Steve Erzinger says not to worry. And who are we to doubt the captain?
With only a couple of weeks remaining in school, the senior-to-be continues his duties as captain of the football team. The linebacker remains as qualified as anyone to gauge the pulse of his team, and especially the defense.
He took several minutes out of his busy schedule Thursday afternoon to talk about such topics, as well as some insight as to his summer activities during the months leading up to preseason camp in August.
It is no secret that the defense has been gutted up the middle and will arrive at summer camp with some unproven and inexperienced replacements. But maybe it's a little premature to wonder if the offense is going to have to put up 30 on the board every week to give the Black Knights a chance to win. "Whether it's young guys or old guys our defense is designed around attacking the ball. At the end of the day,'' Erzinger said, "our defense is just about running to the ball and making plays, and making something happen to allow the rest of the guys to come in.
"If you didn't make the play, you had better made two other blockers fall and take them out so everybody else can make plays. And that's something we're really good at, being aggressive. It doesn't take a seasoned veteran to do that,'' he said. "It just takes some guy who wants to hit and play well, and we have a lot of those guys.''
Some of them came forward during the spring, but the captain is not trying to suggest that the defense will start the season as the team's anchor. Understanding the game on this level, no matter your talent or potential, is not as simple as it may look from the stands.
"We had a productive spring and got some stuff solidified as far as personnel and where we want them,'' he said. "But we still need guys to step up and show they can handle pressures and game-time situations.
"That's an obvious concern with younger guys, but they're pretty athletic and they get after it when they're at practice. It's just making sure they know what coverage or what defense we're running and what that kind of means in the scheme of things - whether it means down and distance or just getting that football sense.''
He will be acquiring a subtle change in that sense as he moves to inside linebacker. A change, but one, Erzinger said, that will not be dramatically different from where he played at rover.
"Because of how the personnel works they figured I'd be better inside,'' he said. "But it shouldn't be too much of a difference. I'm still pretty much covering and doing all the stuff I used to do. But I might have a little more interaction with the offensive linemen.''
The 21-year-old was still learning coming off what he called, '"a decent sophomore season,'' and this time a year ago he didn't really know what he didn't know.
"I was feeling confident and fresh,'' he said about coming out of spring ball a year ago. "But it was really getting my feet wet and being comfortable out on the field. I really didn't expect much coming in as far as calling different coverages. I'd be like, 'OK, great, we're playing zone so I'm playing zone.' And that was it.
"But as (last season) progressed I realized that different coverages meant different things. When you're out there it's a little difficult to realize sometimes. So I think just awareness, where we are on the field, down and distance and things like that, it's been a tremendous difference for me.''
So has being team captain, an honor he received prior to spring practice. That role does not end when players step off the field, and this semester he discovered how far-reaching his responsibilities stretch.
At West Point, as it likely is at any of the academies, being captain involves a lot more than walking to mid-field for the coin toss and being vocal during workouts.
"There are a lot of issues you have to deal with at the corps. Every day, whether it's freshmen being in trouble academically, maybe upperclassmen need help with teachers, and just managing that relationship with teachers and the whole view of the football team.''
Other team leaders have been helping, whether it's monitoring lifting sessions five-six days a week to make sure everyone is getting their work in, or working individually with teammates.
Junior Joe Bailey and a couple of other offensive linemen are working with the big guys, while quarterbacks Trent Steelman and Max Jenkins are trying to help keep all the skill players in line. "Right now I'm helping guide the team in a direction. There's a focus we want to get to next year,'' Erzinger said, "and we're just trying to keep everybody wired in until we have to break for summer.''
When the break from studies and exams soon arrives, Erzinger's break will begin with an eight-day "vacation'' back home to Texas to visit his family.
The fun really begins back at West Point when he takes part in a 19-day exercise that involves preparing for infantry maneuvers, running missions at night, getting no sleep and enjoying all that nearby Fort Buckner has to offer. "It's kind of tough,'' Erzinger said in somewhat of an understatement.
After that his leadership skills will be applied to a program, where, Erzinger explained, "I will basically be in charge of all kids who are not doing well physically, like 'Firsties;' physical fitness failures.''
By then the Economics major will be fired up to start football practice. Still, he welcomes the break from the routine of military life before senior year begins. "I'm super excited about the season, but I think a lot of the excitement comes through summer, the buildup and getting ready. I still need a little time to recharge the batteries and get the body healed up.
"It's almost getting to that time of year when you're kind of edgy and you want to get everything started. So probably around late June,'' said the captain, "I'll be ready to go.''
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