The defense is the strength of the 2010 Army football team. It will probably have to carry the offense if Army plans to make its first bowl appearance since 1996. With eight returning starters from a very productive unit, the Army Double Eagle Flex defense seems up to the task. Last year the Black Knights finished 16th overall in total defense and an impressive third in team pass defense in the nation.
1) The return of Josh McNary and Stephen Anderson to their pre-injury form.
Josh McNary plays the impact position, quick end, in the Double Eagle Flex. McNary was born to play this position and produced an outstanding season last year. He led the team with 12.5 sacks and was selected Honorable Mention All- American by Sports Illustrated. Unfortunately McNary was not able to participate in spring practice for the second year in a row after having shoulder surgery. McNary missed spring ball the year before and it didn't hurt his performance. This year however, with his shoulder injury, he wasn't able to lift weights. While sophomore Jarrett Mackey showed plenty of ability in the spring there is currently no one on the defense who can attack the quarterback they way McNary can at his best. Army needs Josh McNary at the top of his game to create consistent pressure on the quarterback.
Captain Stephen Anderson has been the fiery heart and soul of the Black Knights defense the last few years. He is a tough, aggressive and super intense Mike linebacker who flies to the ball. Stephen Anderson was the Black Knight's leading tackler till he suffered a season ending knee injury against Air Force. Army struggled against the run inside after Anderson was injured. For the Black Knights to match last year's production on defense, Anderson needs to make plays and deliver big hits. There is a huge drop off in production at Mike linebacker if Anderson isn't able to stay on the field.
2) How will the new "bandit' tackle position hold up against the run.
With the graduation of Victor Ugenyi the staff has redesigned the defensive tackle position. Army's staff didn't have anyone with Ugenyi's strength, size and athleticism to match up with opponents at the point of attack. Instead they created a hybrid stand up linebacker to take advantage of the talent on the roster. Into that role steps lightening quick Nate Combs who is only 6-2, 207 pounds. Combs is only the size of a strong safety and in the flex he 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 was very impressive this past spring in drills and scrimmages. He should add value as an interior pass rusher and make negative plays with his explosiveness off the snap. Justin Schaaf (5-11, 212) a junior, who had a sack in the Black & Gold game should also see plenty of playing time here.
The lack of size however is a legitimate concern for the run defense. I would expect to see junior Chris Swain, who did a solid job filling in for Victor Ugenyi when he was injured last year, at times on short yardage and other run downs. Sophomore A.J. Mackey, brother of Jarrett, is the biggest interior lineman at 6-1, 288. He should see more time from scrimmage this year especially if the undersized Combs struggles against the run.
Keys for Army defense/ special teams: No. 1-2
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