Defensive improvement vital to Army

"I don't want a Dick Butkus-type player. I want guys with speed," former Army coach Todd Berry during his spring luncheon in 2003. It's no wonder Berry was looking for a job five months later. Before Berry, Army's defense made opponents earn everything. The unit circled the ball, hit hard, forced turnovers and had a smash-mouth toughness about it. Ah, those were the days.

Those days were back last season. Army, a team routinely ranked at the bottom of the national rankings in total defense during the Berry years, finished 37th last season.

The unit could be even better this fall. Below provides a look at the rise of Army's defense and what can be expected in 2006:

Whacking the whip: Imagine a player that is part run-stopper, part deep man and part linebacker. That's the whip, a Berry creation, that Army coach Bobby Ross kept in place during his first year in 2004. Ross knew after one season that the whip didn't work. The Black Knights ranked dead last in the nation (117th) in total defense and gave up 35.3 points per game in ‘04. So Ross scraped the whip for a more conventional 4-3 defense. Budding star Caleb Campbell moved from whip – a position that often confused him – to strong safety.

More on him later.

Mumford man: Some might have viewed John Mumford in a bad light because of his relationship with Berry.

He served as Army's defensive line coach for three-plus seasons. When Berry was canned in October of 2003, Mumford took over as interim coach. He presided over the last seven games over Army's dreadful 0-13 season.

But what a lot of people don't realize is how good of a job Mumford did keeping that team together in the face of disaster. He was tough, but at the same time introspective and protected his guys. Ross surprised many by naming Mumford his defensive coordinator shortly after being hired.

But Ross is a pro. He knows what he's doing. Mumford would become a trusted Ross assistant and is an asset to the program.

He deserves a lot of credit for last season's success and will be a key part this fall.

A real ‘D': They hit hard, ran hard and cut down on mistakes. Army's defense played with a purpose last year and proved to be an asset early in the season:

Army lost to Baylor 20-10 on Sept. 17, but the defense gave up just seven points in the second half. Army's offense sputtered.

The Black Knights dropped a heartbreaker to No. 22 Iowa State on Sept. 22. Army's ‘D' allowed just seven points in the first half.

Army lost 14-10 to Central Michigan on a fourth-quarter drive, falling to 0-5. Again, the offense sputtered.

The awakening: The season was slipping away. Army traveled to Akron with an 0-6 record last Oct. 22.

Somebody needed to step up to save the sinking season. As it turns out, the entire defense did. Army beat 20-0 behind 162 rushing yards by Carlton Jones and hard-nosed play by the defense. The Black Knights notched their first shutout in 142 games, the last coming when they beat Colgate 30-0 on Sept. 11, 1993.

The Akron win set the stage for a four-game winning streak by Army.

The next step: Can Army's defense be even better this year? It could be. The players are more acquainted with the 4-3 scheme.

Even better, the Black Knights return a solid group of players from last year's unit, which includes:

Caleb Campbell: The junior free safety led Army with 97 tackles last year and is one of 42 players named to the preseason Ronnie Lott "watch list", given to the nation's top defender.

Cameron Craig: A senior captain, the defensive end is looking at a big season.

Barrett Scruggs: The senior linebacker, also a captain, was second on the team with 80 tackles. There are other solid returnees, actually they all are solid, linebacker Cason Shrode, linebacker Charlie Rockwood, who missed most of last year after he blew his knee out against Iowa State, defensive tackle Tony Fusco, defensive end Brandon Thompson. Jordan Murray makes his debut at free safety and has earned rave reviews.

There is only one question mark: The cornerbacks. Sophomore Darren Newson and senior Sean Grevious are both inexperienced. Expect defenses to go at them.

Inexperienced ‘D' or not, this unit has come a long way and should be solid again this fall. Are you ready for some smash-mouth football? Top Stories