As mentioned before Army defensive captain and leader Stephen Anderson (No. 50) is recovering from knee surgery. He is expected to be ready this fall. Unlike quick end, no younger player emerged in his absence. Converted fullback Kingsley Ehie (No. 27) ended camp as the Mike linebacker backup. Ehie, a senior, is one of the best athletes on the team and has the physical tools but is a novice at the position. Ehie had three tackles and forced a fumble in the Black & Gold game.
At the Whip linebacker, junior Andrew Rodriguez (No. 42) is a smart, active playmaker. He is one of the best players on the defense and is never out of position. Chad Littlejohn (No. 25), a 6-0, 229 junior backs up Rodriguez and is not a threat to win a starting job but laid the lumber on a few slot backs in scrimmages. Littlejohn had two tackles in the B&G game.
At Rover junior Steve Erzinger (No. 9) returns as starter. Erzinger was very productive last year recording 71 tackles with one sack. He had an interception against Navy. Once again, he is backed up by senior Sean Westphal (No. 22).
This is a very productive starting trio. Army needs its fiery leader Stephen Anderson to return to his pre-injury form. It was a little disappointing that no underclassmen emerged during spring practice. Army needs the three returning starters to stay healthy. There is a huge disparity between the starters and the backups.
Army returns three of the four defensive backs who helped the team rank third in the nation in pass defense. It was an impressive feat of coaching since the entire backfield had rather pedestrian speed.
Junior Antuan Aaron (No. 3) returns as field cornerback. Aaron isn't very big but he understands the scheme and is a sure tackler. He was the only corner who was able to cover Davyd Brooks in spring practice. Replacing Mario Hill at the demanding field cornerback is the biggest question on defense. Junior Richard King (No. 8), who missed last year after suffering, a concussion emerged as the starter. King has excellent speed and quick feet but showed some rusty footwork at times this spring. He doesn't have a large margin of error since the field cornerback position in the Flex often plays in cover one-man defense with no safety help over the top.
Sophomore Josh Jackson (No. 14) is the most experienced reserve but was burned a number of times in scrimmages and needs to shore up his technique. He is a better player than he shown this spring and played well as a freshman in the nickel defense. He had three tackles in B &G game. Senior L.B. Brown (No. 31), after being bounced back and forth between slotback and defense, has settled as the backup cornerback. Brown is small (5-6, 164) but possesses excellent speed. Coach Ellerson has had high praise for sophomore cornerback/slotback Marquis Morris (No. 17) who played on the sprint football team last fall. Morris was a standout running back on the sprint team and moved to slotback late in camp. He played slotback but had no carries in the Black & Gray game. It's unclear which side of the ball Morris will play on but he is a talent to watch.
Free safety sees the return the secondary's best player senior Donovan Travis (No. 6). Travis has excellent field awareness and picked up where he left off last year with an interception in B&G game. He is a physical hitter and a tremendous ball hawk with 4 interceptions last year. At the strong safety spot senior returning starter Donnie Dixon (No. 15) is in a tight battle to hold off fellow senior Jordan Trimble (No. 20). 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. The former cornerback is a better pass defender than Dixon. Undersized Ty Schrader (No. 19) probably has no business playing FBS football but on the field he consistently makes plays and is around the ball. Converted junior slotback George Fletcher (No. 28) has the physical ability to contribute at strong safety but is still learning the position. Sophomore Sean Maag (No. 4) an aggressive safety, who has battled injury problems, had three tackles in Black & Gold game and provides depth. Fellow sophomore Robert Speidel (No. 32) is also in the mix.
Co-defensive coordinators Payam Saddat and Chris Smeland did an outstanding job implementing Rich Ellerson's famed Double eagle flex defense. Last year it was the perfect match of a scheme and returning talent, especially in the front seven, that had the ability to attack and swarm.
If McNary and Anderson are 100% and stay healthy this will once again be an exciting and productive defense to watch.
ArmySports.com will next look at the special teams.