The Army football season will begin with high expectations from its offense. And that's just fine with quarterback Trent Steelman.
The upcoming junior is still not completely healed from off-season surgery on his non-throwing shoulder, but Friday afternoon he said he'll be 100 percent in plenty of time before the start of practice this summer.
Steelman is coming off a season in which he passed for 995 yards and rushed for 721 as the team finished with a 7-6 record, a bowl victory, and an offense than averaged 26.6 points per game.
Some people feel the Black Knights will need to average even more to carry a defense that for now is not as efficient as last year's group.
"We have an excellent group of guys who know the challenge in front of them and yet are willing to rise to it,'' Steelman said about his club.
"Every year there seems to be some sort of pressure coming from whatever angle, and we always seem to take care of it.
"Freshman year was, 'Are we going to be productive with me as a freshman quarterback and a couple of other young guys.' Last year was, 'Are we going to be a lot more productive in our second year in the system.' Now it's, "we're going to have to carry the team.'''
He believes they can. Best-case scenario of course is that they won't have to. But either way, this offense will not lack fire power.
"We have an all-around great coaching staff, and really, I'm not worried about what the defense is going to do. All we can worry about is taking care of ourselves,'' he said of the offense, "taking care of the next play and rising to our potential. And our potential level right now is very, very high. We know that we have a strong set of skill guys; very fast and very talented. And up front I believe that these guys are probably a little better than last year.
So we have a ton of potential and we know what's in front of us and we know what we have to do to take care of it.
- Quarterback, Trent Steelman
"So we have a ton of potential and we know what's in front of us and we know what we have to do to take care of it.''
To that end, Steelman continues a watered-down physical routine that revolves around rehab.
He is throwing the football now, runs with the team, and in the weight room avoids high-risk exercises like explosive lifts. Twice a week he throws in one-on-one drills.
Another month, he said, and he should be pretty much full strength.
Workouts will continue back home, where he will visit with his family in Kentucky for about three weeks. Upon his return to campus June 9 he will take part in Cadet Field Training at nearby Fort Buckner. A squad leader, he will be in the field four to five weeks working with incoming sophomores and juniors.
The experience is a bit more intensive than BEAST with more in-depth training, and more time in the field getting accustomed to bigger artillery and learning how to drive tanks.
Sort of like a summer in the sun at the Jersey Shore.
Steelman was supposed to be one of the rising sophomores at this last year, but coming off knee surgery gave him a pass. Neither event wound up affecting his passing game or his leadership in the huddle.
"I'm a lot more confident compared to this time last year,'' he said. "Each and every year you get to be on the field, and having as many games under my belt as I do, it's just a confidence factor. When you have the confidence and trust that you do with the players I've been surrounded with, it just makes things so much easier. And knowing the system.
"To be able to sit down and talk with coach Shields, maybe not as a coach but as a friend, and him willing to lay it on the line of what I need to do and what I need to get better at, it's just so much better. Because you know what you need to expect out of yourself heading into summer and into the season, and what we need as a team to get done in order to accomplish things. Again, when you have confidence, everything else follows.''
Head coach Rich Ellerson called this past season perhaps the longest of his career, having gone from summer camp right on through to the bowl game on Dec. 30. And then spring practice began exceptionally early in February, leaving everyone physically and mentally in need of a break.
It is why the other day team captain Steve Erzinger said that he welcomed a break in the academy routine that will come during the next several weeks.
Not so for the quarterback, who missed all of spring practice, including the spring game when Max Jenkins took most of the reps.
As the calendar turns to May 1 this weekend, Steelman would have no problem if it read August 1. "Me, personally, I could wake up tomorrow and camp be already here. I felt that I sat out spring ball and now I'm itching to get back on the field with the guys. So I would love for the season to be here tomorrow,'' Steelman said, "and be playing next Saturday.
"I talked to Max and a couple of other guys and they're recovering from that long season and right into spring ball, so they're looking forward to the break. I already had my break. I'm ready to go.''
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