The rebuilding effort will be the biggest at Army since the start of the 1999 season, which saw new starters at all 5 OL positions. In that year, Army lost 4 starters and 3 key back-ups to graduation, as well as experienced the loss of its only returning starter to a season ending back-injury during the pre-season. The challenge will be significant in 2003, but there are a number of intriguing prospects that have been patiently waiting their opportunity. Reports indicate that off-season conditioning is going well and their should be some strong competition for starting positions heading into spring ball.
With the above as an introduction, here is a recap of Army's key losses along the o-line:
OT Craig Cunningham, 6-3, 320. Craig had 22 career starts over the past two seasons and appeared in 15 other games during his plebe and sophomore years. His size and experience will be sorely missed.
OG Aaron Burger, 6-2, 290. Aaron had 23 career starts. He was the only Army player to receive post-season C-USA honors and was a 2nd Team All C-USA selection. Aaron was also a Hula Bowl participant. His graduation represents Army's most significant loss along the front line.
C Steve Schmidt, 6-2, 267. Steve was a 1-year starter at center after playing as a back-up at guard in 2001.
OG Alex Moore, 6-2, 280. Alex was a 2-year starter and had 22 career starts. He was also a good spokesman for the Army team in pre-game and post-game coverage in the print media.
OT Jon Green, 6-5, 300. Jon started 5 games in 2002 before finishing the season as a back-up. He also lettered in 2001.
C Mike Hastings, 6-0, 280. Mike had 1 start in 2002 and was a quality backup throughout the entire season.
OL Sterling Doty, 6-3, 265. Sterling was an exciting plebe prospect who transferred out of Army during the holidays. He is the only plebe to have cracked the 3-deep along the O-line at certain points during the past season. Sterling would have likely been a strong candidate to start somewhere on the front line in 2004 and 2005.
The starting cast in 2003 will ultimately depend on off-season progress and stiff competition during pre-season trials. Here is my projected first group:
OT Joel Glover, 6-5, 280 JR. Joel became a starter late in 2002 as a sophomore and ended up with 5 starts. He will be Army's most experienced o-line returnee and will be relied upon to provide the foundation for a rebuilt line. He has both good size and quickness.
OG Adam Wojcik, 6-4 290 SR. Adam is a rising senior who had 2 starts in 2002 at tackle. His role diminished somewhat in late 2002, when he was hobbled with injuries in mid-season. He finished the season as a 2nd team guard. He should earn one of the starting guard spots in 2003.
C Josh Davis, 6-2 315 SR. Josh is a promising senior who will enter his fifth year in the Army program after beginning his career at USMAPS. He was a principal back-up at center in 2001, but his stock dropped a bit in 2002 and he was later sidelined by injuries. I am projecting that this physically mature senior wins a starting spot heading into 2003. Josh had 3 game appearances in 2001.
OG Jake Holley, 6-3 275 JR. Jake has been a fixture on the depth chart since arriving at Army in 2001. A product of USMAPS, Jake appeared in all 12 games in 2002 as a back-up, and he had 1 game appearance as a plebe. He is the leading candidate to secure the second OG starting slot.
RT Regan Tatford, 6-4 310 JR. Regan is a big kid from the bayou and HS teammates with two other promising football classmates, TE Doug Horaist and DT Trey Landry. Regan had 12 game appearances in 2002, and appears to have an inside track to secure the other OT starting slot, but he will certainly face some strong competition.
The Next Group:
OT Brad Waudby, 6-5, 320 SR. Brad is a huge lineman who came to Army via USMAPS. He will compete fiercely for an OT slot in 2003 and will end up as a key contributor as either a starter or reserve.
OG Andy Dytrych, 6-3, 280 JR. Andy appeared in 3 games in 2002 and will be looking for a larger role in 2003. He should be a key back-up in 2003 and earn his first varsity letter. Count on Andy as a contributor along the front in both 2003 and 2004.
C Justin Troy, 6-2, 280 JR. Justin is an outstanding prospect who received considerable playing experience in 2002, appearing in 11 games. He will battle for the starting slot at center, and he may beat out senior Josh Davis. Either way, pencil in Justin as a starter in 2004, if not sooner.
OG David Evetts, 6-1 285 JR. David will be looking to move up the depth chart and see his first game action in 2003. His progress will be dependent on his off-season workouts and his performance this spring. I'm penciling him as a key back-up in 2003.
OT Seth Nieman, 6-4 320 JR. Seth came to Army in 2001 with some of the best prep credentials for an O-lineman to come to Army in awhile. On some recruiting lists, he was a national Top 300 player. Coming from a small town HS program, Seth has developed over the past two seasons and is poised for a breakout campaign in 2003. A fixture on the depth chart in 2002, 2003 could be the year we see Seth make a big impact along the Army front.
Others in the mix:
OL Dan Evans, 6-3, 270 SO. One of three plebe O-linemen. He could crack the 3-deep in 2003.
C Russ Nelson, 6-1 260 JR. Will be building himself up to get playing time in 2003.
OL Jonathon Wilson, 6-3, 260 SO. Good size and work ethic for this promising plebe.
OT Mark Conliffe, 6-4 285, SR. Mark's career has been limited by injuries. 2003 may be the year he sees his first game action.
C Pete Stewart, 6-2 290, SR. See comment above on MC. Ditto for Pete.
OT Pete Bier 6-4, 270, SO. Pete will be looking to make an impact in 2003. Count on Pete getting some game action next season and cracking the 3-deep.
Overall assessment: Army loses six players with 73 career starts between them. There is no replacing that amount of experience. The first group has enough seasoning to be fairly effective as Army enters 2003, but it must jell quickly. A deep stable of running backs and more experience at QB will take some pressure off this group, but let's face it, the OL must perform well for Army to improve its offensive production in 2003. Due to the limited experience of the returning group, I don't expect Army to be mistake free up front in the early part of the season. The challenge will be for a good O-line coach, which we have, to develop this group.