Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Army Report Card: Defense and Special Teams

Armysports.com’s report card for the Army Black Knights through the first eight games as they've posted a 2-6 record. In this segment we look at the defense and special teams.

DEFENSIVE LINE: D

Army's three man front is not going to instill fear in the hearts of opponents but as a group they have played better than last season. In 2014 the defensive line allowed 5.3 yard per rush attempt and had just three of the team's sacks. This season the front unit is allowing 4.3 yards per carry which, while far from great, is an improvement. The Black Knights front three have 3 1/2 sacks. Sophomore defensive end John Voit (6-3”, 247) is easily the best player on the defensive line. Voit has 28 tackles, 2 1/2 for a loss, has recorded two sacks, made a fumble recovery and a forced fumble. Voit is a good athlete, physically strong and able to hold the point of attack. He uses his hands well shedding defenders to make tackles and rush the passer.  As we predicted last year in our R-day report Voit has made an early impact.

Senior nose guard Tala “T.J.” Atimalala (5-11”, 268), unlike Voit, took a while to become a full time starter. After two second consecutive disappointing seasons he has played solidly in his first year as a starter. Atimalala (25 tackles, 5 1/2 TFL) is short but strong and has finally played on this level like the active nose tackle I saw at USMAPS in 2011. T.J. has the quickness to shoot the A-gaps and make negative plays. Atimalala's solid play has been crucial with Andrew McLean out all year and since the two nose guard backups are freshmen. Defensive tackle Jordan Smith (28 tackles, 1/1/2 TFL, 2 FF) is the ultimate competitor who will battle every down. He's a solid player who moves well. He's not a great natural athlete but he is a warrior. He isn't very big and can be overpowered if he fails to slip a block. Smith is a very intense, fiery player who hustles and gives his all.  Eddy Ruzga (6-3”, 241) had a big game against Penn State. As Smith's backup Ruzga has four tackles, two tackles for a loss and the sack he posted against the Nittany Lions.  

LINEBACKERS: C

Mike linebacker Andrew King has been the best player on the Army's defense. King leads the team in tackles with 62, has 13 1/2 tackles for a loss, a team leading four sacks and two recovered two fumbles. King has improved very year. He plays hard, is physical and competes. He has demonstrated a much better understand of the scheme this year and is making more plays. Junior Jeremy Timpf (6-1”, 225) has played well but hasn't made as many big plays as he did last year. Timpf has been dinged up a bit but always answers the bell. Timpf is second on the Black Knights with 59 tackles, 2 1/2 tackles for a loss, a sack, an interception and forced a fumble.

Sophomore direct admit Bayle Wolf (26 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 Sacks, 1 FR) won the starting SAM linebacker job this spring. He started the first six games but missed the last two with injuries. Wolf opened the year with a sack and fumble recovery on the first play against Fordham. He had his best game against Duke. Wolf is a good athlete who should only improve with experience. Alex Aukerman (21 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 FF rec.) hasn't made many plays as starting rush linebacker.  Through the first four games he had only five tackles. He has played better since but against Penn State he released tight end Mike Gesicki in coverage on a wheel route for a touchdown. He must have been expecting safety help. It was a big mental error on Alex's part because Gesicki was his man and there was no help designed to come over the top.  Aukerman hustles but needs to improve against the run.

Among the backups Sophomore Scott Washle (10 tackles) is an active athletic linebacker who can run and drop into space and provides solid depth inside. Direct admit Kenneth Brinson has 9 tackles, 2 1/2 tackles for a loss and 1/2 sack. The Scout.com three star defensive end and linebacker has obvious physical tools and should develop into an impact player down the road. 

DEFENSIVE BACKS: D

The secondary has actually played better than last year despite missing Josh Jenkins. The completion percentage against them is lower and the Black Knights have only allowed eight touchdown passes through eight games which is a huge improvement. Still this group allows too many teams to play pitch and catch against them. Senior Chris Carnegie is a solid cornerback. He has 23 tackles, an interception, six passes defensed this fall. Carnegie has good speed, is smooth out of his back pedal and his coverage techniques are solid. Carnegie can run with most receivers but he fails to track the ball well in the air. He seems to have bad luck where he has good coverage but receivers still make catches against him. Carnegie doesn’t make as many plays on the ball as he could but has a key interception against Bucknell to secure the win. His tackling has improved every year

Plebe Brandon Jackson (6-0", 170) was thrown into the deep end of the pool when he replaced a struggling Steven Johnson at field cornerback. Jackson has produced 45 tackles, two interceptions, two broken up passes and a sack. Jackson was the fastest of all the defensive backs at the prep school last year. Jackson is an excellent athlete. He is quick, agile and has good speed. Jackson has had his struggles like in the second half against Rice but he’s physical, a good tackler and competes. He'll improve with experience.

Sophomore free safety Rhyan England (5-10", 192) was a direct admit who started his plebe year as a slotback before being moved during the season to defense. England's  (44 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 PD Fum rec, ) play has improved. Rhyan is a very smart and instinctive player who can quickly read and diagnose plays. The issue has been finishing them. England has read plays but missed tackles, had sure picks like against Rice go through his hands and lacks top end speed in coverage. He is a much better player this year than he was last season. The Xavier Moss to safety move has been a huge disappointment. Moss (6-2", 194) is tall, athletic player with long, smooth fluid track stride and good speed. Moss was one of the top 400 meter runners in Texas as a high school senior and was a member of the USMAPS track relay team that broke a 74 year old 4 x 400 meter record at the Penn Relays in 2013. Moss (46 tackles, Int, 3 PD) has the physical ability but he is slow to diagnose plays, is often out of position, struggles in coverage and is a poor tackler.

Junior Steven Johnson (10 tackles, PD) started the first two games at cornerback and was replaced by Brandon Jackson against UConn. Johnson is a good athlete but is a poor open field tackler and has struggled in coverage. Johnson lacks experience and technique. He only played high school football as a senior. He's been a good coverage guy on special teams but his play at cornerback has been mediocre. Tevin Long (25 tackles, 2 1/2 TFL, PD) has played as the nickel back and at safety. Long is quick and can run but isn't great in man coverage. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: C

Senior Daniel Grochowski is having his best season. He has hit 3-of-4 field goal attempts and has made all 22 extra point attempts. His kickoffs have improved with 16 touchbacks on 35 kickoffs. Punter Alex Tardieu is averaging 39.2 yards on 32 punts with 7 of his punts being fair caught, 9 being placed inside the twenty yard line. Two have traveled over fifty yards. Tardieu’s numbers are down a bit from last year but that's probably due to the Black Knights playing two games in the rain. Kick returner Marcus Hyatt is averaging 19.8 on kickoff returns. The blocking of the return teams has been poor as Hyatt rarely gets running lanes. Edgar Poe averages just 3.0 per punt return but is reliable. Nick Black’s one appearance as punt returner against Bucknell was a mess with two fumbles on three tries. Jordan Smith has blocked two kicks and John Voit one. The coverage teams have been above average allowing opponents just 20.3 yards on kick returns and just 3.6 per punt returns.  


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