2009 Army Preview - Defense
Army DT Victor Ugenyi
Army DT Victor Ugenyi
Posted Jun 19, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Army Black Knight Defense

Army Black Knights

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Army Preview | 2009 Army Offense
- 2009 Army Defense |
2009 Army Depth Chart
- 2008 Army Preview |
2007 Army Preview | 2006 Army Preview 

What you need to know: The defense made an overall improvement last year, and now it should be truly interesting with the new swarming defense. Co-coordinators Payam Saadat and Chris Smelland will rely on the quickness and toughness of the back seven to fly around all over the place and get to the ball, but the key to the D could be the play of the smallish defensive front. Josh McNary is a tremendous pass rusher who needs to do even more at one end, while the tackles will be active and decent. Size is a problem all across the board, but there's enough depth to keep a good rotation going to keep everyone relatively fresh. The double-eagle flex defense will hang the corners out to dry from time to time, meaning Mario Hill has to come through with a huge season.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Stephen Anderson, 82
Sacks: Josh McNary, 4.5
Interceptions: Donovan Travis, 2

Star of the defense: Junior DE Josh McNary
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior CB Mario Hill
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Andrew Rodriguez
Best pro prospect: Senior Victor Ugenyi
Top three all-star candidates: 1) McNary, 2) LB Stephen Anderson, 3) DT Victor Ugenyi
Strength of the defense: The Scheme, Linebackers
Weakness of the defense: Size, Interceptions

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: With all the movement up front, with the coaching staff tinkering around to find the right combination, the biggest move was taking 6-3, 262-pound senior Victor Ugenyi and moving him from end to tackle. He's one of the team's best veteran linemen and one of the most productive with the motor and the toughness to make plays no matter where he's at. He'll start at left tackle after making 36 tackles with four sacks and six tackles for loss, and now he should be a strong interior pass rusher.

With Ugenyi moving, it'll be up to Marcus Hilton to be the new starter on the end. The 6-0, 247-pound junior only made three tackles last year, even though he played in every game and got two starts. He has to be a pass rusher and has to camp out in the backfield because he'll be a minor factor against the run.

Junior Josh McNary started most of last year on the end, and will start in the team's Quick End position coming off a 69-tackle season with 4.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss with five broken up passes. He started the first three games at linebacker and should go ballistic with his role in the new defense. He should be a pass rushing terror.

If his knee is healthy, Mike Gann should be the team's best run stopping tackle. The 6-2, 270-pound junior missed almost all of last year with the knee problem after making ten tackles in three games. He made 22 stops as a reserve two years ago and should be healthy and ready to go again come fall.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-3, 252-pound sophomore Chris Swain is a rising star on the line getting boatloads of praise from the coaching staff after a strong spring. While he's undersized on the inside, he's tough as nails and quick enough to be a regular in the backfield. He'll work in combination with Gann on the right side.

Combining forces with Ugenyi at left tackle will be Fritz Bentler, a 6-3, 248-pound tackle who started ten times last year with one start at end. While he's woefully undersized, he was able to make 18 tackles in the rotation. However, he didn't do enough to get into the backfield and will need to grow as an interior pass rusher.

Watch Out For ... sacks. A lot more sacks, and a lot more plays in the backfield. Cal Poly finished second in the nation among FCS teams in sacks and was good in tackles for loss. This is a quick line that will be turned loose from day one.
Strength: The scheme. Army's double-eagle flex defense mostly helps out the back seven, but it all starts up front with a line that will have to use its quickness to get into the backfield. The coaching staff will want to apply pressure from all angles. That should free up the front four.
Size. There isn't much. It'll take a rotation of players to hold up against anyone with a big, tough offensive line. Teams that want to pound away should be able to.
Outlook: After a few miserable years with next to no production and getting shoved around by everyone, the line took a decent step forward. It wasn't a brick wall, but it was good enough to get by. Now it should be one of the team's strengths as it's been the fastest area of the team to take to the new coaching staff. This should be a nice, effective line for what the D wants to do.
Rating: 5


Projected Starters: Singled out by the coaches as one of the team's best defensive players is junior Stephen Anderson, the team' leading returning tackler after making 82 stops with two sacks and 11 tackles for loss. A huge hitter, he also broke up six passes and came up with a team-leading five forced fumbles. While he's only 5-10 and 219 pounds, and he's built for the weakside, he'll start in the middle. He has also seen some time at defensive end early in his career.

With Anderson moving, it'll be up to Andrew Rodriguez to take over at the Whip. The 6-3, 210-pound sophomore was fantastic this spring and is expected to become a major producer. He has fantastic range and is a good playmaker with the range to make things happen against the pass as well as against the run.

6-1, 215-pound sophomore Steve Erzinger will work at the Rover, the hybrid of linebacker and strong safety. This is one of the big star positions in the new defense, and he's not starting from scratch after making five tackles as a top special teamer. Built like a safety, he runs like one, too.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Sean Westphal will see time at the Rover spot in a combination with Erzinger, but he hasn't seen any action yet. At 6-1 and 205 pounds he's not built to be a linebacker, but he'll be tried out there after starting out his career as a safety. He was a good tackler in practices, and now it has to translate to the field.

Expected to be strong in pass coverage is Chad Thayer, a 6-0, 198-pound defensive back who'll work on the weakside. He has great range, but he has to show he can hold up when a blocker locks on.

