Defensive Line: D
The overall performance of the defensive line has improved and become more fundamentally sound as last year's first year sophomore starters have matured as juniors. The basic problem with the defensive line is the lack of athletic playmakers and too many linemen get stuck on blocks. Army's Double Eagle flex defense is an aggressive defensive scheme designed to penetrate, cancel gaps and create pressure. There are not enough negative plays being created. Junior Bobby Kough (18 tackles, 2 sacks) was named to Phil Steele's First team Midseason All-Independent team. I was surprised by his selection. Bobby isn't playing as well this season as he did the end of last year. Part of the issue is because he's been banged up and missed the Temple game. He had very rough games against Boston College and Ball State. He is still Army's best defensive lineman but he hasn't made as many plays as he did at the end of last year. Junior nose tackle Richard Glover (17 tackles, Sack, QBH, FR) has done a solid job splitting blockers to make some plays this season. Mike Ugenyi's overall play has improved and he played really well against Stanford's big, talented offensive line. He's started the last six games. Ugenyi is playing lower and does a better job holding the point this season than in the past with 18 tackles and a sack. Plebe Malcolm Hudson has replaced disappointing Dalton Mendenhall at quick end. Hudson (12 tackles, 3 TFL) is quick off the snap and does a nice job of slipping blocks. Mendenhall made five starts (14 tackles, 1 sack) and wasn't getting up the field. Almost all his tackles were down field as he wasn't holding up against the run. He was pancaked a few times against Boston College.
Senior Kyle Maxwell (9 tackles, 5 TFL, sack) has done a solid job as he's moved up from a third string role at defensive end. Maxwell has good first step quickness and can at times be disruptive. At defensive end both sophomore Joe Drummond (12 tackles, sack) and senior Holt Zalneraitis (8 tackles, sack) have seen their playing time decrease. They both struggle to get off blocks, stay healthy and fail to react quickly to ball carriers. They are both athletic linemen but don't make a lot of plays. Undersized sophomore defensive end Colin Linkul is a situational pass rusher who can come off the edge and create some pressure. Linkul had a career best game against Louisiana Tech with two sacks and a fumble recovery that helped secure the road victory. Back up nose tackle Tala 'TJ" Atimalala started the opener but lost his job. He hasn't been much of a factor with just four tackles during his sophomore season despite receiving regular reps with the second unit.
Senior captain Jarrett Mackey doesn't run as well as he did before his severe knee injury in 2011. Still he's done a decent job at whip linebacker holding up against the run even if he doesn't possess the range he once had before the injury. In 2013 he has 27 tackles and a forced fumble. Mackey lacks the ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage and sacks like he used to before he was hurt. Mackey has started the last six games after replacing James Kelly (8 tackles) after the opener. I mentioned in the spring depth chart review I was surprised the staff moved Kelly to whip linebacker. I thought he lacked the ideal range for the position and would struggle in pass coverage.
The Rover position has been a strength for the team. Army captain Thomas Holloway was named to Phil Steele Midseason All-Independent team second team defense. He deserved the honor. Holloway has played well at Rover after struggling initially with the move from safety his junior year. Having Holloway play Rover close to the boundary allows his lack of speed to be mitigated by the smaller space he needs to cover. Thomas's instincts and ability to read plays are first rate. He leads the team with 48 tackles despite missing the last two games. Army turned to reliable Justin Trimble (18 tackles, 2 INT, 2 PD, FR) with Holloway out. He hasn't disappointing with 11 tackles and two interceptions in two starts. Trimble is similar to his brothers, who played at West Point, in that he knows the game and is field savvy. Trimble possesses, at best, only average speed but he's been solid in pass coverage this year.
Mike linebacker has been a revolving door this season. The campaign opened with one of Ellerson's best recent defensive recruits, sophomore Alex Meier, moving over from his starting Rover spot to Mike linebacker. Meier opened the season with 18 tackles in the first two games. He missed the Stanford game and shortly afterwards left the Academy. It was another big hit to the defense which had lost another sophomore impact player in Brandon Fusilier-Jeffires in the summer. Athletic Marcus Poling (13 tackles) started the next two games. He failed to make a lot of plays and was replaced as the starter. Poling was then injured and has missed the last two games. I still think Poling has a nice upside if he can learn the position. Marcus was the offensive MVP at USMAPS in 2011 at fullback and played running back on the JV team last year. Poling is a workout warrior who can run a legit 10.89 time in the 100 meters.
