2011 Army Preview – Defense
Army LB Steve Erzinger
Army LB Steve Erzinger
Posted Jul 4, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Army Black Knight Defense

Army Black Knights

Preview 2011 - Defense

- 2011 Army Preview | 2011 Army Offense
- 2011 Army Defense | 2011 Army Depth Chart

What You Need To Know: The Double-Eagle Flex scheme has worked over the last two years and takes advantage of having undersized, athletic players who try hard. The problem is that there really, REALLY isn't any size to count on this year with a linebacker-sized defensive front that will get beaten on more than usual. The biggest overall problem is turnover with so many new starters to the mix, especially up front. The strength is at corner with several options led by good ball-hawkers in Josh Jackson and Richard King. Steven Erzinger is a veteran linebacker who'll move to the middle after spending the last two years on the outside, while Jarett Mackey is a good pass rusher who has to be the star of an emerging line. The problem, again, is that there simply isn't any bulk up front. The biggest player is 266-pound A.J. Mackey, and the other big linemen are around 235 pounds.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Steve Erzinger, 76
Sacks: Jarett Mackey, 4
Interceptions: Richard King, 4

Star of the defense: Senior LB Steven Erzinger
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior NT A.J. Mackey
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore SS Lyle Beloney
Best pro prospect: Junior CB Josh Jackson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Erzinger, 2) DE Jarett Mackey, 3) Jackson
Strength of the defense: Corner, Aggressiveness
Weakness of the defense: Size, Experience

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: The defensive front wasn't awful at getting to the quarterback and was strong against the run, but it didn't do much to get into the backfield to make plays behind the line. There's plenty of turnover up front losing star pass rusher Josh McNary and his ten sacks and run stopper Mike Gann from the middle. Size is a huge problem without Gann, so more than ever, the line has to be active and has to make big plays.

Junior Jarrett Mackey is the lone returning starter, and he's a good one. The 6-2, 230-pound made 47 tackles with four sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss starting in the hybrid Bandit position, but not he'll get a longer look at the Quick End and be closer to the line. Extremely quick and very versatile, he's more like an outside linebacker than a true end, but he always produces no matter where he is.

Working at the end spot will be 5-11, 220-pound sophomore Corey Watts, a badly undersized lineman with plenty of spunk and quickness. He's not all that big for an outside linebacker, but he's active and tough. He'll have to be a part of a rotation with 6-2, 220-pound sophomore Clayton Keller , who's built more like a big strong safety and has a good first step.

There's little size on the inside, but 6-1, 266-pound junior A.J. Mackey is the bulk. Already hurt and missing spring ball, he can't be out of the mix this season or there won't be any weight whatsoever on the nose. He saw a little bit of time last season, but he only made nine tackles in half a season. Once he's right, he has to be the anchor, while 6-2, 235-pound junior Parker Whitten is ready to be a part of the rotation after making one tackle in a limited role. He'll move around where needed.

Army used a hybrid Bandit position, and sophomore Brian Zalneraitis appears ready to handle the workload. The 5-11, 220-pounder will step in for Jarett Mackey, who's moving over to the Quick End, and he has the speed and quickness to be an instant factor in the backfield. 6-0, 234-pound senior Chad Littlejohn will also be a part of the mix starting for part of last year at outside linebacker and making 30 tackles with three tackles for loss. He could move back to linebacker if needed, but he'll be used more as a pass rusher.

