Defense shines in Army spring game

West Point - Army's defense proved to be one of the most improved units in the country last season. The Black Knights' 'D' jumped from 117th (490.1 yards per game) in total defense to 37th (346.6). Now, imagine a bigger, stronger and faster Army defense in 2006. Coach Bobby Ross can.

"I think defensively we have a chance to be much-improved," said Ross after yesterday's annual Black/Gold game at soggy Michie Stadium. The Gold edged Black 6-0 in two overtimes on a 5-yard run by running back Michael Herndon.

Ross couldn't ask for more from his defense. The 0-0 tie after four abbreviated quarters is believed to be the first in Black/Gold history. There were plenty of defensive standouts on both sides of the ball.

Linebacker Cason Shrode and strong safety Caleb Campbell each had seven tackles for the Gold team. Ross said he thinks Campbell can play anywhere in the country after the scrimmage. Pete Harrington made a strong bid to win the defensive tackle spot opposite Tony Fusco by making six tackles for Gold.

Defensive end Brandon Thompson added five stops, his counterpart, Cameron Craig, added five and Fusco made four tackles. Back-up linebacker Brian Chmura had a game-high eight tackles for Black and defensive end John Wright added seven. Both defenses combined for five sacks.

"It felt good to pitch a shutout in the spring game," Army linebacker Barrett Scruggs said. "We did some good things out there today. We were flying to the ball and had some big hits. We still have some things to work on, but I was happy with our effort today."

As good as the defense was, the offense struggled. The Black team had 235 yards and Gold put up just 140. Still, the offense deserves some slack because of the wet conditions and the fact that Gold starting quarterback Pat McDonald went out early in the second quarter with a concussion.

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That left the Black Knights with just two quarterbacks with a mix and matched offensive line to protect them. That forced Ross and his staff to call plays more conservatively to avoid injury.

Top quarterback David Pevoto, who made strides during spring drills, completed just 16-of-26 passes and was sacked three times. Many of his incompletions fell well off target. Ross called Pevoto's performance average.

"I don't think we got reasonably good quarterback play" Ross said. "I think we can help that by the things that we do (in our offensive scheme). We weren't doing all of those things today. We didn't play as well today as we had been playing at that position in the spring. When McDonald got hurt early, we were down to two. And I didn't want anything (to happen) to either of those two, so we had to get very, very conservative."

Ross also wasn't pleased with the Black Knights' kicking game. Starter Justin Koenig, who converted 9-of-12 field goals last season, Jared Nielson, Adam DeMarco and Patrick Saxby all missed potential game-winning field goals down the stretch.

"I was a little disappointed. I expected us to be better than that," Ross said. "We were using different holders and we'll get all down to that, too."

While somewhat disappointed, Ross expects his offensive and special teams units to perform better when preseason camp begins in August. As for the Black Knights defense, well, they are performing already.

Extra points: By virtue of its win, the Gold team will eat steak during Army's spring picnic. Black has to settle for hamburgers ... Defensive back Jordan Murray continued his stellar spring by picking off a pass by Pevoto at the Black 27-yard line with 3:49 remaining in regulation. That interception set up Nielson's miss ... Ross said that Jamal Robinson, who left the scrimmage with a minor hamstring injury, is the slight frontrunner at running back entering the fall ... Yesterday marked the third straight year that Army played the Black/Gold game in the rain ... Army opens the 2006 season on Sept. 2 at Arkansas State. Top Stories