Junior Julian Holloway was handed the reins and started the next three games at Mike linebacker before missing the Temple game with an injury. Holloway had previously been used as a flex player. Julian is a pretty good athlete and has posted 41 tackles, with 4.5 tackles for a loss, a sack and a forced fumble. Holloway has been inconsistent with his positioning and has missed too many tackles. After Holloway was hurt the staff turned to undersized senior Colby Miller. Miller was captain of the JV defense the last few years and one its best players. Miller is a fiery, aggressive defender who reads the opposing offense's plays well and understands the system. Colby is a big effort player who competes, hustles and will stick a ball carrier who gets in his sights. His issue is his lack of speed and his inability to drop in coverage. Still. once in the lineup he is usually in the right spot, is fearless in filling a running lane and will tackle runners he can square up on. Miller made 16 tackles in his first start against Temple.
Defensive backs: C+
This is easily the most improved area of the team. The Black Knights rank 38th in the nation allowing 215 passing yards a game. While they probably aren't as good as those numbers indicate it's a far cry from the disaster of 2012. The Double eagle flex system is built around pressure and the Black Knights only have 13 sacks. The cornerbacks have played well despite not getting much help up front.
As we discussed in our summer Incoming R-day series, plebe Josh Jenkins is the best cornerback Rich Ellerson has recruited since he arrived at West Point. Jenkins is very quick with excellent feet, has the ability to redirect smoothly in coverage and the burst to make plays on the ball. Jenkins has made 21 tackles, two interceptions, six passes defensed and a forced fumble. Jenkins is a terrific athlete, a play maker and has matched up well athletically when he's on the field.
Sophomore Chris Carnegie is the only one of the top three defensive players from the 2011 USMAPS class still with the program now that Meier and Fusiler Jeffires are gone. Carnegie has really benefited from the growing pains he suffered while starting as a plebe last year. Carnegie has good feet, is smooth out of his back pedal and his coverage techniques have improved. Carnegie's tackling will not remind anyone of Ronnie Lott put he has improved and has stopped trying to tackle everyone high. Carnegie missed the the opening game with an injury and has 27 tackles on the year. His coverage has been solid but he doesn't make many plays on the ball.
Junior Geoffrey Bacon's move to free safety worked well until he was injured against Wake Forest. In four games he made 30 tackles. Bacon is Army's most athletic defender and his physical play and speed have been missed. Hayden Pierce (30 tackles, 2 passes defensed) started the first two games at boundary cornerback and did not play well. He played in a reverse role the next two weeks before replacing the injured Bacon at free safety. Free safety is where Pierce played at USMAPS and is probably his best position.
SAM safety Shaquille Tolbert (40 tackles, INT, FF) has been the weak link in the secondary. He's made a few plays but he is experiencing the growing pains of being a first year starter. Tolbert is a willing hitter but lacks deep recovery speed and overall coverage skills. He's struggled in space when opposing teams spread out the Black Knights defense. Brittle cornerback Marques Avery has appeared in four games and knocked down one pass. Senior Tyler Dickson replaced the injured Bacon against Wake Forest and almost immediately took a poor shallow angle on a play and was easily outrun by Michael Campanaro for a 66-yard touchdown. Dickson was moved back to special teams where he belongs.
Special Teams: D
Sophomore Daniel Grochowski has rebounded after a difficult plebe year. Grochowski has made seven of eight field goal attempts this year. He has eight touchbacks on 32 kickoffs. Punter Alex Tardieu has averaged 37.9 yards on 34 punts. Tardieu does a nice job directionally punting and generally gets good hang time on his punts. He's had 12 punts fair caught and has placed seven inside the twenty yard line. Only eleven of his 34 punts have been returned. Army has the worst return game in the FBS; it's that bad. The Black Knights rank dead last in the FBS in kick returns. They are averaging just 14.6 yards per kickoff return. The punt return game is worse. The Black Knights have been asking sure handed but slow Scott Williams (2.2 avg.) to just fair catch punts. Jalen Noble was only slightly better at 4.7 a punt return before being knocked out of the Louisiana State with a concussion. Army kick and punt coverage has been inconsistent all season. Army's pathetic return game costs them valuable field position. This was a tough grade. The kicking game has been good but the return teams have been horrible and the coverage teams poor. It averages out to a below average grade.
Bye Week Report Card- Defense & S. Teams
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