Watch Out For … Jarett Mackey as a true end. The line needs his relative size, and while being 230 pounds isn't really anything to get excited about, he's a huge body compared to some of the rest of the linemen. He needs to be more of a rock against the run while trying to do more to get to the quarterback.
Strength: Quickness. The line needs the linebacker-sized linemen to fly around and be active, and while there won't be any chances taken to make plays behind the line, there should be plenty of quarterback pressures just because everyone can move.
Weakness: Size. It was bad last year and now it's REALLY bad. There was at least a few decent-sized bodies on last year's line, but 266 pounds counts as the girth on this year's front four.
Outlook: It's not always pretty, but it works. The idea is to keep several players rolling in a rotation while hoping for athleticism and aggressiveness to make up for lack of bulk. There will be times when the line gets beaten to a pulp, but it'll be fine against the mediocre running teams.
Unit Rating: 5


State of the Unit: The corps has to replace a star in Stephen Anderson, who led the team with 108 tackles and was the heart and soul of the defense. Now there should be a nice mix of players with some decent veterans ready to shine with more time and a new star for the middle.

With Anderson gone, it'll be up to 6-1, 222-pound senior Steven Erzinger to be the main man in the middle after finishing second on the team with 76 tackles with 1.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss. Fast enough to be used as a Rover, he's great against the pass and had excellent range to make plays all over the field in his new spot. He beefed up a little bit, and while he's not a huge rock, he's big enough and tough enough to hold up against the run. He's terrific in the open field.

With Erzinger moving, now it'll be up to a combination of sophomore Justin Trimble and junior Nate Combs to take over the duties at Rover. The 6-0, 200-pound Trimble made five games in a limited role, and now he should be all over the field using his defensive back speed and quickness to be a statistical star. He's the brother of former Army star receiver, Jeremy Trimble. The 6-2, 220-pound Combs has better size and is a strong tackler, but he only made three stops last season. Able to move to the weakside linebacker spot if needed, he's versatile and will produce no matter where he plays.

6-0, 205-pound junior Zach Watts took over the starting Whip job this offseason after seeing spot duty there last year. Extremely quick, he made 20 tackles last year with a sack, and now he should be one of the team's top five tacklers while also one of the top pass rushers.

Battling for playing time in the middle, and looking to make a splash before seeing more action next year, will be juniors Kyler Martin and C.J. Shelley . The 6-2, 200-pound Martin came to Army as a receiver and spent most of last year on special teams making one stop. He can move, while the undersized 5-9, 197-pound Shelley hasn't gotten on the field yet, but he'll be a part of the rotation somewhere this year.

Watch Out For … Watts. Erzinger is the star of the linebacking corps, and now it'll be up to Watts to take his place and become a freelancing playmaker on the outside. If he can be a pass rusher and he can be disruptive, the defensive front seven will be far, far better.
Strength: Tackling. Army players simply don't miss. They're not all that big and they're not the best athletes around, but when they get to a ball-carrier, they get him down. Erzinger won't miss a stop.
Weakness: Experience. With the line trying to figure out what it's doing, the linebackers will get several chances to clean things up. Will they be in the right spots at the right time? It might take a half a year before the right combination and the right rotation is found.
Outlook: The starting three will turn out to be fine as long as everything is funneled into Erzinger in the middle. There should be a nice rotation on the outside, and as long they can hold up and as long as they can swarm around the ball, the production should be there … it just might not happen right away.
Unit Rating: 5

Defensive Backs

State of the Unit: The secondary got burned by most teams that could throw with some efficiency, but after getting burned by Hawaii early on (even though it was a win), the production wasn't all that bad. The defensive backs gave up two touchdown passes or more in eight of the last ten games, there were 14 picks on the season to help offset them. There's experience on the outside, promise at safety, and good depth to hope for a better year.

The star among the veteran corners should be junior Josh Jackson , 6-0, 185-pound junior who's a rock-solid sure tackler on the field side (the more open field) with 33 stops. He only made one pick and two broken up passes, but he has the most talent, the best tools, and the range to be stuck on an island and handle himself just fine.

On the Boundary side, 5-11, 190-pound senior Richard King is ultra-reliable and great when the ball is in the air making four picks along with 23 tackles and three broken up passes. He missed all of 2009 with a concussion problem and time early on with a leg issue, but he was able to stay on the field for all 13 games last year. 5-9, 188-pound senior Antuan Aaron has tremendous quickness and plenty of experience, and after being used as a linebacker early on he has settled into a role at corner. After making 52 tackles with five broken up passes two years ago, he came up with a decent 27-tackle year with a sack and two broken up passes despite missing four games banged up.

