Army Spring Practice: The Defense

After reporting on Army's offense, ArmySports.com now takes a look at the defense after the first week of spring practice. Last year the Army Black Knights took to the Double Eagle Flex defense like a duck takes to water. It was the perfect match of a scheme and returning talent, especially in the front seven, that had the ability to attack and swarm.

The Black Knights finished 16th overall in total defense and an impressive third in team pass defense in the nation.

With eight returning starters from a very productive defense this unit is a lot more settled than the offense. However with a number of starters out with injuries there have been a number of underclassman trying to move their way up the depth chart.

Defensive Line:

Quick defensive end Josh McNary who led the team with 12.5 sacks and was selected honorable mention All- American by Sports Illustrated is not participating in spring practice. His arm is still in a sling as he is recovering from successful shoulder surgery. McNary also missed spring ball last year and it didn't hurt his performance.

In his absence sophomore to be Jarrett Mackey has seen the most snaps at quick end this spring. The 6-2, 225 Mackey looks like the heir apparent to McNary. Mackey is quick, rangy with good lateral quickness. He has the feet and the first step quickness needed to play quick end in the swarm defense. The quick end is designed to feature the teams best pass rusher. Shola Mustapha has also seen a number of snaps but isn't the pass rusher Mackey appears to be.

Senior Marcus Hilton 6-0 247 is the leading candidate for the other defensive end. Hilton started the first game before being replaced by the graduating Brad Marren. For the season Hilton played in all 12 games and recorded 27 tackles. Senior Carson Homme has seen most of the reps behind Hilton.

Defensive Tackle:

Mike Gann returns to man one defensive tackle post. Gann plays with terrific strength, energy and leverage. In the flex Gann acts more like a traditional offset nose tackle playing an " 0 "technique and at times is responsible for both A gaps which are the gaps to each side of the center. Junior Chris Swain, who can play both tackles positions, is Gann's backup. He did a solid job filling in for Victor Ugenyi last year. Sophomore Derek Bisgard, one of the more highly regarded recruits of Stan Brock, hasn't stood out as of yet in drills but does have ability. Sophomore AJ Mackey, brother of Jarrett, brings the most size inside at 6-1 288.

Replacing Victor Ugenyi at the other tackle will not be easy. While some Army fans bemoaned that Victor didn't maximize his potential its shortsighted not to realize how his strength, size and athleticism made it difficult for opponents at the point of attack. As mentioned before Swain can play here but a couple of linebackers have moved inside. Junior Justin Schaaf, at 5-11, 212, and sophomore Nate Combs (6-2, 207) have split time at tackle. While both are undersized they have looked good in one on one drills. Combs looks like he can be a productive pass rush specialist. I know they seem small but remember the other defensive tackle in the flex is supposed to run through his gap immediately. He is a one-gap player. His job is not to block or get tied up in a block, but rather to be athletic and get himself into the offensive backfield and disrupt their plans. Junior defensive tackle Broghan Carnes is out with an arm injury.

Linebackers:

With Army defensive captain and leader Stephen Anderson out this spring and recovering from knee surgery there are two seniors jockeying to be his backup at Mike Linebacker. Seniors to be Bill Prosko (6-2, 215) knows the scheme but misses too many tackles. Converted fullback Kingsley Ehie is one of the best athletes on the team and has the physical tools but is studying Mike Linebacker 101 to get up to speed.

At the Whip Linebacker Andrew Rodriguez is simply one of the best players and play makers on the team. Chad Littlejohn (6-0, 229) is not a threat to win a starting job but has laid the lumber on a few slot backs in scrimmages. Andre Shinda was moved to whip linebacker but decided to quit the team.

At Rover Junior Steve Erzinger returns as starter . Erzinger was very productive last year recording 71 tackles with one sack and an interception against Navy. Like last year, he is backed up by senior Sean Westphal.

Defensive Backs:

Army returns three of the four defensive back who helped the team rank third in the nation in pass defense. It was an impressive feat of coaching since none of the defensive backs could be considered a lock down cover guy.

Returning starter Antuan Aaron will play field cornerback. Aaron isn't very big or physical but he understands the scheme and is a sure tackler. He's been the only corner who's been able to cover Davyd Brooks so far during spring practice.

Replacing Mario Hill at the demanding field cornerback is the biggest question on defense. Richard King, who missed last year after suffering a concussion, has re-established himself as the starter. While at times he has shown some rust King does possess good speed and quick feet. Sophomore Josh Jackson is the most experienced reserve but he has been burned a number of times and needs to shore up his technique. Coach Ellerson has had high praise for sophomore cornerback Marquis Morris who played on the sprint football team last fall.

The safety positions are set with returning starters Donovan Travis and Donnie Dixon. Travis simply makes the secondary go. He is a physical hitter and a tremendous ball hawk with four interceptions last year. Dixon started 11 of 12 games but does struggle at times when matched up in man pass coverage. Senior Jordan Trimble, brother of Army receiving great Jeremy, looks completely healed from the knee injury he suffered in 2008 and provides quality depth. Undersized Ty Schrader probably has no business playing FBS football but on the field he consistently makes plays. Converted junior slotback George Fletcher has the physical ability to contribute at strong safety but is still learning the position.

Follow ArmySports.com for all the latest Army Sports action.

ArmySports.com Top Stories