Finding a rotation in the middle will be vital to keep Anderson fresh. The combination of sophomores Andre Shinda and Bill Prosko should see plenty of action throughout the course of the year, and if one of them turns out to be fantastic, Anderson can move back to the outside. Shinda is a corner-sized 6-0, 199-pounder playing in the middle, while Prosko, at 6-2 and 210 pounds, is roughly the size of the biggest linebackers. They can both hit, but they're way small for the position.

Watch Out For ... Rodriguez. Anderson is the best of the linebackers, Erzinger should show off the most  at Rover, but Rodriguez is one of the stars going into the fall. It'll be a shock if he's not one of the team's top three tacklers.
Active tacklers. Everyone can make stops in this group, and considering the linebackers are supposed to be the stars in this defensive scheme, there should be plenty of big plays and plenty of big stats.
Size. This is a really big problem area that will force there to be a steady rotation to keep everyone alive. The linebackers are all safety-sized, at best.
Outlook: There's a major overhaul of players, but the replacements appear to be strong with Rodriguez and Erzinger certain to put up big numbers. Anderson isn't big, but he's a great option for the middle and should be in on every play. The pressure will be on for the linebackers to be the stars, and this group has just enough quickness to make it happen.
Rating: 5.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: It's not an overstatement to call Mario Hill the team's most important player. On the Army defense, the Field Corner will have to be a star since he'll be hung out to dry more often than not, and he should be up to the task. The 6-0, 175-pounder has decent size and isn't afraid to hit, making 28 tackles with six broken up passes, but he didn't come up with a pick. One of the team's fastest players, it'll be his job to stay with everyone's No. 1 target.

On the other side will be Richard King, at least to start out the season. He's in a battle for the starting job after making 18 tackles with an interception in a backup role, and now he appears ready to make a big impact. A solid 5-11 and 190 pounds, he's a tough hitter who spent most of last year as a nickel back. While he missed part of last year with a leg injury, he's 100%.

6-1, 187-pound junior Donovan Travis returns to his starting free safety spot after making 64 tackles with two interceptions and four broken up passes. He's a ball-hawker who'll get more room to move and more of a license to free lance and make plays. With good upside, he should be one of the team's top five tacklers and even more of a playmaker.

Taking over at strong safety will be Desmond Lamb, a 6-2, 193-pound junior who was hurt in spring ball but will be a major producer. He saw time in every game making seven tackles with a sack and is expected to be a rock at the position for the next two years. He's not being pushed at all for the job.

Projected Top Reserves: Combining forces at Boundary Corner will be Jordan Trimble, who's listed as the co-starter along with King. The 5-10, 181-pound junior made 14 tackles as a plebe and was on his way to a huge season with 29 tackles in six games before suffering a knee injury. When he's right, he'll either be the starter of the top nickel back.

Sophomore Antuan Aaron was used a bit as a linebacker and could end up as a Rover. However, he's really fast and really athletic, getting a long look at the Field Corner job after making 28 tackles and starting six times last year. He's a feisty 5-9 and 193 pounds and will shove around the more physical receivers.

Watch Out For ... a steady rotation at corner. There are four solid options at corner with the ability to come up with good nickel and dime packages using all the players. Hill is a sure-thing, but the other spot could be open and all the corners will end up seeing time.
Hill. He has to do more when the ball is in the air and he has to make offenses fear him, but he has the quickness and ability to be on an island, which is what the defense desperately needs.
Interceptions. Linebacker Frank Scappaticci led the team with three interceptions. The rest of the defense came up with four picks.
Outlook: The secondary will look a lot better now that there will be more pressure into the backfield from the front seven and more sacks. However, there will also be more big plays from the deep passing games and there will be times when the DBs won't be up to the task. Overall, this will be a better pass defense with a good rotation and nice upside for 2010.
Rating: 5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Junior Matthew Campbell is back after a nice year hitting 8-of-12 field goal attempts. He doesn't have the biggest leg, but two of his misses were beyond 50 yards and he's a rock from close range. He could be a difference-maker with his consistency and accuracy.

Junior Jonathan Bulls will take over the punting duties after the loss of Andrew Rinehart, who averaged 39.2 yards per kick but put a ridiculous 23 kicks inside the 20. Bulls is the better, safety option, but sophomore Kolin Walk has the monster leg and should be used from time to time to air it out.

After a miserable year in the return game, Army will look to Damion Hunter to handle both duties. Josh Johnes will get a few chances to win at least one of the spots, but Hunter is the more dangerous option. Patrick Mealy will be in the hunt to take back a kickoff returner job after averaging 24.2 yards per try. 

Watch Out For ... the punting battle. Call it a coin flip between Bulls and Walk. They're all but dead even for the battle, but Bulls likely has the edge.
Rich Ellerson. How much of an emphasis will there be on the special teams? The head coach will be overseeing the duties and is making a very, very big deal out of improving in all areas. 
The return game. This was the biggest issue last year, finishing 110th in the nation in punt returns and 102nd in kickoff returns. Ellerson has said this is the one problem area that might end up being one of the final pieces of the puzzle to work on.
Outlook: The kicking game will be fine. Campbell is a proven producer and the punting should be solid. The returners need to provide more pop an the coverage teams have to be night-and-day better. Army isn't good enough to lose the special teams battle.
Rating: 6