LOOKING FOR LINEBACKERS
New defensive coordinator Jay Bateman's biggest challenge will be building a linebacking corps. Bateman will likely run a 3-4 defense with a linebacking crew that returns no full time starters. Senior Julian Holloway started three games at Mike linebacker but suffered a broken leg against Air Force and will likely sit out this spring. Holloway posted 42 tackles, with 4.5 tackles for a loss, a sack and a forced fumble. Holloway was inconsistent with his positioning and missed too many tackles. Athletic Marcus Poling (19 tackles) is the only other returning linebacker who started last year. He earned the starts in next two games. He failed to make a lot of plays and was replaced as the starter. Poling was then was injured and missed time. Poling has a nice upside, runs well and will likely be tried at outside linebacker in the new scheme.
It will be interested to see if senior Geoffrey Bacon moves back to linebacker or stays at safety. In 2013 he made 63 tackles and earned All-East honors. Bacon is Army's most athletic defender. They missed not having his speed in the lineup when he was injured last year. Bacon would make an ideal Striker outside linebacker if Army plays a 3-4 defense similar to the one that Navy, where Monken once coached, currently runs.
Inside the Black Knights have a number of candidates who will battle for the inside position. Plebes Andrew King (6-0, 225), Jeremy Timpf (6-2, 210) both were starters at the United States Military Academy Prep School in 2012 and played well there. Some big direct admit plebes with size such as Caleb Newman (6-3, 230) who was a high school All-State player and runs well and Luke Fetia (6-1, 230) may be in the mix for the inside linebacker spots. Junior Tyler McLees (5-11, 215) was probably never going to play Mike linebacker in the Double Eagle flex but he could possibly help as a run stuffing inside linebacker. If the 3-4 is employed expect quick defensive ends James Kelly, Dalton Mendenhall, Malcolm Hudson and Derek Sanchez to compete at outside linebacker spots. Linebacker was the Achilles heel of the Black Knights' defense last year and the play has to improve to get back on the winning track.
FIND A STARTING QUARTERBACK
Jeff Monken and offensive coordinator Brent Davis need to settle on a starting quarterback. Last year senior-to-be Angel Santiago started eleven games. Santiago did a solid job running the option, reading the defense and limiting turnovers except in the finale against Navy. Angel isn't a playmaker as a runner (593 rushing yards, 3.5 avg., 10 TDs) and is a below average passer even for an option quarterback. He completed just 49.5 percent of his passes for 559 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. This is probably the ceiling for Angel in terms of performance. He managed the game but doesn't make a lot of plays on his own.
Back-up quarterback A.J. Schurr was a huge disappointment in his sophomore year. The expected heir apparent to Steelman lost the job during the summer. He had trouble holding on to the ball and staying healthy when given the chance to play. Schurr suffered a sprained ankle which ended his hopes of securing the starting job. Schurr earned a chance at redemption when he replaced a struggling Santiago at halftime against Hawaii. He played well as AJ threw for a career high 122 passing yards and scored four rushing touchdowns. Still he fumbled three times but Army recovered them all. That foreshadowed his start against Navy when he took the air out of the Black Knight faithful and lost two fumbles on the two opening series and was benched. Schurr completed 14-of-25 passes (56%) for 196 yards and a touchdown. He ran for 102 yards averaged 3.1 yards per carry and scored four touchdowns. Schurr has some talent which he demonstrated against Hawaii. If he wants to earn the starting job this spring he must become more consistent, protect the ball, maintain his pitch relationship with the running backs and stay on the field.
Plebe Tevin Long (5-10, 170) looked like a deer in the headlights last year after starting the second half against Temple. He fumbled twice on one series and was benched. Long did demonstrated his quick feet and the ability to make peoples miss in the open field at USMAPS in 2012. He can help as a runner but his unorthodox throwing motion which makes him a poor passer. Third string quarterback Kelvin White appeared in four games due to injuries. Army has trouble running its base offense with him in the game. White has a strong but not always accurate arm. Kelvin completed 15-of-30 passes for 143 yards with a touchdown and two picks. He ran for 91 yards, averaged 3.5 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns. White is a solid athlete but lacks the lateral quickness and quick feet to be a very productive option quarterback. I don't believe he'll be in the mix for the starting job. Other quarterbacks Matthew Kaufmann and Cody Jackson are not talented enough and likely will be on the outside looking in.
CHANGING THE CULTURE
Jeff Monken is renowned for his attention to detail, intensity and focus. Monken said in his inaugural press conference that, "I'm anxious to get to work and get Army football back to national prominence where we belong." That effort has been seen in the high intensity off season conditioning program which is night and day over the previous regime. The Army football mat drills seen here demonstrate the new workout program
Monken's locker room is going to be the polar opposite of Ellerson's California stoic, laissez faire attitude that often didn't hold players and coaches accountable. Monken is looking to mold tough, physical, disciplined players and change the culture. If he is successful he can at least stop Army from beating itself with poor fundamental and mental errors of the last few years.
THE NEW OFFENSE
New offensive coordinator Brent Davis will be installing his spread option offense this spring. Army hasn't run the spread option since 2009. That was the first year under Ellerson which means only returning fifth year senior running back Raymond Maples and backup quarterback Cody Jackson played in the offense while at the prep school. In 2010 former offensive coordinator Ian Shields installed a half bone then wishbone base formations. This will impact the running backs who will have to play as slotbacks in the new offense. The good news for Davis is that he inherits a talented group of running backs in Maples, Terry Baggett and full back Larry Dixon. He also will not have to teach option techniques from scratch. The lineman and quarterbacks know how to read the defensive count and option techniques which should speed up the learning curve. The Black Knights, other than Baggett, lack a lot of speed at slotback but Davis can use this spring to settle on a quarterback and get the offense in synch for the fall campaign.