August 19, 2011

GBK: Projected two-deep for the Army defense

This offseason for the Army defense had more twist than an old Chubby Checker video. For post Generation X Black Knights' fans, you are going to have to trust me on that or go Google "Chubby Checker".

First, sometime starter and cornerback Richard King was separated from West Point, albeit he has recently been reinstated, but will not play another down of football for the Black Knights. Similarly, back-up defensive tackle and potential 2011 starter Chris Swain whose days at the academy are now in his rear view mirror.

Then you have 3-year starter, Antuan Aaron who had to make a tough "career" decision that resulted in the senior cornerback taking preventive measures against further and more serious vertebrae injury by stepping away from the game he loves.

On the positive side of the twist equation, captain Andrew Rodriguez has returned to the ball club or more specifically, to the lineup. A-Rod sat out the entire 2010 season, as the senior was dealing with his own injury bug. Although not 100%, his presence on the field, even in a back-up capacity will be a sight for sore eyes, as the Black Knights adjust to losing starters named Anderson, McNary, Gann, Travis, Dixon, Trimble, along with the unexpected aforementioned departures.

Add to that an infusion of freshmen talent and inexperienced upperclassmen, and it is clear that Head Coach Rich Ellerson and his defensive staff have their work cut out for them. Especially for a young defense that will open up against a high powered - high scoring Northern Illinois offense ... on the road.

Offensively, NIU presents a balanced attack, although their running back and wide receiver corp are new ... quarterback Chandler Harnish is a handful, where he registered an impressive 3,366 yards in total offense and 28 touchdowns.

And with the switch in practice now moving to preparing for the season kickoff, breaks down the projected two-deep for the Army defense.

The GBK Two Deep


Quick Defensive End

1. Jarrett Mackey
2. Jacob Drozd

Summary: There is no question who this position belongs to. This is Mackey's role and he will be called upon to pickup where Josh McNary left off. Mackey, who is naturally a defensive end has smoothly transitioned into his new surroundings. The only notable change in the 6-foot-1, 240 pound junior is that he shelved #94 and can now be seen wearing #34. For Drozd, he has lived up to expectation, although he is facing the challenges that most freshmen at this level. Playing and learning behind Mackey is a perfect opportunity for the protégé.

Defensive End

Corey Watts or
Clayton Keller

Summary: Although Watts has the upper hand when it comes to actual game experience, Keller has been resilient and this battle could go down to the wire. But no matter who wins the #1 spot on the depth chart, both player will get their share of game time reps.

Nose Tackle & Defensive Tackle

A.J. Mackey
Chad Littlejohn
Brian Zalneraitis
Broghan Carnes
Parker Whitten

Summary: Unlike last season, where Mike Gann's role as the nose tackle was distinctive from the other tackle spot ... this season has five candidates who are interchangeable and could play either tackle spot.

As we noted in April and it appears that same applies as the team is just two weeks away from the season opener ... don't anticipate the staff having a full commitment to locking in any of the aforementioned players to the role of Bandit or Nose Tackle.

Unfortunately, none of the players has truly separated himself from the pack and hence, the battle for "Top 1 & 2" remains.


Rover Linebacker

1. Steve Erzinger
2. Justin Trimble

Summary: Although Trimble continues to develop and grow as a ball player, the Black Knights can not afford to not have Tri-Captain Steve Erzinger miss too many reps.

Erzinger does bring the external emotional burst that would often come from Steve Anderson or Mike Gann last year, but his consistency and intensity more than make up for and the players around pick up on very easily.

Mike Linebacker

Nate Combs
Geoffery Bacon

Summary:The return of Combs to the lineup is a boast to the defensive. After winning a starter role at linebacker in 2010, his game one injury eliminated him for the rest of the season, but his summer training camp suggest that he hasn't lost a step. As a matter of fact, he may have gained one.

But Combs can't get complacent because two youngsters are aggressively bring up the rear. Both Bacon and fellow freshman Duran Workman have shown quality upside and should see sometime playing time this season. Although Workman's initial introduction to college football will come via special teams.

Whip Linebacker

Zach Watts
Andrew Rodriguez

This is a position that has plenty of talent and depth. The latter part of last season, Watts proved that he is a player on the rise and continued through spring/summer training games. But also look for A-Rod to receive his share of reps, especially is able to return back to his old form or close to it.

At this spot, look for the incumbent to play anywhere; hand on the ground or in a two point stance.

Two notables are Bill Prosko & , who are battling for the #3 spot.


Corner (field)

[db]Josh Jackson
L.J. Harris

Once Aaron's status was announced, it appeared that Jackson matured overnight. The 6-foot-0, 185 pound junior has taken it upon himself to lead by example, as well as becoming an even more vocal leader.

Jackson is a superb athlete, who has the ability to pick up the slack due to Aaron's absence in the secondary.

Freshman L.J. Harris has been impressive this summer and don't be surprise to see him out there from time to time in some of the nickel packages, but surely on special teams.

Corner (boundary)

Waverly Washington
Justin Allen

Summary:The post bowl win & 2011 projections had the boundary corner locked down with seasoned veterans in seniors Antuan Aaron and Richard King. Both players have prematurely left the program for different reasons and the slack must be picked up by Washington and Allen.

Washington to continues to grow as a corner and would have pushed both Aaron and King had they been on the roster.

Allen a converted running back - wide receiver turned corner has all the physical tools to contribute, but he must accelerate his learning curve relative to his new role and surroundings.

Freshman Marcus Jackson offers support, but like Workman, he will cut his teeth on special teams.

Free Safety

Thomas Hollaway
Tyler Dickson

Summary: If Co-defensive Coordinator Payam Sadaat had his druthers, he would merge the talents of Hollaway and Dickson into one. Both have solid athletic qualities, although relative unique to one another. At this stage, Hollaway holds down the #1 spot, with Dickson remaining on his heels.

Then you have more than capable junior Ty Shrader on stand-by

Strong Safety (Sam)

Reggie Nesbit
Hayden Pierce[db]
[db]Lyle Beloney

The team and staff's focus is now on Northern Illinois.
For the most part the team has taken form, at least as they prepare for NIU.

During practice, you can see that part of individual drills is to bring many of the younger players along fundamentally. But when the team splits to work on NIU schemes, the "B" squad becomes Northern Illinois defense and offense.

For the Black Knights, it just 15 days from 2011 season opener and kickoff.

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