2010 Army Preview
Army DE Josh McNary
Is Army ready to turn the corner and become Navy-like? In the second year under head coach Rich Ellerson, yeah, the Black Knights might really be that good. Check out the preview for one of the more interesting non-BCS teams, the Army Black Knights
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It takes something creative, quirky, and a bit out-of-the-box to put together a strong team at a service academy. Air Force has been able to find its niche, Navy started to rock one Paul Johnson's option offense arrived, and Army appears to be on the verge of making a big splash of its own thanks to an inventive head coach of its own.
Head coach: Rich Ellerson
2nd year: 5-7
11th year overall: 65-48
Off. 20, Def. 25, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 22
Ten Best Army Players
1. DE Josh McNary, Sr.
2. LB Stephen Anderson, Sr.
3. QB Trent Steelman, Soph.
4. FB Jared Hassin, Soph.
5. RB Patrick Mealy, Sr.
6. LB Andrew Rodriguez, Jr.
7. DT Mike Gann, Jr.
8. C Zach Peterson, Sr.
9. LB Steve Erzinger, Jr.
10. S Donnie Dixon, Sr.
Sept. 4 at Eastern Mich
Sept. 11 Hawaii
Sept. 18 North Texas
Sept. 25 at Duke
Oct. 2 Temple
Oct. 9 at Tulane
Oct. 16 at Rutgers
Oct. 23 OPEN DATE
Oct. 30 VMI
Nov. 6 Air Force
Nov. 13 at Kent St
Nov. 20 No. Dame (in NYC)
Nov. 27 OPEN DATE
Dec. 11 Navy (in Phil.)
Who puts a 6-10 offensive tackle at wide receiver … and makes him the No. 1 target? Army head man Rich Ellerson did that last year, and Ali Villanueva led the team in receiving, averaged 15.4 yards per catch, and caught all five of the team's touchdown passes.
It's just that sort of invention that put Army on the path to being a real, live football program again. The coaches are seeing the future and adjusting to the limitations of the program to make sure that the production is there no matter what. Size is always going to be a problem up front, so Ellerson and the coaches came up with a tweak to the Double-Eagle Flex scheme and added a quicker hybrid end to add even more aggressiveness to the mix.
The team needed a good backup middle linebacker, so off went fullback Kingsley Ehie to fill the role. The offense needed a strong No. 3 receiver option, so linebacker Kyler Martin (who actually started out as a receiver) will make the move. Of course, changing around positions is a way of life for every team, but few are able to push the right buttons to make everything work like Ellerson can.
The Black Knights went through a year of transition and came up with a solid 5-7 campaign. While that might not seem like much, it's a really, really big deal at a place that hadn't won more than four games since 1996. After 12 years of disastrous football, Ellerson got results in just one short year. And now everyone knows what they're doing.
The defense is loaded with experience with everyone of note returning in the secondary, all three starting linebackers coming back, and with pass rushing terror Josh McNary leading a decent line. The offense gets four starters back on the offensive line, all the top running backs, a quarterback in Trent Steelman who has a year of time under his belt, and a new star in fullback Jared Hassin to provide an inside presence.
Now there's no reason to not shoot for a bowl game, and possibly even a win over Navy. The program is still trying to make the changes needed to succeed using Ellerson's style, but the time is now for the production to come. For long suffering Army football fans, this is the year you've been waiting for.
What to watch for on offense: Jared Hassin. The Ellerson option attack needs a bruising, talented fullback as a base for everything else to work from, and in steps the new star of the show. Hassin, a transfer from Air Force, wasn't able to become eligible last year, but now he's ready and the brings his 6-3, 218-pound size to a running game that needs a physical presence. All of a sudden, watch how wide open the outside becomes for the veteran speed backs.
What to watch for on defense: The knee of Stephen Anderson. The senior middle linebacker was on his way to a phenomenal year making 83 tackles in just nine games, and then he hurt his knee against Air Force. He's expected to be back and he's supposed to be fine, but it's asking a lot to be that good again that quickly after such an injury. The coaching staff has added more pop and more athleticism to the defense with the Whip Bandit position to help out the linebackers, and Kingsley Ehie is a solid backup option if Anderson isn't right, but the Black Knights need their force in the middle.
The team will be far better if … it can throw the forward pass. Ellerson's Cal Poly offense was tremendous running the ball and was second in the FCS in 2008 in passing efficiency. Last year's Army team was abysmal through the air, and just didn't even try in some occasions with five game with fewer than ten passing attempts. The Army quarterbacks combined to complete just 45% of their passes for 861 yards and five touchdowns with five interceptions. As good as the running game is going to be, there has to be at least the threat of the pass now and then.
The schedule: It's a soft breeze. Granted, there are some big name games against Notre Dame, Rutgers, and Duke, but that's it. Air Force comes to Michie Stadium, the battle with the Irish is in Yankee Stadium, and the Navy showdown is in Philadelphia. The Black Knights play just five true road games, and only the date with Rutgers might not be winnable. With games against Eastern Michigan, Hawaii, and North Texas to start the year, a 3-0 base is likely before going to Duke and facing a nasty Temple team. With VMI and Kent State also on the slate, five wins should be a lock. The elusive sixth win, though, will take an upset, and that's assuming there aren't any slip ups along the way against the beatable teams.
Best offensive player: Sophomore QB Trent Steelman. A top recruit who was brought in as the perfect fit for the Ellerson offense, Steelman didn't waste any time taking over the job as a true freshman. He improved his passing this spring and should be more than just serviceable, but his real talent is running the ball and running the ground attack. He should become a special leader and playmaker over the next three seasons.
Best defensive player: Senior DE Josh McNary. While he's only 6-1 and 225 pounds, he's a devastating end who holds up well against bigger linemen and can run around most of them. He had a good sophomore campaign, and then the new coaching staff showed up and the defense was a perfect fit. Turned loose, 12.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss with 65 tackles was just scratching the surface of what he can do.
Key player to a successful season: Junior DT Mike Gann. The Knights have no experienced size whatsoever up front outside of Gann. The veteran tackle isn't huge at 6-2 and 275 pounds, but he might as well be Terrence Cody compared to the rest of the front. If he goes down for any stretch, the coaching staff will have to get really, really creative.
The season will be a success if … Army gets to a bowl game. The 1996 Independence Bowl was the last time Army went to a bowl game, and before that the previous bowl appearance was the 1988 Sun Bowl. Army is locked in to the Bell Helicopters Armed Forces Bowl, and all it has to do is come up with six wins. With the loaded team returning and after winning games last year, anything less would be considered a failure.
Key game: Dec. 11 vs. Navy. Enough is enough. Beating teams like Temple and Air Force would be great, and a win over Notre Dame would be phenomenal, but for Army's season to be a success it has to finally come up with a victory over its archrival. The Midshipmen have won eight straight in the series and should be as good as they've been in years, so it's not going to be easy, but Army is going to be good enough to finally get it done.
2009 Fun Stats:
- Sacks: Army 23 for 195 yards – Opponents 10 for 67 yards
- First half scoring: Army 92- Opponents 85
- Second half scoring: Opponents 177 – Army 89
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