Army Spring Depth Chart Review: Whip LB

Army was the first in the FBS to complete spring drills. ArmySports.com's Jim Lawler will review each Black Knight position to project a starter, a backup and a player to watch. Today he'll discuss the whip linebacker position.

WHIP LINEBACKER
Starter: James Kelly #43 Jr.
Back up: Jarrett Mackey #34 Sr.
Third String: Kyle Fleming #85 So.


Former direct admit junior James Kelly won the starting Whip linebacker spot. He has big shoes to fill in attempting to replace the departed Nate Combs. The staff will probably ask Kelly to be more of a run stopping tackler while asking him to cover less space towards the boundary. Kelly (6-3, 220) is bigger than Combs but lacks his range and athleticism. He ended the 2012 season as the starter at defensive end. Kelly appeared in eleven games and started three. He made 14 tackles, 1 ½ tackles for loss, on the season and forced a fumble against Navy. Kelly is fairly mobile and a sure tackler but may lack the ideal range for the position. He could struggle in pass coverage.

Jarrett Mackey is expected to back up Kelly at Whip linebacker. Mackey had a difficult 2012 season as he wasn't physically ready to play following a knee injury. Mackey had started the 2011 opener at quick end but suffered a severe season ending knee injury. He had played well as a three technique starting defensive tackle in 2010 during his sophomore season. He finished the 2010 season with 47 tackles, 6 1/2 for a loss, four sacks and forced two fumbles. Before his injury Mackey was quick, athletic with good lateral mobility. Last year he was a shell of his former self. Jarrett appeared in seven games and started three contests including two at bandit linebacker when Nate Combs was hurt. Mackey posted 21 tackles including 1 ½ for a loss. He had 13 tackles in a game against Ball State but it was obvious he was not the same player due to his knee injury. Mackey couldn't run at all and often seemed like he was dragging his leg around. The staff is hopeful that Mackey, who is a fifth year senior, experiences the rejuvenation Nate Combs did last fall in his second year back from major knee surgery. Jarrett's knee is structurally sound but watching him run this spring I doubt a full recovery will happen.

At third string is sophomore Kyle Fleming (6-0, 215) who was a direct admit last summer. He moved up the depth chart due to injuries suffered by other players and the fact that promising linebacker Michael Cermak left the academy. Fleming showed some flashes but he needs to spend more time in the weight room and develop. He's at least a year away and will most likely be bypassed on the depth chart this fall. Listed behind Fleming are juniors Jim Forgrave (5-10, 218) and A.J. Armstrong (6-1, 225) who have been regulars on the JV team the last few years. Forgrave is a rather limited athlete while Armstrong doesn't make many plays despite decent physical tools. Right now I don't believe Fleming, Forgrave or Armstrong will see any meaningful time from scrimmage this fall.

Two other players, Corey Watts and Julian Holloway, who missed spring practice with injuries, could possibly contribute. Watts is a fifth year senior who has a chance to help if he can get healthy and stay on the field. He appeared in three of the first four games last year and made two tackles before suffering a season ending injury. In 2011, Watts (15 tackles, 1 sack) started the first four games at defensive end and generated some pass rush pressure but lost his defensive end position after failing to hold up against the run. He was moved to whip linebacker last spring. The whip linebacker position fits his skill set. Watts (5-11, 205) is a very intense, aggressive, active player who can run.

Junior Julian Holloway appeared in six games last year but didn't record any tackles. Holloway (6-2, 197) has been a flex player who also played quick end at the United States Military Academy Prep School in 2010. Julian demonstrated quickness and athletic ability at USMAPS. He's failed to make any plays the past two years in his limited playing time. Julian has a narrow frame that makes him look taller than his listed size. Holloway really needed the practice reps he missed this spring due to an injury. This summer will probably be make-or-break time if he hopes to see the field in any meaningful way.

The player to watch this fall will probably be the Whip linebacker who started last fall at USMAPS. He offers the type of tough, intense, physical play at linebacker that has been missing since Stephen Anderson graduated. He won't start as a plebe but should compete for a starting role down the road. We'll discuss him and the entire class of incoming new recruits in the ArmySports.com scouting reports after R-day.

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