problematic with no easy answers. I would start plebe Chris Carnegie or sophomore Marques Avery. Carnegie would be my first choice. Chris Carnegie was the best cornerback last season at the United State Military Academy Prep School. In high school Carnegie ran a personal best 10.86 in the 100 meters. Carnegie is an excellent athlete who is quick, agile and has good speed. Carnegie can accelerate and change direction. He played with a soft cushion in his limited appearances so far in 2012. Chris is a willing hitter but is more of a wrap-up type of tackler. He does play with the type of confidence you want in a FBS cornerback but that will be tested if he's thrown in the deep end of the pool starting this yearly in his career. Marques Avery may be another option but he has missed so much time the last two years with injuries I'm not sure where he is physically. Avery played only one full game in 2010-2011. Marques had a great game in the USMAPS opener in 2010 when he made three tackles and made an amazing leaping over the shoulder interception. He injured his shoulder the following game and missed the rest of his prep season. Last season as a plebe he injured his other shoulder and missed his freshman year. Avery has size and speed you normally don't see in an Army cornerback. In high school as a senior in 2009 running a 10.7 100 meters. With Avery rusty and Carnegie raw, neither are the perfect answer but both have the speed to compete better than Dickson or Washington. Last year's starting boundary cornerback Lamar Johnson Harris suited up this week but is not yet ready to compete for the starting job after breaking a bone in his leg less than year ago. I would use former starters Ty Shrader as a nickle back and only use Washington and Holloway on special teams.

I think for this staff needs to play these plebes now. The future for the secondary is here right now. Play them and while they will experience some growing pains, they'll compete better than last games starters. Sticking with players who simply lack the physical tools may unfortunately put the coaching staff future's in jeopardy. Army needs to play the plebes in the back row. The future for the secondary is now.

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