2010 Army Preview - Defense
Army LB Stephen Anderson
Army LB Stephen Anderson
Posted May 6, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Army Black Knight Defense

Army Black Knights

Preview 2010 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: For all the talk and all the focus on the offensive changes, the defense underwent the bigger and more productive overhaul. The Double-Eagle Flex system worked, and while it's not like the Black Knights were facing a who's who of offenses, it was still a great year considering the transition. Now the production should be even better with the nation's No. 3 pass defense (again, there wasn't a future Peyton Manning to deal with among the opposing quarterbacks) get back three starters and more than enough experience to be even better. As long as Stephen Anderson's knee is fine, the linebacking corps should be loaded, while the defensive front gets back pass rushing terror Josh McNary along with solid tackle Mike Gann. Size is a mega-problem, but there are plenty of interchangeable parts for a good rotation.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Andrew Rodriguez, 85
Sacks: Josh McNary, 12.5
Interceptions: Donovan Travis, 4

Star of the defense: Senior DE Josh McNary
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior DE Marcus Hilton
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE/LB Nate Combs
Best pro prospect: McNary
Top three all-star candidates: 1) McNary, 2) LB Stephen Alexander, 3) LB Andrew Rodriguez
Strength of the defense: Pass Defense, Linebacker
Weakness of the defense: Size, Defensive Tackle

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The line has a superstar pass rusher to work around in Josh McNary , an undersized 6-1, 225-pound senior who made 12.5 sacks, 22.5 tackles for loss, and 65 tackles after making 4.5 sacks and 69 stops the year before. Extremely quick and very versatile, he's almost more like an outside linebacker than a true end, but he produces no matter where he is. It's his job to get into the backfield and be disruptive, and he showed he can handle the workload after being turned loose.

Army doesn't exactly get dominant defensive tackles walking through the door on regular basis making the loss of top interior presence Victor Ugenyi tough. The line is switching up the formation, but junior Mike Gann has to be a big run stopper on the inside after starting every game at tackle with Ugenyi next to him. At 6-2 and 275 pounds he's by far the team's biggest lineman and he can also get into the backfield with a sack and seven tackles for loss to go along with 34 tackles. Holding up is a must after suffering a knee problem early in his career.

With the slight change up on the line, it'll be up to senior Marcus Hilton to play a bigger role after starting the opener on the end and working the rest of the season as a key reserve making 27 tackles with a tackle for loss. At 6-0 and 247 pounds he's not all that big, and he has to make up for it by being more of a pass rusher. Unable to do much in the backfield last year, he's a key player up front to take the heat off of McNary.

Playing a newly created hybrid role called the Whip Bandit will be sophomore Nate Combs, a promising 6-2, 207-pound speedster who's tough enough to play middle linebacker and speedy enough to work on the outside. He didn't do anything in his few appearances last year, but that should change in a big hurry as he gets to fly around and be disruptive. It'll be his job to try to make big plays, and if this spring was any indication he should be able to handle that.

Projected Top Reserves: Considering the need for bulk up front, sophomore Chris Swain has to play a big role as a backup behind Mike Gann and as an occasional second tackle. At 6-3 and 260 pounds he's huge by Army's standards up front, and he's experienced making 17 tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss seeing spot starting duty.

6-2, 225-pound sophomore Jarrett Mackey appears ready to make a big jump in his second year after making two tackles in a limited role. The understudy behind Josh McNary as the Quick End, he's a dangerous pass rushing option who can be used on either side and will get his chances from time to time to pin his ears back to get into the backfield.

