The Army Black Knights athletic department recently released their post spring football depth chart. While the offensive starters are relatively settled the defense seems to be in a state of flux. At the end of spring ball only two players who started last season's finale against Navy are on top of the defensive depth chart at the same position. The defensive staff needs to turnaround this unit that was responsible for much of the team's struggles the last two years. The Black Knights total defense ranking has declined every year since Ellerson's first season at West Point. The defense fell from being ranked 16th in 2009 to 85th last year. If the staff experiences another miserable year it would probably put their future in jeopardy. We'll discuss the defensive depth chart and mention players to watch. This depth chart went back to the standard classification of the positions in the flex defense. The bandit linebacker is gone and is once again called the Whip linebacker. The strong side defensive end was called the Whip last year and is now listed as a left defensive tackle. Essentially the defense is the same scheme. The only difference I see is that I don't think they'll ask the Whip linebacker to do as much as Nate Combs did as a Bandit linebacker. We'll discuss positions where we think the depth chart could be impacted by incoming freshman players from the 2012 United States Military Academy Prep team. Since these players can still be recruited our policy is not to mention prep players names until after they take the oath on R-day.
Starter: Dalton Mendenhall #7 So.
Backup: Holt Zalneraitis #36 Sr.
Third String: Derek Sanchez #94 Jr.
Sophomore Dalton Mendenhall (6-3, 225) won the starting quick end position with a strong spring despite missing some time with a sprained ankle. Last season he played in all twelve games. Dalton was used as a flex player but saw most of his time on special teams. I liked the staff moving him from the whip/bandit position to quick end. Mendenhall was an impact play making quick end at the United States Military Academy Prep school in 2011. Dalton posted 15 sacks one year in high school. After his junior year he was very impressive at a number of off-season high school combines such as the Nike Northwest Elite football camp where he was named defensive MVP.
The quick defensive end is the glamor position in the double eagle flex. Rich Ellerson coached some impact quick ends like NFL star Tedy Bruschi who played for him at Arizona, Chris Gocong a Buck Buchanan winner and NFL veteran who set a Division 1-AA season-record with 23.5 sacks at Cal Poly and Army's honorable mention All-American and all-time sack leader Josh McNary who recently signed with the Indianapolis Colts. The quick end simply needs to be the best pass rusher. Last year's starting quick end Zach Watts produced no sacks so you have a clear idea why this defense struggled in 2012. Dalton Mendenhall, who is quick off the edge, is a good athlete with 4.69 speed in the forty yard dash. As a pass rusher at USMAPS he was a relentless, big effort player with a non-stop motor who played hard every down. He refused to stay blocked because he uses his hands so well. This defense needs Mendenhall to play well if it hopes to once again pressure the passer consistently.
Senior Holt Zalneraitis is slated to be Mendenhall's backup after moving over from the defensive end position. This is the third position change on the defensive line for Zalneraitis. Last year he was moved from defensive tackle to defensive end. I thought he would thrive in the new role after he had a great Armor-Infantry spring game in 2011 making 1 1/ 2 sacks. Once the season started he was a non-factor. Zalneraitis played in seven games and started four. He missed five games with a hip injury. He made just 12 tackles all year, had just half a sack and one quarterback hurry. Holt is very smart in the classroom but he lacks instincts on the field and often plays tentatively. He was burned a number of times failing to maintain his containment responsibilities. Zalneraitis is a pretty good athlete but he fails to make many plays.
Junior Derek Sanchez reemerged on the depth chart this spring. Sanchez is a good athlete who stands 6-3 and weighs 206 pounds. He saw his first varsity action last season when he appeared in five games early in the year. He struggled as he failed to make any plays and was dropped off the depth chart. Sanchez rebounded with a solid spring. Derek can run, chase and change directions. He is mobile and active but needs to start finishing plays and making tackles. Sanchez was a direct admit in 2010 and he is still filling out and needs to mature physically. Right now he lacks functional football strength and can't hold the point of attack.
It's a big drop in talent to the next three players listed behind the top three at quick end. They are sophomore Justin Fahn, senior Mitch McKearn and sophomore Kyle Ricciardi. I don't expect any of the three to make a major impact with the varsity this fall. Fahn (6-2, 200) was an undersized walk on at USMAPS in 2011. He saw time as a back-up at defensive tackle at USMAPS and on the JV defensive line as a plebe. Fahn plays hard but he has a small frame and is woefully undersized even by Army standards. McKearn (6-2, 223) is a local product whose father, Mark, was a tight end for Army. Mitch is a converted high school linebacker. He's played in three games last year and recorded no tackles or statistics. Kyle Ricciardi (6-1, 220) is a 2012 direct admit who was a First Team All-New York State linebacker. Kyle was converted from linebacker to quick end. He is an instinctive player but he isn't especially fast and needs to get stronger.
One player who should see playing time is pass rush specialist Colin Linkul. He sat out this spring with an injury. Linkul, a junior, can really come off the edge and has been used as a situational pass rusher the last two years. He is only 6-0, 188 pounds and he is far from physically imposing but he has a knack for pressuring the quarterback. Colin has recorded only seven tackles in his two year career but has 4 ½ career sacks in his limited playing time. Linkul has a lot of upside because he only started playing football as a sophomore in high school. He is quick off the ball and has a nice up field surge. Linkul often does a nice job off getting off the snap quickly, gaining an advantage, and then dipping his shoulder to gain position. Linkul can cause slow footed offensive tackles some problems.
Army Spring Depth Chart Review: Quick Ends
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