February 7, 2011

An Early Look: Army's 2011 Offense

How good will the Army offense be in 2011?

The building blocks will be there with every skilled position at least two deep solid with an offense that is lead by junior to be quarterback and two year starter Trent Steelman, 1,000 yard rusher Jared Hassin returning at fullback, along with an array of talented backs at both slot positions.

However, do the Black Knights have concerns with the bulk of the offensive line being lost to graduation?

Gone are starting center and mainstay, Zac Peterson, along with right guard Seth Reed and bookend tackles Jason Johnson and Anees Merzi.

Surely that's a lot of upfront talent leaving the Black Knights program. Can Army overcome these loses and how will the offense look in 2011?

GoBlackKnights.com takes a peek inside the 2011 Army offense and our two deep projections.

Quarterbacks

There is no doubt who the starter is for the Black Knights … this is Trent Steelman's offense. The sophomore out of Bowling Green, Kentucky is coming off of successful shoulder surgery and will miss all of spring practice. "Even if Trent Steelman were 100% he probably would not participate in spring practice," offensive coordinator Ian Shields shared with GoBlackKnights.com. "Meaning, he would have gotten reps, but rest assured that the junior to be signal caller would not get touched."

When practice kicks off, Steelman will take an active role in assisting the backups as they battle for position on the depth chart.

That will leave tons of reps open to several of the potentials. Leading the charge will be seasoned veteran (senior-to-be) Max Jenkins who will be in a position to take advantage of the reps open as a result of Steelman's status. When called upon in 2010 to step in when Steelman needed a moment to recover from a bruise or hard hit, Jenkins showed the calm and poise that you would expect from a seasoned player.

Then you have Cody Jackson who is back after a hiatus of working through some administrative concerns. Jackson is a very athletic quarterback, who also is an above average passer and presents the biggest challenge to Jenkins for the number two spot on the roster.

Angel Santiago arrives this summer from the prep school and is a quality player. He will surely come and look to challenge the aforementioned players. He may be the quickest of all the quarterbacks currently on the rosters. The 5-foot-11 quarterback lead the offense at the prep school that averaged close to 30 points per game.

Projection: Steelman & Jenkins

B-Backs (fullback)

Like Steelman, B-back Jared Hassin is "the fullback". The 6-foot-2, 235 pound athletic back finished the season with 1,027 yards and there is no reason to believe that he won't pick up where he left off in 2010.

Not to skip over the players who are currently on roster like junior CeDarius Williams. He returns for his senior campaign and split time between the A and B back positions, although a more natural fullback (B). Or even Dan McGue who will look to make his presence felt this spring, along with Hayden Tippet.

But Larry Dixon is on his way up from the prep school and honestly speaking, he is a different type ball player than those previously mentioned. He is tipping the scales a 230 pounds, to go along with an 11.3 100M (high school). He truly has the proverbial goods to have immediate impact this summer and the 2011 season.

Projection: Hassin & Dixon

Slot backs

Returning freshman Raymond Maples is due to have a breakout sophomore season. Hampered by an ankle injury that lingered from his first college carry and throughout the season … the product of Philadelphia should come out of the gate on fire. With a year under his belt and going through his first full cycle of S&C, #1 is someone to keep an eye on.

When senior Patrick Mealy and Maples went down, another freshman stepped in and showed his stuff …. 5-foot-11, 195 pound Jonathan Crucitti played like a seasoned veteran versus a plebe. One of better all-around athletes on the team, Crucitti will miss spring ball as the dual sport athlete takes his talents his skills to the diamond.

Even if Crucitti were available, there is a chance that he might get looks on the defensive side of the ball. One of main reasons that this could be a real possibility is the arrival of prep running back, Trenton Turrentine. Although the talented back won't hit the campus until the summer, he presents a package of potential that will eventually press Maples for playing time.

Don't be surprised to see Brian Cobbs to get his feet wet at "A" slot position … just in case.

Projection: Maples & Turrentine

But it will be Malcolm Brown and Cobbs who will split time at the "C" back position.

All of the running back positions need to be two deep solid, if not three deep.

In the case of Brown and Cobbs, these two can be trusted and complement one another very well.