Watch Out For … the Whip Bandit. It'll be Combs at the helm to start, and whoever gets to step into the position should be able to rock and roll with big numbers. It'll also help to have McNary on the other side.
Strength: Aggressiveness. The coaching staff doesn't hide the lack of bulk and tries to make up for it by getting all four spots to fly around to try to make plays. There will be plenty of sacks and plenty of tackles for loss. When Rich Ellerson was at Cal Poly, his defenses almost always were among the FCS leaders in sacks.
Weakness: Size. Forget about it. There's the 275-pound Gann and a bunch of linebackers who'll try to hold up. It'll take a great rotation to keep the front four from wearing down.
Outlook: Of all the areas to adjust last year, the line made the quickest transition. The system worked last season and it should be decent again even after the tough loss of top tackle Victor Ugenyi. The coaching staff is preparing to live life with no size up front and is working even harder to get more aggressive and more athletic. The result should be more flying around from the front four, a more regular rotation, and mega-problems at times against anyone with a big, bulky offensive front. The line will hold its own, though.
Unit Rating: 5


Projected Starters: The one player above everyone else who the coaching staff raved over after first taking over was Stephen Anderson, a 5-10, 229-pound big hitter who led the team with 82 tackles in 2008 . He was having a whale of a 2009 with 83 stops with 2.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss in his first nine games before suffering a season-ending knee injury against Air Force. A disruptive force when he's 100%, he's expected to be ready just in time to start the season, but there's a big question mark whether or not he'll be back to his same self so quickly. He might not have the same range, but everything will funnel into him.

With Anderson getting knocked out, Andrew Rodriguez ended up leading the team in tackles from his Whip position making 85 stops with two interceptions and three broken up passes. The 6-3, 210-pound sophomore has been terrific over in the new defense showing off tremendous range and good pass coverage skills. He might be built like a safety, but he moves like it.

While Rover Steve Erzinger might have finished third on the team with 71 tackles, he came up with more unassisted stops then Andrew Rodriguez or Stephen Anderson. The 6-1, 215-pound hybrid started every game, and while he didn't do enough against the pass, he was all over the field getting in on everything. Great in the open field, he should be a game-changer now that he knows what he's doing.

Projected Top Reserves: With Stephen Anderson hurting, the coaching staff made a huge move taking fullback Kingsley Ehie and moving him to middle linebacker. A 5-10, 210-pound bruising runner, he came up with 473 yards and two touchdowns as the man for the inside, but he's needed this year to be a physical presence in the middle of the defense. He looked like a natural in the spot this spring.

6-0, 229-pound junior Chad Littlejohn took over the backup job at the Whip position on the weakside. One of the team's bigger linebackers, and bigger than a few of the defensive linemen, he'll be needed to play a big part of the rotation for the running game and he should put up nice stats even as a reserve.

Watch Out For … Ehie. It's asking way too much for Anderson to be back to new so soon after a major knee injury, but Ehie looks the part. He's athletic enough and good enough to be a statistical superstar if the middle job turns out to be his.
Strength: Tackling. Assuming Anderson is healthy, the Black Knights have a few nice linebackers who don't miss any stops. They're not all that big, but they're the textbook definition of scrappy.
Weakness: Size and numbers. While the entire Army defense is full of linebacker-sized players, there aren't all that many true linebacker options. Size is always a problem for the team, but the linebackers might have a hard time holding up having to take on more with a smallish line in the front.
Outlook: If Anderson is on the field, Army has a whale of a threesome with Rodriguez a good veteran who's overdue for more national recognition and Erzinger a tremendous playmaker. Ehie is a natural linebacker who'll be the team's leading tackler at some point before his career is up. Everyone can run and everyone can tackle, but can the group hold up against power teams? That's going to be the ongoing issue for this defense.
Unit Rating: 6


Projected Starters: Back again at his starting free safety spot is senior Donovan Travis, a 6-1, 190-pound hitter who tied for third on the team with 71 tackles and led the way with 45 solo stops. Also a ball hawk, he was by far the team's leading pick-off artist with four interceptions. Great with room to move, he was given far more responsibility last year and it paid off with a huge year. With the coaches' trust, he'll be allowed to freelance even more.

Senior Donnie Dixon went from being an afterthought of a special teamer to a decent strong safety. He only made 29 tackles with a sack and four tackles for loss at the Sam, but he's reliable, didn't make many mistakes, and should be involved far more against the run this year. At 6-0 and 196 pounds, he has decent size and provides a good pop.

