2009 Army Preview - Defense
Army DT Victor Ugenyi
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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
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
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
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
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.
Weakness: 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Strength: 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
Weakness: 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.
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%.
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
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.
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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: Interceptions. Linebacker Frank Scappaticci led the
team with three interceptions. The rest of the defense came up with four
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.
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
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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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.