Keys for Army's offense (No. 1)

Army football opens its preseason camp on August 2 as it prepares for its fall campaign. The 2010 Black Knights begin their quest to post Army football's first winning record since 1996. Starting this week ArmySports.com will be discussing important keys to Army's success in 2010. In part I we discuss the Black Knight offensive line.

In 2009 head football coach Rich Ellerson brought his system, professionalism and vision to West Point during his initial campaign in an effort to restore this once great and historic program. Last year's five wins represented the most victories for Army football in thirteen years. While it can be viewed as a building block season it's important to remember that success occurred against teams that were a combined 8-51.

It will be interesting to see if Army, under Ellerson, makes the same second year leap that other service academy teams running option offenses have experienced in the past. In his second season Jim Young installed the wishbone at Army and led them to an 8-3 record and a bowl win over Michigan State. Navy twice experienced winning seasons and bowl appearances, in 1996 and 2003, the year after implementing the spread option offense.

Army's spring practice still left a lot of questions unanswered for the 2010 Black Knights offense. Here are a number of the keys that ArmySports.com feels the Black Knights need to answer to field a productive offense and produce a winning season.

1. An effective and efficient offensive line

Army's last winning season featured an offensive line nicknamed the "The Fat Men" that were made famous in John Feinstein's terrific bestselling book "A Civil War: Army vs. Navy", their blocking ability made the 1996 offense so effective. Rich Ellerson's offense features sleeker, more athletic type of linemen who need to be explosive, play with leverage, get to the second level and cut off pursuit.

Last year that didn't happen consistently as the offensive line struggled with the schemes, missed cut blocks and never established the fullback dive. Army finished the season ranked 16th in team rushing at 203.5 yards per game and averaged an anemic 15.3 points per game. With Army focused so much on running the ball they need to finish among the top five teams in the nation in rushing yards to be a truly effective and efficient offense. The results of the Black and Gold spring game were disappointing as they produced only 89 rushing yards on 29 attempts.

The offensive line coaching definitely isn't the problem. The Army offensive line is coached by the very experienced and successful duo of Gene McKeehan and Bill Tripp. McKeehan, who coaches the centers and guards, did a terrific job implementing the spread option when he coached the offensive line at Navy in 1995. Both McKeehan and Bill Tripp worked successfully as a team under Ellerson at Cal Poly. Together they coached the offensive line for a Cal Poly offense that averaged 44.4 points per game in 2008.

The responsibility for improvement falls on the shoulders of the four returning seniors on the offensive line who need to step up their collective games. The emergence of the physical, athletic sophomore Frank Allen (6-4, 275) was a positive this spring and should improve left guard. Allen was very impressive in one-on-one drills and during scrimmages. Center Zach Peterson, guard Seth Reed and left tackle Anees Merzi are in their second season in this offense. As a group they need to improve their consistency in executing their blocks and establishing the midline option. A healthy right tackle Jason Johnson would be a huge plus since he is the most experienced lineman. No other tackle stood out this spring as Johnson recovered from off season surgery. Some of the younger players have talent but are probably still a year away. Army really needs Johnson ready to go at right tackle.

While it seems like beating a dead horse, or in Army's case probably a dead mule, the offensive line remains this team's biggest ongoing concern. Maintaining drives and limiting the time spent on the field by the talented but undersized Army defense is one of the biggest keys for the Black Knights experience a winning season.

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