Brian Austin can be dismissed from the equation. At 5-foot-8, 170 pounds, he doesn't have the size to be an every down back, but he works hard and he is one of the faster players on offense. He is an x-factor that can't be ignored.

With all these positions, the running back stable needs to be two deep which was evident in 2010, where injuries to Patrick Mealy, Raymond Maples and Malcolm Brown where those in the wings must be not only ready, but able.

Projection: Brown & Cobbs

Wide Receivers

Returning are starters Davyd Brooks and Austin Barr. Even by triple option standard, there weren't as productive and truly weren't the type of players that defensive coordinators would lose any sleep over.

For the athletic Brooks, he has the 2011 season to get it right, although he did improve from his sophomore year. He's not a burner, but he possesses all of the other physical tools to make a difference when his number is called.

On the other side is the 6-foot-4, 210 Barr who turned out to be the most dependable of the wide receivers and blocked pretty well in the bowl game against SMU.

But overall, the wide receivers need to be more intimidating on the perimeter, which I am sure will be addressed this spring by the coaching staff.

With the most athletic of all the receivers George Jordan no longer at West Point, the coaching staff will be hard pressed to find that one receiver who can help open up the offense and not allow defenses to play 7 or 8 in the box.

One such player is current freshman Anthony Stephens. "He is a young guy and someone in the program that has the tools," Shields says.

Another player that Army fans should become familiar with is Prepster Chevaughn Lawrence, who is someone who will challenge for a starting position. Also coming up from the prep school is converted quarterback Michael Hudson, who is another big athletic fast kid.

In Army's triple option offense, one could argue that the wide receivers have to be as effective blocking down field as they do pulling in passes.

This is an area where the receivers will be working on consistently throughout the spring and summer. As group, they just were not aggressive on the perimeter and as such they were not a threat blocking … which is an integral part of the success of the Army offense.

Projection: Brooks & Lawrence and Barr & Stephens

Offensive Line

"I know there are a lot people are nervous about the offensive line, but the staff is not," says the confident Army OC, Ian Shields. "There are some guys that have been behind a solid group last year and they are actually experienced players who should be able to step in and perform."

Shields is correct about the talent in the system and yes the group does have experience, albeit limited.

At tackle there is a pool of guys and there are two jobs open. Derek Bisgard is in the mix. But leading the charge you have Brad Kelly and Mike McDermott. "Both really improved a great deal and have gotten stronger and committed themselves in the weight room. They have worked hard to develop into players and this is the time that they should quite frankly," bellows Shields.

Those three guys are at tackle, with Dan Whittaker maybe in the mix at some point and Ben Jebb has some upside.

At left guard Frank Allen is entrenched there and right guard, whereby Rob Kava could back up Allen. Kava is a powerful player.

Then there is Joe Bailey and Matt Villanti on the other side.

Villanti has all the tools, but now it is time for him to use them. The 6-foot3, 275 pounder is a physical presence and it's time for him to step up.

Also in the mix could be Shebly Jackson …. Assuming that he is moved back to offense, the soon to be sophomore could get some looks at tackle.

Center is going to be interesting and probably has the staff the most concern with the graduation of Zach Peterson.

"The guy who has the most reps in practice is Will Wilson," Shields continues to say. "He has some talent and he'll have an opportunity. Then there's Tom Howser who sat out last season."

Also as a possibility is Joe Bailey, who has snapped the ball before. Michael Kime (Mo-Mo) is another name and is a scrappy player who could be in the mix.

From the prep school is Ryan Powis, who is a tremendous talent at center and is one of the best, if not the best player coming up from the prep school. Powis lead a nasty group of offensive linemen at the prep school.

Projection:

OT - Kelly & Bisgard
OG - Allen & Bailey
C - Wilson & Powis
OG - Bailey & Villanti
OT - McDermott & Whittaker

Coming into spring ball, the Black Knights will have one of the younger teams in the country and it will serve well for the rising junior class to step up. Truly the coaching staff will call upon them to take on a greater leadership role which many have already begun to do.

We are projecting that 6-7 incoming offensive prespster will be in the mix very early upon their arrival this summer.

Stayed tuned to GoBlackKnights.com as we take a look at the Army defense in our continued two-deep projections.


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