Taking over the strong safety job is sophomore Lyle Beloney , a 5-11, 195-pound speedster who was all over the field this offseason and appears ready to be a top tackler. He'll have to prove early on that he can make plays when the ball is in the air, but there won't be any problems against the run. 6-2, 190-pound sophomore Reggie Nesbit was a strongside linebacker for a little bit last year making two tackles in four games, and now he's in a more natural position.

6-0, 195-pound sophomore Tyler Dickson will get the call at free safety after seeing time in three games and not doing anything. Athletic, he's like having another corner on the field, but he has to be smart enough to provide the help when needed on the deep ball better than the safeties last year did. Sophomore Thomas Holloway got a few reps in the bowl win over SMU, and now he'll be a good-hitting backup. At 5-11 and 190 pounds he has decent size and is ready to be a key part of the rotation.

Watch Out For … Beloney. Army safeties have to make a ton of plays against the run, and while free safety Donovan Travis was a top tackler in the secondary last year, it should be Beloney this year at strong safety. He won't lead the team, but he should make at least 60 stops and will be in on every play.
Strength: Corner. There isn't an elite lockdown corner by any means, but there's good depth and there's enough experience to expect a stronger year. Jackson is a good one who'll take away one side of the field.
Weakness: Deep balls. The overall pass defense wasn't too bad last year, but teams that could throw, like Hawaii and SMU, were able to get things moving. Of course, Army won both of those games, but the secondary had problems with the better receiving corps.
Outlook: Army finished third in the nation in pass defense two years ago – mostly because there weren't any great passing teams on the slate – and last year it was strong against the mediocre. There's enough experience and enough decent players to call this the strength of the defense, and while it's not going to be a rock, it'll be good enough to get by.
Unit Rating: 5

Special Teams

State of the Unit: The Knights played in five close games and need to own the special teams. It starts with PK Alex Carlton , a good, reliable veteran who followed up an 18-of-24 sophomore season by hitting 15-of-22 field goals last year and doing a fantastic job from deep. With a great midrange leg, he nailed 8-of-11 field goals from 40-to-49 yards, and two of his seven missed were from beyond 50. He nailed his last 11 field goals and should be a weapon once again.

The punting game was decent, but it could be better with senior Kolin Walk and junior Chris Boldt battling it out for the job to replace Jonathan Bulls, who averaged 38.9 yards per kick, but put a whopping 22 inside the 20. Walk and Boldt can both blast the ball a bit, but one of them has to prove he can be consistent and get the ball pinned deep on a regular basis.

The kickoff return team has to be far, far better after is averaged 19.08 yards per try. Junior Josh Jackson averaged 20.1 yards per try, and while RB Malcolm Brown was effective averaging 21 yards on his 13 returns, it'll be Raymond Maples also getting a shot even though he only averaged 15.3 yards per try. Jackson will also handle punt returns after averaging a pedestrian 7.3 yards per try.

Watch Out For … Carlton to get even more chances. He was phenomenal over the second half of last year and could be in the mix for the Lou Groza if he can connect on a few 50 yarders. He should be the difference in at least two games.
Strength: Punt coverage. It was helped by the play of Bulls and his ability to pin teams deep, but Army was outstanding at coming up with short returns allowing just 3.7 yards per try.
Weakness: Kickoff returns. The offense needs field position, and it didn't get it with poor starting points. There weren't any huge returns and averaging 19.1 yards per try isn't going to get it done.
Outlook: Rich Ellerson pays extra detail to the special teams, and while his kicking game will be excellent – the punting game will be fine – the return game needs more pop. The Knights will usually have an advantage on special teams, but they could stand to be a bit better.
Unit Rating: 7

- 2011 Army Preview | 2011 Army Offense
- 2011 Army Defense | 2011 Army Depth Chart