Last year the Black Knights finished 16th overall in total defense and an impressive third in team pass defense in the nation.
With its top two defensive players, Josh McNary and Stephen Anderson, on the sideline recuperating from off season surgery, spring practice offered an opportunity for other players to gain valuable reps and move up the depth chart.
As discussed above Quick defensive end Josh McNary (No. 44), who led the team with 12.5 sacks and was selected honorable mention All-American by Sports Illustrated, did not participate in spring practice. The good news is that the senior is expected to be ready this fall. McNary also missed spring ball last year and it didn't hurt his performance.
Sophomore Jarrett Mackey (No. 72) benefited from McNary's absence at quick end this spring. The 6-2, 225 pound player 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. He can play both end positions and we'll probably see him teamed with McNary at times in pass rush situations.
Senior Marcus Hilton (No. 96) 6-0, 247 regained his starting job at the other defensive end position. 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 (No. 91) will backup Hilton.
Senior Mike Gann (No. 93) 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. Junior Chris Swain (No. 62), who can play both tackle positions, is Gann's backup.. He did a solid job filling in for Victor Ugenyi last year and had a good spring practice. Sophomore AJ Mackey (No. 65), brother of Jarrett, is the biggest interior lineman at 6-1 288. He should see more time from scrimmage this year.
Replacing Ugenyi at the other tackle will not be easy. Victor's strength, size and athleticism made it difficult for opponents at the point of attack. As mentioned before, Swain can play here but a number of former linebackers were moved inside. The most impressive was sophomore Nate Combs (No. 71) who is 6-2, 207. While Combs is only the size of a strong safety 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. Combs has been impressive in drills and scrimmages. Look for him to be the interior pass rush specialist. Justin Schaaf (No. 49), a 5-11, 212 junior, had the hit of the day in the Black & Gold game blasting slotback Brian Cobb. He also had a sack. He should see plenty of playing time. The third former linebacker to be moved inside is Bill Prosko (No. 47). The 6-2, 215 senior was moved late in camp. It might be a better fit for Prosko who at times struggled to make tackles in the open field at Mike linebacker.
ArmySports.com will next take a look at the Black Knight linebackers and secondary.