Mid-Season Report Card : Defense and ST

Army has struggled to a 2-5 record in Jeff Monken's first season as head coach. ArmySports.com's Jim Lawler grades the Black Knight defense and special teams at the halfway point.

Defensive Line: D
The more things change yet the more they remain the same. Army has been running most of the same players on the defensive line since 2012 and has seen only modest improvement. The basic problem with the defensive line is the lack of athletic playmakers and too many linemen get stuck on blocks. Army's new three man front is slightly bigger than in past years thanks to the new strength and conditioning program but still struggles to hold at the point of attack. Opponents are averaging 5.2 yard per rush attempt and the defensive line has just three of the team's sacks. The defensive line isn't run over the way it was in 2012 but it’s still not a very productive group.

The player who has improved the most has been senior defensive tackle Joe Drummond (20 tackles, 3 TFL, sack) who has finally managed to stay healthy and start all seven games. Drummond has done a better job getting off blocks. He played his best football early in the season against Buffalo and Stanford. In the Buffalo game he had two key stops. One was dropping Anthone Taylor for a two yard loss from the three yard line which helped hold the Bulls to a field goal. In the second half he stuffed Taylor at the line on third down and short which led to a turnover on downs after Buffalo dropped a fourth down pass. In the Stanford game he recorded a sack and held up well in the first half against their massive offensive line. He had his best game against Ball State. Drummond is inconsistent and against Yale and Kent State he was a non-factor. He might be wearing down so the defensive staff has given some of his snaps to promising plebe John Voit (6-3, 237). Voit (7 tackles, 2 1/2 TFL, sack) was the Defensive MVP at United States Military Academy Prep School last fall.

Senior nose tackle Richard Glover (13 tackles, 2 TFL) is not a good fit for this scheme since he is just 5-10" and weighs 264 pounds. Glover has good initial quickness off the snap but he is often doubled teamed and struggles to hold the point against bigger offensive linemen once they get their hands on him. He's not big enough to handle double teams. The play of the backup nose tackles Junior Tala “T.J.” Atimalala (4 tackles) and sophomore Ammon Tuimaunei (one tackle) have been huge disappointment and neither has seemed to improve since their time at USMAPS.

Mike Ugenyi is probably the Black Knights best run defender on the defensive line. Army fans saw what a train wreck the Black Knight’s defense was against Yale without him. Ugenyi has worked hard and at 297 has gained over 100 pounds since his senior season in high school. He never had the natural ability and talent of his brother Victor but he plays hard and competes. In six games he has 17 tackles, three tackles for a loss, a sack and a pass defense. He was injured in the second quarter against Wake Forest and returned later but missed the next game against Yale. He has been playing hurt and does a solid if unspectacular job.

The staff has used Ryan Alexander (4 tackles) as his backup but he was run over in his only start against Yale. Alexander is a good athlete but it hasn't transition to the field and he has been a disappointment. The staff has now been looking at him as an offensive tackle. Former starter and senior Bobby Kough has been buried on the depth chart, is not a favorite of the new staff, and has seen only a few snaps.

Linebackers: D
Sophomore Jeremy Timpf (6-1”, 225) was named to Phil Steele Midseason All-Independent team first team defense. He deserved the honor. Timpf leads the Black Knights with 58 tackles, nine tackles for a loss, is tied for the team lead with three interceptions, has broken up six passes and forced a fumble while recovering another. Twice he was named Football Bowl Subdivision Independent Defensive Player of the Week. He a very instinctive player and anticipates well. He can drop in coverage and has a nice burst through the line when he is asked to blitz or in running through a gap. He has excellent hands to snatch an interception like the one he returned for a touchdown against Yale. Timpf isn't the biggest linebacker and would probably benefit if Army was bigger up front so offensive linemen can't get to the second level so easily against him. I liked Timpf when I first saw him play. In ArmySports.com 2013 R-day report I mentioned that thought his ability was unappreciated by others who cover Army football recruiting. He is starting early in his career as we forecasted last year and his play has been outstanding.

His inside linebacker running mate and former USMAPS teammate Andrew King has experienced more ups and downs at Mike linebacker. King is second on the team in tackles with 44, has four tackles for a loss, two sacks and two passes defensed. King isn't as instinctive as Timpf and is at times over aggressive and runs himself into blocks. At times he fails to maintain his gap responsibility like against Rice on Dillard's 15-yard touchdown run. He had some growing pains but plays hard, is physical and competes. His pass drops in coverage need to improve but he still has a nice upside to his game and should benefit from this season going forward. His best game was in the victory over Ball State.

Senior Stephen Ricciardi is the SAM linebacker and an inconsistent player. Ricciardi is a 6-0, 222 pound local product who was a former special team star and plays the game with a special teams personality. His game is so chippy with a number of late hits and unsportsmanlike penalties that he should have been recruited by Air Force. Riccardi has some ability and is a better athlete than I originally thought. He will hustle and hit anything that moves even after the whistle blows. His showboating after tackles would make the Miami Hurricanes proud. He's made 28 tackles, seven for a loss, a sack and a pass break up. Ricciardi is a good enough athlete to make some negative plays, but he misses too many tackles, often fails to seal the edge and struggles in pass coverage.

