2012 Army Preview – Defense

Posted Jul 29, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Army Black Knight Defense

Army Black Knights

Preview 2012 - Defense

- 2012 Army Preview | 2012 Army Offense
- 2012 Army Defense | 2012 Army Depth Chart

What You Need To Know: Co-coordinators Payam Saadat and Chris Smeland have a lot of work to do and a lot of guessing on how to put the pieces of the puzzle together. There wasn't any production against the run and there was little pass rush to count on, but there isn't much hope for a major improvement with a defensive line full of linebacker-sized options. This is a small, SMALL defense that'll get pounded on and has to hope to stay off the field with the offense grinding out drives. The secondary is full of interchangeable options and should be fresh, while the linebacking corps should be active and should fill the stat sheet as it cleans up the messes left by the line.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Thomas Holloway, 76
Sacks: Nate Combs, Colin Linkul, Zach Watts, 3
Interceptions: Several with 1

Star of the defense: Junior LB Justin Trimble
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior DE Holt Zalneraitis
Unsung star on the rise: Trimble
Best pro prospect: Sophomore S Hayden Pierce
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Trimble, 2) LB Thomas Holloway, 3) LB Nate Combs
Strength of the defense: Versatility, Quickness
Weakness of the defense: Size, Run Defense

Defensive Line

The pass rush has to be more effective and far better after generating just 18 sacks last year. Senior Zach Watts returns after starting every game last year and finished a role at the Quick End position making 26 tackles with three sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. He's fast, but he's really, really small at just 5-11 and 203 pounds. He's a fighter, but he can be erased. He'll work in combination with veteran Jarrett Mackey, a 6-1, 235-pound senior who was the lone returning starter last season but was knocked out for the year in the season opener with a knee injury.

Moving from the inside of the line out to end is junior Holt Zalneraitis, a 6-2, 224-pound junior who started out the year as a woefully undersized tackle and ended up moving around making 25 tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss. He has speed and quickness, but he didn't do anything to get into the backfield. At the Whip, he has to be a pass rusher, while the combination of 6-5, 231-pound junior Kyle Maxwell and 6-3, 206-pound sophomore Derek Sanchez will get their first action in the rotation.

6-3, 239-pound junior Robert Kough will be tried out at left tackle after being out last year hurt. He has a bad ankle, and he's going to be beaten on with his lack of bulk, but he's quick and he's a battler. Being up to the challenge won't be a problem, but 5-10, 238-pound junior Shane Finnane will needs to be a key part of the rotation after a good offseason.

Sophomore Richard Glover is a 6-0, 247-pounder is hardly a seasoned veteran seeing time in three games making just two tackles. 6-3, 228-pound sophomore Joe Drummond and 6-3, 257-pound sophomore Mike Ugenyi are young, inexperienced, and learning how to work on the inside, but they'll be needed right away to give Glover a break.

Watch Out For … Zalneraitis. He tried his best on the inside, but like the rest of the Army linemen he's not built to be a tackle. With time and a little bit of seasoning, he could be the right end to combine with Watts and Mackey to get into the backfield.
Strength: Quickness. Considering how tiny the line is, all the options had better be able to move. Most BCS teams have safeties the size of some of the Army linemen.
Weakness: Production. The Knights are woefully small up front, especially on the inside, and it showed last year with one of the nation's worst run defenses. To make matters worse, the pass rushing production was non-existent.
Outlook: The Army line was decent in 2010, but it got younger and smaller leading to a rough year. The hope is for a rotation to translate into far more plays in the backfield and far better production against the run. The Knights will be fresh, but can they hold up? Against the stronger O lines, no.
Unit Rating: 4


Step one is to replace heart-and-soul playmaker Steve Erzinger, who led the team with 103 tackles and three sacks. Taking over on the Rover will be veteran Justin Trimble, a 5-11, 200-pound junior who's the brother of former Army receiver Jeremy Trimble. Very fast and with a world of upside, he should be one of the team's leading tacklers after making 12 stops with two tackles for loss.

Trimble will combine with senior Thomas Holloway, a former free safety who finished second on the team with 76 tackles with a pick. Only 5-11 and 196 pounds, he's not built for the spot, but he can move and he can make plays all over the field.

The combination of 6-0, 207-pound sophomore Geoffery Bacon and 5-11, 202-pound junior Zachary Williams will work in the middle. Bacon started for most of the second half of his first season finishing tied for third on the team with 60 tackles with a 70-yard pick six against Vanderbilt and 2.5 tackles for loss. Williams will have to keep working to be a part of the rotation, but he had a good enough spring to potentially take over a spot.

6-1, 216-pound senior Nate Combs moved around here needed, but settled in at the Whip where he finished with 37 tackles, three sacks, and six tackles for loss with two recovered fumbles. A playmaker, he's one of the team's stronger tacklers and should end up as a statistical star. He'll get his chances to fly into the backfield.

6-3, 213-pound sophomore Jacob Drozd was a painfully undersized defensive tackle over the second half of last season finishing with 18 tackles with two sacks and three tackles for loss. He's strong enough to play anywhere in the linebacking corps, but he'll start out seeing time at the Bandit.

