2011 Army Preview – Offense
Army FB Jared Hassin
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Army Black Knight Offense
Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: The offense started to hum last season with a veteran line paving the way for a good group of skill players. Now the attack should blow up if, and it's a big if, the line can jell right away with four new starters. QB Trent Steelman has 25 games of experience under his belt and is a terrific conductor for the triple option, while FB Jared Hassin is one of the nation's most effective inside runners and a pounder who'll be everyone's top option to key on. As expected, there's speed on the outside, but the offense has to produce more big running plays. The nation's least-productive passing game in college football has two big, veteran targets to work with in Davyd Brooks and Austin Barr, and now they need the ball more and have to start hitting a few more home runs when they get their opportunities.
Star of the offense: Junior FB Jared Hassin
Passing: Trent Steelman
71-133, 995 yds, 7 TD, 3 INT
Rushing: Jared Hassin
191 carries, 1,013 yds, 9 TD
Receiving: Davyd Brooks
15 catches, 238 yds, 1 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior OT Brad Kelly
Unsung star on the rise: Junior C Will Wilson
Best pro prospect: Hassin
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Hassin, 2) QB Trent Steelman, 3) RB Malcolm Brown
Strength of the offense: Running, Veteran Skill Players
Weakness of the offense: Passing Production, Line Experience
State of the Unit: With one of the best quarterback situations in a long time, Army has the exact type of players to fit the system and have a nice mix of experience, depth and skill. No, the passing game is never going to excite, but there's hope for a more efficient year and a few more home runs here and there.
Junior Trent Steelman has been the main man for the last two years starting his last 25 games, and while he's never going to be Peyton Manning throwing the ball, he has the option down cold. The team's second-leading rusher, the 6-0, 204-pounder tore off 721 yards with 11 touchdowns, and while he completed 53% of his throws, he only threw seven touchdown passes with four interceptions and just 995 yards. A great decision maker, he's the right leader for the attack, but he has to keep from getting blasted and has to try to avoid the big hit. Already hurting with a shoulder problem that kept him out of spring ball, there will be concerns that he can be a 197-carry type of runner again.
With Steelman out this offseason, senior Max Jenkins got plenty of work and he should be ready to step in if needed. The 6-2, 195-pound veteran stepped in from time to time last year, and while he only completed one of five throws, he ran for 55 yards and a score while leading the option. He has the raw passing skills to be better for the passing game, while No. 3 man, 6-0, 191-pound Jimmy Reiter, is a pure runner with the quickness to be an option if absolutely needed.
Watch Out For … Steelman to do a bit more with the passing game. It's a dubious distinction, but Steelman almost became the first Army quarterback to throw for 1,000 yards and run for 500 in the same year. He'll hit the 1,000-yard mark this season and will be more efficient with a good group of veterans around him.
Strength: Quickness. Steelman, Jenkins, and Reitter are all great runners and they're all the type to fit the triple-option attack. Losing Steelman would be painful, but the backups can step in and get the job done.
Weakness: Passing. Dead last in the nation in passing, that's to be expected for an offense like Army runs. However, one of the big keys to Navy's success is the ability to hit on the big play when the ball does get in the air, and that's what's missing. Being 71st in the nation in passing efficiency isn't going to cut it. (By the way, Navy was ninth.)
Outlook: Steelman is in his third year running the offense and he should be technically sound. There's depth, quickness, and rushing production, but the improvement on the offense will only come if the quarterbacks can complete over 55% of their throws and combine for close to 1,500 yards.
Unit Rating: 7
State of the Unit: It took about a year for everyone to get used to the switch to the new style, and then everything kicked in and worked last year with improved play from the fullback, more consistency from the slotbacks, and thanks to the direction of QB Trent Steelman, more consistent plays.
It's not crazy to suggest that few players were more valuable in college football last year than Jared Hassin , a 6-3, 235-pound senior fullback who led the team with 1,013 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 5.3 yards per carry, with 12 catches for 154 yards. The transfer from Air Force bulked up a bit more and was a blaster for the ground game and the focus for everyone to deal with on the inside to make the outside runs a bit more open. There was a time turning the middle of the season when he took over the offense, running for 100 yards or more in four straight games, highlighted by a 144-yard, two score day in the win over Tulane, and while he has 25-carry ability, he's at his best when he runs 15 times before wearing down teams late.
