July 22, 2012

Countdown to Camp - The Offense Projections

Each year brings a different season for projected how a team will perform, as well as the players individual contribution. Army's 2012 pre-season is filled with a great deal of optimism, but there are also plenty of questions that surround this year's team.

Earlier in the week, we asked the Army faithful to participate in projecting this year's MVP; Frosh who will have the most impact; Breakout player; along with a few other topic and needless to say, the feedback was insightful on The 12th Knights message board.

Well, now it's our turn to take a crack at it and here are the GBK staff's projections.

Who will be the offensive MVP?

Charles Grevious: I have to go with senior QB, Trent Steelman. Although Max Jenkins and even frosh Angel Santiago stepped in effectively last season for the injured Steelman, it was clear that as the Kentucky native goes, so goes the Army offense. The key to running Army's triple option is that even the signal caller is a legitimate 'option' and Steelman is just that. If healthy in 2012, this offensive has the potential to be unstoppable by anyone on this year's schedule.

A.M. Allan: This selection may come as a surprise to many, but yet I believe there is logic to support my prediction in fullback Larry Dixon. The 2011 season was just a preview of Dixon's value to the offense. The sophomore is leaner and more explosive, along with being stronger. But Dixon's value will not just be in his stats, but his presence will cause defenses to be fullback conscious, hence defending from center to guard, which will allow Army's tackle to perimeter game to more productive. His ability to block, along with being error free has MVP written all over it.

Tom Shanahan: Quarterback Trent Steelman. He scored against Navy last year dragging his leg behind him into the end zone and that should tell you plenty about his value if he was on the field in that condition. Still, the MVP leader in the clubhouse could change weekly with Army's balanced backfield. Focus on stopping Steelman and fullback Larry Dixon will have a 100-yard day. Target Dixon and either Malcolm Brown or Raymond Maples will break loose. There's enough depth someone outside the four horsemen will have a big game, too.

Which freshman will have the biggest impact?

Charles Grevious: I really like what Chris Carnegie brings to the table and he also addresses an ongoing need, which is to is to fill the pipeline with quality athletic-talent at cornerback. At 6-foot-0, 180 pounds, he already provide decent size as a freshman and from what we have observed during tenure at USMAPS and most recently, Head Coach Rich Ellerson's comments, where he stated that "I would say Chris Carnegie is ahead of the curve at corner."

A.M. Allan: There is little question that the Black Knights were physically under-manned on the interior defensive line, where the utilization of defensive ends in these roles in 2011 confirmed the need for true DT presence. One such player is Tala Atimalala (T.J.) from the prep school, who will get his shot at game time reps once summer practice kicks off.

Tom Shanahan: Quarterback AJ Schurr. With injuries sidelining Trent Steelman for three games last year, Schurr may find himself playing significant minutes sooner than expected. If so, Army will have an opportunity to take advantage of his arm. That would add another dimension to the offense.

Which player will have a breakout season?

Charles Grevious: I think cornerback Tyler Dickson has tremendous upside and after being thrown into the fire after the move from free safety to cornerback, I look for him to have a solid summer training camp and lock down the starting spot opposite Josh Jackson. Although not fast, his athleticism offsets the speed fact, along with his size (5'11', 203).

A.M. Allan: The opportunity could not be any better for sophomore wide receiver, Chevaughn Lawrence to make his potential a reality. That's right ... when you are playing wide out for the nations leading rushing offense, defensive coordinator are skewed towards stopping Army's triple option, that often leans itself to one one one (CB vs. WR) coverage minus true safety support. Lawrence has all of the physical tools do truly do damage this season and have a breakout year. However, he must be committed not only to maturing as a receiver, but also become the necessary run blocker that is required in this offense.

Tom Shanahan: Running back Malcolm Brown (even if he switches to wide receiver). The key for Brown is staying healthy, which is one reason moving to wide receiver could be an option down the road. He can be a game-breaker running the ball or catching the ball out of the backfield. If the combination of injuries and Army's depth in the backfield leads to Brown being moved to bolster a thin wide receiver corps, he can still enjoy a breakout season.