Watch Out For … Trimble. He got a little bit of starting time last season and was decent when he had his chances, and now he should be the new Erzinger if he can hold up.
Strength: Versatility. That's the key to the entire defense, and it's a big part of a linebacking corps with several interchangeable parts. There's depth and there are options for the coaching staff to move around where needed.
Weakness: Big play performers. There's experience, and the starting three will be more than fine without Erzinger, but the linebacking corps has to use its speed and athleticism to do more in the backfield. This group needs to be a disruptive force.
Outlook: With Zalneraitis moving from defensive tackle to linebacker, three starters ready to roll with nice backup options ready to step in where needed. Everyone can move and everyone can tackle, but they need to bring the pop. The linebackers have to make more game-changing plays.
Unit Rating: 4.5

Defensive Backs

There's plenty of movement this year in the defensive backfield, starting with senior Josh Jackson, the 6-0, 182-pound free safety who moved around last year but now will stick at corner. He's a good tackler making 40 stops with a pick and four broken up passes last season, but he has to be more of a ball-hawk on the field side. He has the best tools and range of all the Army defensive backs, and now they have to come through.

With Jackson's move, 5-8, 184-pound senior Ty Shrader will get the first look at free safety after making ten tackles with a pick as a reserve. He's not all that big, but he proved this offseason that he's ready for the bigger role, while 6-2, 205-pound senior Kyler Martin is a bigger option with good experience, making 32 tackles with two sacks, a pick, and 3.5 tackles for loss. He can work as a rover linebacker or in the team's SAM position.

5-10, 186-pound senior Waverly Washington will get the first shot at the Boundary corner, but he'll have to fight off 5-11, 195-pound junior Tyler Dickson and 5-10, 179-pound senior Justin Allen for time. Washington is a promising speedster who made 12 tackles, but didn't do anything against the pass. Dickson started the first four games last year at free safety and finished third on the team with 60 tackles and a pick with two forced fumbles. Extremely athletic, he can be used anywhere, while Allen is a terrific all-around athlete who has mostly been a special teamer.

Sophomore Hayden Pierce is a 6-3, 187-pound hitter who should come into his own at the Sam, or strong safety position. He saw time at corner last season after starting the first eight games at safety finishing with 32 tackles with three tackles for loss. He's big and has great range; he should be one of the team's leading tacklers.

Sophomore Lamar Johnson-Harris started most of last year at the field corner position, making 20 tackles with a pick and a broken up pass. At 5-9 and 173 pounds he's small, but he can move, while 6-1, 186-pound sophomore Marques Avery is a bigger, stronger option in the cornerback rotation.

Watch Out For … the free safety battle. The coaching staff has set up fights for jobs throughout the offseason, but the biggest one should be at free safety where Shrader and Martin will each get several chances to show what they can do, and Dickson will get a few more looks.
Strength: Versatility. The Army defensive backs are interchangeable. With good position fights for every spot, the Knights should be able to always put the four best defensive backs on the field no matter what the position.
Weakness: Deep balls. Army didn't' face too many passing teams and only allowed 164 yards per game, but it gave up yards in major chunks with one of the least efficient pass defenses in college football. The Knights allowed 19 touchdown passes and came up with just eight picks.
Outlook: Expect more of the same. The secondary won't give up a bazillion yards, but what they do allow will hurt. Fortunately, there are several good veterans who know what they're doing no matter what spot they're thrown into, and there should be a steady rotation that keeps everyone fresh. Three seniors will likely start, but there are some nice young players like Pierce to build around.
Unit Rating: 4.5

Special Teams

Senior Eric Osteen spent last year on kickoffs. He has a big leg and he'll get every chance to take over for Alex Carlton, who had no range – hit longest kick was just 23 yards – hitting just 3-of-6 field goals. Junior Billy Fisher will get every chance at the job, but he'll have to be fantastic to move out Osteen.

The punting game was awful. Junior Chris Boldt didn't get much help, but he only averaged 39.8 yards per kick and put just ten inside the 20. He has a nice leg, but he has to do more to pin teams deep.

The return game needs a ton of work after finishing 113th in the nation in both punt and kick returns. Corner Josh Jackson was the main man on punt returns, but he only averaged 3.7 yards per try, while all the kickoff returners are back including Scott Williams, who averaged 20.6 yards per pop.

Watch Out For … Osteen. If he can hold off Fisher for the job, he'll bring more blast to the kicking game that didn't get anything out of Carlton last season.
Strength: Experience. There's not much to get fired up about after last year, but at least all the key parts are returning and Osteen knows what he's doing.
Weakness: Returns. Out of all the major problems on the special teams, the return game was the biggest problem averaging just 18.7 yards on kickoffs and a horrendous 3.7 yards on punt returns.
Outlook: Army isn't good enough to have miserable special teams again. Nothing worked last year with only one made field goal over the first nine games, no return game, and mediocre punting. The coverage teams weren't exactly tight, either, allowing two punt returns for scores. New special teams coach Luke Thompson has a ton of work to do.
Unit Rating: 4

- 2012 Army Preview | 2012 Army Offense
- 2012 Army Defense | 2012 Army Depth Chart