Third leading rusher Patrick Mealy is gone after running for 470 yards and two scores, but the Knights are loaded at Slotback helped by the return of 5-11, 180-pound junior Malcolm Brown, who ran for 343 yards and four scores averaging 5.5 yards per carry. He missed half the year banged up with a shoulder problem, but he's fine and ready to be more of a home run hitter on the outside. He started out his career as a receiver, and he caught five passes for 92 yards and two scores, and now he'll be used more in a variety of ways.
Filling in the other jobs at Slotback will be 6-1, 200-pound sophomore Raymond Maples and 5-11, 185-pound junior Brian Cobbs . Maples saw time as a plebe running for 208 yards and a score and catching two passes for 38 yards and a score, and with his good size for the inside and the speed for the outside, he has the talent to do more from the A-Back spot, while Cobbs ran for 302 yards and five scores with two against Duke and two more later on against Kent State. He came to Army as a defensive back, but he showed he could handle himself without a problem with the ball in his hands. He's flash when he gets into the open field.
With the pounding that Hassin takes, the Knights need more from backup fullbacks Dan McGue and CeDarius Williams . McGue, a junior, showed this offseason that he can step in and produce without much of a problem with 6-2, 220-pound size and good power on short runs, while the 5-11, 214-pound Williams ran a little bit two years ago before getting knocked out for the year hurt.
Watch Out For … Maples. Hassin is the focal point, Brown and Cobbs are veterans who know what they're doing, and Steelman will be option No. 1 on most afternoons. But it'll be up to Maples to crank out more big runs and to make teams pay for falling asleep on the outside.
Strength: Mixing it up. It's not rocket science. The idea is to attack the middle until someone stops it. If no one can, then Hassin goes nuts. If teams start to stop it, then it's time to go outside and try something else. With so many veterans in the backfield, there's no reason for this to not be one of the nation's five best ground games.
Weakness: Huge runs. The Knights averaged 4.5 yards per carry, which was fine, but it wasn't good enough. Yes, Navy and Army don't run quite the same offense, but by comparison, the Midshipmen backs regularly rip off huge gashes with several players averaging over six yards per crack. Cobbs was the only one who averaged six yards per carry and the longest run of the year was 54 yards. Most of the biggest runs of the season were around 25 yards.
Outlook: Not only are the starters strong, but there's depth to rely on in a pinch. As long as Hassin is healthy, everything else will work, but it would be nice if Brown, Maples, and Cobbs can rip off more huge dashes.
Unit Rating: 8
State of the Unit: Army just doesn't throw the ball, but that might change a bit this year with most of the top targets returning. Four of the top five and seven or the top nine receivers are back, counting the running backs, and with a more experienced Trent Steelman under center, there should be a wee bit more from the receivers.
Junior Davyd Brooks needs the ball more. The 6-3, 212-pound veteran doesn't have to get ten catches a game, but it's his job to come up with one long grab every once in a while to take advantage of single coverage and secondaries cheating up to stop the run. He led the team with 15 catches for 238 yards and a score, averaging 15.9 yards per play. While he disappeared at times, he was good for a big catch a game down the stretch. Big, and a great blocker, he has the size to push defensive backs around.
6-4, 210-pound senior Austin Barr is a very big, very strong target who has made a little bit of a splash last year with a team-leading three touchdown catches with 15.4 yards per grab making 14 catches for 215 yards. He can almost be like a tight end when it comes to being a safety valve, but he has the ability to push the play deep when needed. However, he only caught two passes in the final four games.
6-2, 190-pound sophomore Anthony Stephens has the look of a potentially dangerous playmaker, but he has yet to make a catch spending most of his time last year on special teams. He'll work behind Barr, while 5-10, 179-pound sophomore Justin Allen is a very quick, very promising option at the outside X position. While he's not as big as Brooks, he's tough and won't be afraid to make the tough catch. He'll get on the field at times as a special teamer.
