Non-Conference Preview -- Part 3

This is the third in a five part preseason tour of the non-conference opponents. I'll continue with a look at redesigned Army. I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits.

 

ARMY BLACK KNIGHTS PREVIEW 

Army and Rutgers have a long history together, having played 31 games since 1891.  The Black Knights have been a regular on Rutgers' schedule for almost 25 years but hasn't played the Scarlet Knights since 1998.  This is not the Army program that Rutgers fans are accustomed to seeing.  Army adopted the wishbone offense in the mid-80s.  The wishbone – so reliant upon precision, discipline, and deception – was a perfect match for an academy program that couldn't recruit the talent needed to go toe-to-toe with the big boys.  Army football enjoyed a resurgence and was able to field competitive teams.  Until it joined Conference USA.  Several bad losing seasons cost former Head Coach Bob Sutton his job. 

Third-year Head Coach Todd Berry, having successfully rebuilt Division I-AA Illinois State, has radically changed the culture of the Army team.  The Black Knights did not have the personnel to run Berry's new systems and the initial results were fugly – a 1-10 season in 2000.  The culture shock was compounded by the recruiting culture at Army – Berry did not actually recruit "his" first incoming freshmen class, apparently as a result of the timing of his hiring.  Attrition within the program has been high (20 players on the spring roster not returning) but Berry's first recruiting class now has a full year of experience in the systems.  Berry is hopeful that the turnaround begins this year.  Here's a look at the redesigned Black Knights of Army.   

 

OFFENSE

Upon his arrival at West Point, Berry scrapped the wishbone and replaced it with the spread offense.  The transition was predictably ugly as QBs and WRs recruited for the wishbone system struggled to adapt to a system not suited to their skills or experience.  Mismatched personnel accelerated the infusion of Berry's recruits into the lineup.  Army returns only 4 starters from a unit that could move the football but struggled to score: 

  • 21 points per game (#92 of 115 in Division 1A)
  • 366 yards per game (#67 in Division 1A)
  • 165 rushing yards per game (#47 in Division 1A)
  • 202 passing yards per game (#75 in Division 1A)

Army lost two starters off the OLine, which has seen the least disruption since the transition to the spread offense.  2nd Team All-Conference USA LT Paul Henderson and C Dustin Plumadore have departed.  Returning starters include Sr RT Craig Cunningham, Sr RG Alex Moore, and Sr LT Aaron Burger.  Berry moved Cunningham to LT in spring practice.  Sr RT Jon Green will fill Cunningham's former position while former OG Sr Steve Schmidt likely will replace Plumadore at center.  Sr C Mike Hastings and Jr RT Adam Wojcik plus three members of Berry's prized sophomore class – So LT Joel Glover, So LG Andy Dytrych, So RG Jake Holly – will comprise the second team.  The senior-dominated OLine is the most experienced unit on the team. 

Army suffered unexpected attrition in a supposedly experienced backfield – leading rusher Jr RB C.J. Young (158 carries for 556 yards and 9 TDs plus 19 receptions for 104 yards) and So RB Ardell Daniels (48 carries for 212 yards and one TD), who entered spring camp as the starting RB, are academically ineligible.  Backup RB D.J. Stancil (42 carries for 155 yards plus 16 receptions for 127 yards) also departed.  Backup RB Sr Josh Holden (83 carries for 515 yards and 4 TDs plus 15 receptions for 120 yards) is now the only experienced RB.  However, Jr RB Marcellus Chapman, who earned the starting RB job after each of the past two spring camps but missed the 2001 season with a wrist injury, will likely be the starter. 

Army lost four of its top five receivers – starters 2nd Team All-Conference USA TE Clint Dodson (42 receptions for 463 yards and 2 TDs), WR Omari Thompson (22 receptions for 217 yards and one TD), and WR Brian Bruenton (19 receptions for 315 yards and one TD) departed plus returning backup and likely starter Jr WR Anthony Miller (16 receptions for 217 yards) died tragically during the winter.  Sr WR Artis Comeaux (35 receptions for 505 yards and 5 TDs) is the sole returning starter.  Two of Berry's prized sophomores likely will replace Thompson and Bruenton – WR Aaron Alexander and WR William White.  Former backup TE RS Sr Alton McCallum will likely replace Dodson.  Sr WR Chris Pestel (5 receptions for 75 yards and one TD), Jr WR Clint Woody, So WR Lamar Mason, and So TE Doug Horaist will be the backups.  Berry is infusing much-needed new blood into a receiving corps that has struggled with the transition to the spread offense.

With the departures of starting QB Chad Jenkins (156 of 286 for 1,773 yards, 8 TDs, and 16 INTs plus 63 carries for 176 yards and 4 TDs) and backup QB Curtis Zervic (36 of 64 for 371 yards, one TD, and 3 INTs), Berry has purged the wishbone QBs from his program.  So QB Reggie Nevels will replace Jenkins at the helm of the spread offense.  Fellow So QB Matt Silva will backup Nevels.  Army finally has recruited players to lead its offense on the field this season but inexperience is a huge concern.   