After spending all year at the Boundary corner, 5-9, 193-pound senior Antuan Aaron will get more responsibility and more ground to cover on the Field side. Extremely quick, and tough enough to be used as a linebacker early on, he has the make-up to handle the job after coming up with 52 tackles and five broken up passes with an interception. He's feisty and isn't afraid to shove some people around.

Back after missing all of last year with a concussion is Richard King, a 5-11, 188-pound corner who has decent size and is one of the team's quicker defenders. He'll start out on the Boundary side after making 18 tackles and a pick as a key reserve in 2008, and he appears ready to do more. There's no rust from the years off, but now he has to prove he can stay healthy after suffering a leg injury early in his career to go along with the head problem.

Projected Top Reserves: Originally considered neck-and-neck for a starting corner job, senior Jordan Trimble might as well be considered a starter at safety. While he'll play behind Donnie Dixon at strong safety, the 5-10, 190-pounder has five starts and 29 games of time logged in with 46 career tackles, but he'd be far more productive with more work thrown his way. A knee injury slowed down his career in 2008 and he's just now back to his old form.

The potential is there for sophomore Joshua Jackson to be the team's best corner. At 5-11 and 175 pounds he's a bit thin, and he only made three tackles in his first year at the helm, but all the tools are there to be fantastic. He has the range and the raw quickness to handle the Field side, and now he just needs more time on the field. If nothing else, he'll work as a key nickel and dime defender.

Watch Out For … Jackson. It'll be hard to crack a veteran secondary that was air-tight at times last year, but if Jackson can make a few big plays early, there's a chance he could knock out one of the starting corners from a job.
Strength: Experience. The Black Knights get three starters back from last year and King, who might as well be considered a starter even though he missed the 2009 campaign. Throw in Trimble, Jackson, and other veterans and the secondary is set with experience.
Weakness: Blazing speed. This is a quick secondary full of excellent athletes, but there aren't any flashes of lightning. Teams will test the defensive backs deep more often just to see if they can stretch the field a bit more.
Outlook: Army finished third in the nation last year in pass defense, but that was a little bit of a mirage considering the schedule wasn't exactly filled with top-shelf passers. Even so, the defense and the scheme worked and the secondary did its part. Now with everyone of note back, there's no reason to expect a big-time slip in any way.
Unit Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Junior Alex Carlton took over the placekicking job and had a nice season nailing 18-of-24 field goals and showing fantastic range connecting on 6-of-8 from beyond 40 including a 51-yarder against Vanderbilt. While there's no question that he's the starter, senior Matthew Campbell can step in and produce after hitting 8-of-12 field goal tries in 2008. Campbell handles the kickoffs.

Senior Jonathan Bulls only averaged 39.2 yards per kick, but that's misleading. He put in incredible 25 punts inside the 20 with a mere two touchbacks. He might not have a cannon for a leg, but it's good enough.

RB Patrick Mealy will be the prime kickoff returner taking over for Damion Hunter, but he only averaged 11.8 yards per try on his four attempts. Josh Jones will handle the punt return duties again after averaging a mere 5.8 yards per try.

Watch Out For … some concerns about Carlton. After a while of a 2009 season, he struggled this spring finishing up with a puzzling 1-of-3 performance in the final scrimmage. Campbell can step in, but Army needs Carlton to be Carlton again.
Strength: Accuracy. Bulls is a placement specialist while Carlton (at least last year) was a rock and a difference maker.
Weakness: Returns. Field position is a must for the Knight offense, and it didn't get it as the kickoff return team finished 104th in the nation while the punt return game was 105th.
Outlook: The head man himself, Rich Ellerson, handles the special teams duties and he's always looking for improvement. He did a great job with the kicking game last year, but the coverage teams have to be more consistent and the return game now needs more pop.
Unit Rating: 6

- 2010 Army Preview | 2010 Army Offense
- 2010 Army Defense | 2010 Army Depth Chart
- Army Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006