Army Spring Practice: Week 1 Review

Army kicked off the fifth season of the Rich Ellerson era when spring practice began last Tuesday. The team did a basic walk through at the Foley center. The players were in shorts and practice jerseys. The focus was on drills, proper techniques and fundamentals. Look inside to find out about all the Army football moves and the Black Knight injury situation after one week of spring drills.

Army kicked off the fifth season of the Rich Ellerson era when spring practice began last Tuesday. The team did a basic walk through at the Foley center. The players were in shorts and practice jerseys. The focus was on drills, proper techniques and fundamentals. Players rotated in units between the indoor practice field and back to performing strength and conditioning work. Army's players have yet to put on their pads and have only had non-contact drills both during Tuesday and Thursdays practices due to NCAA regulations

The biggest news is the shuffling on the defensive side of the ball with the defensive personnel. During interview with Co-defensive coordinator Chris Smeland, before the 2012 Navy game, Smeland mentioned moving personnel to find the best role for their players. Smeland said, "We've been young up front the last two years on defense. We're still trying to find that right formula or fit for those young guys. We've still got a ways to go." Smeland hinted this spring some players may be moved around up front. He believes some of the young players should progress as they improve their footwork and understanding of the scheme and their responsibilities. The good news is that Smeland believes more of the young players starting now as opposed to last year are the start of the longer term solution to turning the defense around.

One of those pillars Army hoped to build around was free safety Brandon Fusilier-Jeffires. He finished second on the team with 88 tackles, picked off one pass and successfully defensed three others. Of all the plebes that started last season, Brandon looked the part of an FBS football player. Fusilier Jeffires physical play earned Phil Steel's Second team Freshman All-American honors as well as honorable mention on the All-Independent team. However, Fusilier-Jeffires is not practicing due to academics. Hopefully Brandon is able to stay eligible and get back on track. Losing Fusilier-Jeffires would be a huge hit to a defense that lacks athleticism. The 2013 Army freshman class already lost Tim Kamana. Kamana was an excellent safety on the 2012 United State Military Academy Prep team. With Fusilier-Jeffires out the staff had Mike linebacker Geoffrey Bacon working with new defensive back coach Mayur Chaudhari at free safety. While I personally would have Bacon replace the graduating Nate Combs at bandit linebacker, the staff wants to look at him in space. Former JV quarterback Gino DeBartolo (6-2, 205) was moved and is working with the secondary. DeBartolo had difficulty handing the ball in last year's spring game and during the JV season.

With Bacon being tried at safety, the staff is auditioning some offensive players at linebacker. Marcus Poling who was the offensive MVP at USMAPS in 2011 at fullback and played running back on the JV team last year has been moved to Mike. Poling is a workout warrior and appears a lot bigger now than his posted R-day weight of 185 pounds. Poling is a very talented and versatile athlete from Idaho. In high school at a junior combine in Utah Poling ran a 4.46 forty yard dash on a soft grass field, posted a 37.5 inch vertical leap and a 9' 1'' broad jump. At the end of the combine he was awarded the Combine King medal, the Fastest Man award and the prize for the top defensive back. Marcus has run a 10.89 100 Meters and ran the anchor leg of his school's 4x100 meter relay team which won three state championships.

Unfortunately spring practice also includes a number of players who are unable to participate due to injuries. As I reported on the Insider forum, Rover Alex Meier, who left the Navy game with an ACL injury, had knee surgery. He will miss spring practice but will be ready this fall. Marques Avery who appeared in seven games and started five games at field cornerback is still recuperating from shoulder surgery. Avery has had shoulder surgery three consecutive years since he attended USMAPS in 2010. Avery is a tall cornerback with some speed and skills. He led the team in passes defensed with six this past season. He is still very raw and has started just seven games at cornerback in his life. He really could have used this spring practice to improve his footwork. Avery, at times, looked awkward and seemed a little flatfooted in coverage.

Right tackle Michael "MoMo" Kime started the first eleven games before missing the Navy contest after suffering an ACL injury to his knee against Temple. He'll miss spring practice but should be ready to go in the fall. Running back Raymond Maples had minor ankle surgery but will be ready for summer practice. Maples was banged up late in the game against Boston College. He wasn't as explosive for about a month until returning to form rushing for 156 yards against Navy. Strong safety Hayden Pierce suffered through an injury-riddled campaign as he appeared in only six games. He'll sit out spring practice to get healthy.

Among others that won't participate due to injuries are defensive tackles sophomore Evan Finnane, senior Clayton Keller and running backs sophomore Ja'Quail Haskins and junior Lawrence Scott. Haskins was a homerun threat and the most exciting running back at USMAPS in 2011 before suffering a serious knee injury. In the Texas high school state final in 2010 he ran a blazing 10.3.wind aided 100 meter dash. It doesn't appear likely he will recover from the two knee surgeries he's had since that time. Others who are out with injuries include fifth-year senior linebacker Corey Watts, senior wide receiver Scott Williams and junior wide receiver Zach Williams.

Offensive coordinator Ian Shields said that with the graduation of Trent Steelman the quarterback job is wide open with sophomores A.J. Schurr, Kelvin White competing with junior Angel Santiago and senior Cody Jackson. Shields said, "There is a fight at the bat rack this spring to see who is going to emerge. A.J. may have the upper hand because that's where we left off last fall, but everything is in light pencil."

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