 

DEFENSE

As on offense, Berry scrapped the old defensive system and installed an attacking 4-4 scheme ala Virginia Tech whereby the OLBs are really safeties.  And similar to the offense, the defense is struggling with personnel not necessarily suited to run it.  Army lost only 4 starters from a squad that was overmatched both against the run and pass: 

  • 33 points per game (#95 in Division 1A)
  • 410 yards per game (#83 in Division 1A)
  • 169 rushing yards per game (#70 in Division 1A)
  • 241 passing yards per game (#83 in Division 1A)

The DLine is the most veteran unit on the Army defense as DE Brandon Perdue (49 tackles and 3 sacks) is the only departed starter.  Sr DE Clarence Holmes (49 tackles and 7 sacks), Sr DT Paddy Heiliger (42 tackles and 3 sacks), and Sr DT Seth Langston (27 tackles) return.  So DE Keenan Beasley emerged from spring camp as the likely starter opposite Holmes.  The second team includes Jr DT Brian Horvath, So DT Trey Landry, So DE Will Sulllivan, and RS So DE Odene Brathwiate.  Berry's sophomore class occupies half of the DLine two-deep but the senior class will bear the load. 

As with the DLine, the secondary is a mixture of seniors and sophomores.  FS Brent Dial (84 tackles) has departed plus starting CB Sr Emiko Terry (31 tackles) is academically ineligible.  Former starting CB Sr Mauricio Smith (31 tackles and one INT) will start at FS in place of Dial.  So CBs Jonathan Lewis (18 tackles) and Delente Brewer (11 tackles) will likely start in place of Smith and Terry.  On the second team, Sr CB Mike Sehzue (28 tackles and one INT) is the lone upperclassman among So CB Scott Eden and So FS Lucius Weaver.  The 4-4 defensive scheme puts a tremendous burden upon the secondary and the infusion of youth should pay early dividends. 

Army lost half of a starting LB unit that was the heart of the defense – leading-tackler 2nd Team All-Conference USA ILB Brian Zickefoose (108 tackles, one sack, and one INT) and OLB Ben Woodruff (71 tackles).  Second-leading tackler Sr ILB Jason Frazier (99 tackles, one sack, and one INT) and Jr OLB Ryan Kent (80 tackles) return.  Two more sophomores will plug vacancies in the starting lineup – ILB Greg Washington and OLB Mikel Resnick.  Sr OLB Brian Todd (2 tackles), Sr ILB Joe Martinez (12 tackles), Sr ILB Mike Lennox (16 tackles), and So OLB Curt Daniels will be the backups.  Army will be much more experienced up the middle than it will be on the outside.   

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

Army lost heavily among its specialists.  1st Team All-Conference USA P Dan MacElroy (44 yards per punt) is a huge loss to a team that struggled offensively and will play a rookie QB.  So PK Derek Jacobs (8 of 11 FGAs and 25 of 28 XPAs) transferred out of West Point to pursue a different course of academic study.  Departed WR Omari Thompson logged triple duty as the PR (7 yards per return) and the KOR (26 yards per return).  Sr P Chris Castelli likely will replace MacElroy.  Sr PK Paul Stelzer actually won the PK job in spring camp, which should soften the loss of Jacobs.  So WRs William White and/or Lamar Mason likely will replace Thompson as the PR and/or KOR.  Army is unlikely to get much help from its totally rebuilt special teams. 

 

SCHEDULE

Army has a full 12 game schedule with 6 home games.  The Black Knights will play 8 conference games.  Plus the annual games with rival academies Air Force and Navy.  Rutgers and Holy Cross constitute the "elective" opponents on the non-conference schedule.  The Conference USA coaches have picked Army to finish last in the 10-team league.  I predict that the Black Knights will finish 3-9 (1-7).  Berry has installed his offensive and defensive systems and has recruited players to fit those systems.  But these players are still too young to make an impact this season.  Army is a year away from making noise if Berry truly has recruited talent to run his systems.  Army will rely more heavily upon its sophomore class than will Rutgers.  Rutgers' greater experience and physical maturity will prevail.  

 

September 7

Holy Cross

September 14

@ Rutgers

September 21

Louisville

September 28

Southern Mississippi

October 5

@ East Carolina

October 12

Texas Christian

October 19

@ Houston

October 26

Alabama-Birmingham

November 9

Air Force

November 16

@ Tulane

November 23

@ Memphis

December 7

Navy (at East Rutherford, NJ)

 

Coming Next:  Non-Conference Preview, Part 4.  I'll continue my pre-season tour of the non-conference schedule with a look at Week 5 opponent – national championship contender Tennessee.  I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits.

Please send any comments to bump86@earthlink.net.  I welcome and appreciate your feedback.


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