James Kelly (26 tackles, PD, FF, blocked kick) has started every game at Rush linebacker. Kelly's game isn't really suited for the role he plays. He is a solid run defender if the play is right at him but lacks the ideal foot speed for the position. He's often been guilty of failing to keep containment and allowing plays to bounce outside of him. Kelly lacks the speed, struggles in coverage and when forced to make plays in space. Senior Julian Holloway (2 Tackles) has appeared in the last three games backing up Kelly. It's nice to see him make it all the way back from the terrible broken leg injury he suffered against Air Force last year. Plebes Scott Washle (4 tackles) and Alex Aukerman have worked their way up to second string.

Defensive backs: D
The secondary is the most disappointing area of the defense; it was hoped that it would be a strength. The Black Knights are allowing 67.6 percent of the passes to be completed with 19 touchdowns and over 269 passing yards a game. This unit has suffered a lot of attrition since last year.

The one player who hasn't disappointed is field cornerback Josh Jenkins. He earned first team Midseason All-Independent team honors from Phil Steele. Jenkins is easily the best player on the Army defense. He's posted 43 tackles, three tackles for losses, picked off three passes and batted down eight others. He's developed into the impact defender Armysports.com predicted last season in the R-day report. Jenkins has excellent feet, the ability to redirect smoothly in coverage and a burst to make plays on the ball. Josh has very good coverage skills, balance, body control and coordination. Jenkins an really drive and break on the ball. He is the rare good tackler for an Army defensive back and surprisingly physical for his size. Jenkins matches up well athletically with almost all receivers he'd face and offensive coordinators are more aware of him in coverage. Jenkins kept this mark from being a failing grade.

Junior Chris Carnegie is a solid Army cornerback but he should be a better player. He has 29 tackles, an interception, four pass defensed, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery on the same play. Carnegie has good speed, is smooth out of his back pedal and his coverage techniques are solid. Carnegie's tackling has improved but is still inconsistent and at times he takes poor angles to ball carriers. Carnegie can run with most receivers but he fails to track the ball well in the air. In the game against Rice he probably could have picked off a fade route where he had great coverage but the ball sailed by his shoulder for a touchdown. Chris had a huge pick and a 28- yard return that set up Maples touchdown run just before the end of the first half in the opener against Buffalo. Carnegie later had a pass breakup on the second to last play when he knocked the ball out of Ron Willoughby's hands on what would have been a huge gain. His coverage has been solid but he doesn't make many plays on the ball unless the play is in front of him.

Senior Geoffery Bacon's (20 tackles, PD) injury against Yale has left a huge void at safety. Bacon's pass coverage was far from great and he lacked instincts for the position but he offered speed and run support. Bacon has missed the last three games. He had a tendency to bite on play action and at times was slow to provide late deep help at times but the play at the position has fallen apart without him. Steven Johnson replaced him but lost his job. Johnson also saw time at strong safety. Johnson (31 tackles, 2 PD) is a sophomore He is going through some growing pains. He only played one year of high school football and was a cornerback at USMAPS. He has the ability to be a good player once his fundamentals improve. Right now he is just lost and a very poor tackler. He had a costly 15-yard pass interference penalty on a 3rd-and-8 pass that led to a Yale touchdown. The staff moved true freshman Rhyan England (5 tackles, PD) over from offense to try and stem the bleeding and he started in the loss against Kent State.

Hayden Pierce (28 tackles, 1 PD) has played in every game and started four but his game has really fallen apart. He received new life this spring after his inability to stay healthy and some coverage mistakes put him in Rich Ellerson's dog house. Pierce is a good athlete with range and above average speed. However, once the season started Pierce was often a step late and worse seemed timid and wasn't physical or active in run support. The multiple shoulder surgeries he's undergone have taken away his aggressiveness. In the Yale game he was often the last line of defense and wanted no part of squaring up to take on Yale's hard running Tyler Varga. Junior Luke Prouix (18 tackles) started against Kent State. He was recruited as a running back but was moved to safety last year. Prouix is willing to hit but lacks coverage skills and speed. Tevin Long has played in five games as the nickel defensive back and has seven tackles with a forced fumble to his credit. Long was converted from quarterback this spring and his technique is pretty raw at this point. The cornerback play deserves a C+ at least but the safeties dragged this grade down to a "D".

Special Teams: D
Junior Daniel Grochowski has 3-of-6 field goal attempts after opening the year his first three attempts including two costly ones against Yale. He has made 20-of-22 extra point attempts. He has 12 touchbacks on 34 kickoffs. Punter Alex Tardieu is averaging 40 yards on 27 punts with 12 of his punts being fair caught, 11 being placed inside the twenty yard line and four traveling over fifty yards. Tardieu has been one of Army's best players. Returner Josh Jenkins has good speed but Army is averaging 1.7 on punt returns and 17.4 on kickoff returns. The blocking of the return teams has been terrible. The coverage teams have done a nice job holding opponents to just a 3.0 punt return average and a 19.5 kickoff return average. James Kelly has blocked an extra point. Jenkins forced a holding penalty coming off the edge on a field goal attempt last week to deny Rice a made 46-yard field goal and force a punt. The punt team opened the third quarter against Kent State with long snapper Conner Farley hitting the up-back and Tardieu covered the ball at Army's own eight yard line. Two plays later the Golden Flashes scored and took a 20-10 lead which blew the game open. With Jeff Monken handling special teams personally this was an area where fans expected improvement but have seen little.

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