Watch Out For … Brooks and Barr to be a more dangerous 1-2 combination. No, they won't combine for a bazillion catches, but the Knights have two real options to go to deep. It's time to use them.
Strength: Size. Rich Ellerson has always liked super-sized targets going back to his days at Cal Poly. The 6-3 Brooks and the 6-4 Barr are the biggest targets, but there's good bulk across the board. Even the smaller players can hit.
Weakness: The offense. There are enough veterans to hope for more big plays and more work, but Army and the nation's worst passing game of last year isn't going to wing it around the yards. Any receiver getting more than two catches a game is carrying a workload.
Outlook: Army fans might be shocked, but the offense is supposed to be balanced and it's supposed to use the deep passing game more. At Cal Poly, Ellerson's offense was fantastic at pushing the ball down the field, and now the veteran receivers are in place to start doing more through the air at Army. It won't happen, but the targets are there to do far more for an offense that threw the ball 128 times in 2008, 161 times in 2009, and 138 times last year.
Unit Rating: 4
State of the Unit: It was one of the most productive Army offensive lines in decades. Thanks to a slew of veterans who knew what they were doing, everything clicks as the offense was one of the best in the nation in running the ball, while the line was terrific in pass protection on the few times the offense tried to put the ball in the air. Now there's a rebuilding job being done with four starters being replaced, and while it might take a little while to jell, there's plenty of hope for things to quickly be more than fine.
The lone returning starter is junior Frank Allen at right guard. The 6-4, 275-pound veteran was one of the team's top prospects a few years ago and turned into a top blocker last year. One of the team's biggest blockers, he can also get on the move to spring runs down the field. This year, he'll do it at left guard to start out the season. Working on the right side and as a backup on the left side is 6-2, 270-pound senior Joe Bailey , a key reserve over the last few years with time in 23 games and a few starts in 2009. Very strong and with good versatility, he can move around where needed and at the very least will be a big part of a rotation. 6-3, 272-pound junior Matt Villanti has the talent and the skill to play somewhere in the interior, likely at right guard. He has the bulk and the strength to push people around, but he has mostly worked as a special teamer so far.
Needing to quarterback the line is junior Will Wilson at center. The 6-2, 284-pounder is the team's biggest lineman, and it makes sense considering so much revolves around blasting away up the middle. He only saw the light of day for a few plays last year, but he looked the part this offseason and appears to be ready to take the job from the very good, very steady Zach Peterson.
Starting at left tackle in place of Anees Merzi is 6-5, 250-pound senior Brad Kelly after spending the last few years as a key backup. While he's not a thumper, he moves like a big tight end on the outside. 6-6, 257-pound senior Mike McDermott will be the top backup on the left side with a few games of starting experience on the résumé and with the body to be a good pass protector when needed.
6-1, 252-pound junior Derek Bisgard is a short, squatty right tackle who got to set foot on the field for a little time, but he's not experienced. He's built like a guard and gets good leverage for his size, but he has to show he can be consistent enough to wall off defenders to spring plays on the outside. He'll work with 6-5, 244-pound junior Ben Jebb , a tall, athletic blocker who can work at either tackle job.
Watch Out For … Wilson. He was one of the revelations in spring ball looking like a natural for the job. With his size and his toughness, he should be a big-time factor to pave the way for Jared Hassin running the ball up the gut.
Strength: Quickness. By design, this is a smallish, quick line that moves well and can make big hits on the move. Even with all the inexperience and even with so many new starters, there won't be any problems opening holes just by moving around.
Weakness: Experience. Size is always going to be an issue, but the biggest problem is the time logged in. For a line like this, precision is the key and timing is everything. That comes with time making every practice vital.
Outlook: The line will be fine, but it's not going to be the dominant group it was at times last year. It took a year to build to 2010, and now it'll be another year to build to 2011. The backups of last year appear ready to step in and produce, but it's asking a lot to be as consistent and as durable as last year's line was.
Unit Rating: 5
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