Army spring review: SAM Linebacker

Army recently completed its first spring practice under new head coach Jeff Monken. ArmySports.com will now review every position, listing the starter, backup and third string player. In this edition we look at the SAM linebackers.

The Army Black Knights athletic department recently released the post spring football depth chart. Army's defense features the return of seven starters from last year. However, they will be playing for the first time in new defensive coordinator Jay Bateman's 3-4 scheme. It was mostly due to the collapse of Army's defense under Rich Ellerson's over the last three seasons that led to his firing. The Army defense allowed forty or more points to be scored against it nine times in the past 24 games. Army defense lacked size, athleticism and missed way too many tackles. Bateman needs to get these players to produce at a much higher level if possible. The new defensive staff focus on fundamentals, attention to detail, hitting in practice and the hands on coaching this spring. ArmySports.com will discuss the defensive depth chart and mention players to watch.


SAM LINEBACKER Starter: Stephen Ricciardi Sr.
Backup: Dalton Mendenhall Jr.
Third String: Addison Holstein Sr.
Julian Holloway Sr.
Senior Stephen Ricciardi won the SAM (strong side) linebacker spot this spring. Ricciardi is a 6-0, 215 pound local product from nearby Harrison, N.Y. He was one of the Black Knights best special team coverage players last season. Stephen appeared in 11 games and recorded six tackles while recovering a fumble against Air Force. He served as a backup safety last year before being moved to SAM linebacker this spring. He played well in the new scheme. During the spring game he posted three tackles for the Gold team. Riccardi has some ability, is physical and runs fairly well. He is a better athlete than I originally thought. He will hustle and hit anything that moves, sometimes even if it's after the whistle blows. He wants to be in the middle of the action and plays like it. Ricciardi has worked hard in the weight room and gained twenty pounds since joining the program.

Junior Dalton Mendenhall (6-1, 228) is the backup at SAM linebacker. He was bothered by minor injuries this spring and missed practice time. Last year Mendenhall (14 tackles, 1 sack) made five starts at the old quick end position before losing his job due to generally mediocre play and ineffectiveness. He was slow off the snap and not getting up the field. He didn't hold up against the run and almost all his tackles were down field. He was pancaked a few times against Boston College. Dalton was injured in practice late last fall and missed the final four games of the season. Mendenhall is a good athlete so maybe the move to linebacker under the new staff will prove to be a better fit. I think playing uncovered in space should allow him to become a more effective player. If he puts it all together he has more talent and ability than Ricciardi.

Senior Addison Holstein (6-2, 214) finally made it to the field last year after the former direct admit had missed most of his first two years with injuries. He assisted on one tackle last season. During spring practice he did see a lot of time with the first group but ended the spring as third string on the SAM linebacker depth chart. Holstein is strong with above average speed but he is very inexperienced and hasn't been that effective despite possessing above average tools. Senior linebacker Julian Holloway missed spring practice. He still is rehabbing his broken leg he suffered last year against Air Force. Holloway started three games at Mike linebacker in 2013 before missing the Temple game with an injury. He returned against Air Force in a reserve role and then was injured. Holloway posted 42 tackles, with 4.5 tackles for a loss, a sack and a forced fumble last fall. Holloway was inconsistent with his positioning and missed too many tackles last year. Julian may need additional surgery. I question whether he will be in the mix this fall because of his injury.

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