Which starter will be missed the most from last season?

Charles Grevious: Well not will this player be missed this season, but he absence was felt part of 2011. Starting right guard Joe Bailey went down with a knee injury against Ball State and although Matt Villanti was able to step in, Bailey was truly missed throughout the balance of he season and will be missed in 2012. What makes matters worse, Villanti was in the running to compete for the vacancy left by Bailey, but he became an academic casualty and for at least the 2012 season, has been separated from West Point.

A.M. Allan: I will have to go with linebacker Steve Erzinger. The 2011 team captain, was not only an impact player statistically, but he experience and leadership could be sorely missed if the Black Knights' relatively young defense does not see someone step up to the leadership plate .... immediately.

Tom Shanahan: Wide receiver David Brooks didn't have big numbers with only eight catches for 137 yards and one touchdown, but he was second on the team in receptions and his was a big body (6-3, 212) that could block.

What is the area of most concern?

Charles Grevious: I will have to say the defense as a unit. They are still small and although tons of underclassmen were able to cut their teeth last season, it remains a very young group across the board. The combination of lack of size, inexperience and leadership will have to be addressed during summer training camp.

A.M. Allan: An ongoing concern is at defensive tackle. This position was sorely misrepresented in 2011 mostly due to injuries, that saw co-defensive coordinator Payam Saadat have to regulate several defensive ends like Brian Zalneraitis play out of position. Although Bobby Kough, Richard Glover, Joe Drummond, Mike Ugenyi, along with frosh Tala Atimalala (T.J.) and Evan Finnane offer a better quality of size in 2012, they also step into the season with limited to zero college game experience.

Tom Shanahan: The offensive line is bigger and more athletic, but it is still thin on experience, depth and overall size. There are only two returning starters on the offensive line with the loss of guard Matt Villanti.

What is the team's biggest strength?

Charles Grevious: Two words ... 'the backfield'. This group is as deep and talented as any Army has assembled in years if not decades. Names like Steelman, Maples, Dixon, Hassin, Brown, Baggett, Tippett, Turrentine, Crucitti and Brown to name the majority could be a nightmare for defensive coordinators in 2012. This has the potential to be one of the groups that fans will be talking about for years to come as part of Army's great football history.

A.M. Allan: This is where all the GBK staff agree and that's the Army backfield. However, to make it more specific, that includes the quarterback position ... which of course is where Trent Steelman will be going into his 4th year as the starter and mainstay for the offense. Add to that Doak Walker Award candidate Raymond Maples, fullback Larry Dixon and a host of other talent players and the backfield out-distances all the other positions on the squad.

Tom Shanahan: The offensive backfield. The fullbacks and running backs have talent, depth and production with a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in junior running back Raymond Maples (1,066 yards in 2011) and senior backup running back/fullback Jared Hassin (1,009 yards in 2,010). Don't be surprised if their is a third 1,000-yard rusher among the group by the end of the season. Army led the nation in rushing last year with 346.5 yards a game and the same players are back with more experience and more talent pushing them from the bottom of the depth chart. Maples is a Doak Walker Award candidate.

Which position needs to be recruited the most?

Charles Grevious: Ironically and perhaps surprisingly, I am going to say running back. One may ask how this could be a big need if just moments ago you said the team's strength was the backfield, especially at running back. And my position hasn't changed, but I believe that what is missing from the running back equation is a legitimate breakaway threat. The current stock of talent in the backfield can and will do damage offensively, but for the most part they all are north-south runners and there has yet to anyone to step out and consistently demonstrate the ability to make defenders miss.

A.M. Allan: I will defer to my answer to the aforementioned question, "What is the area of most concern?" The is a must need for this staff to pull in at least 3-4 solid defensive tackles that offers the quality size that fits well in Ellerson's Flex defense.

Tom Shanahan: Offensive linemen. The Black Knights need more big bodies and can decide later if they're best suited for the offensive or defensive line. Army is off to BCS conference-type start with Rivals three-star offensive lineman Patrick Joseph (6'3", 285) of Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton committing on July 5th to Army while turning down Arizona State, Arizona and Air Force for the Black Knights.

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