It looked like Rich Ellerson had turned around the fortunes of the Black Knights when he led them to a 16-14 Armed Forces Bowl win over a decent SMU in 2010. However, after winning 7 games that year, Army has won just 8 games since, and that rapid demise cost Ellerson his job. Step forward Jeff Monken, the new man charged with turning around Army, who otherwise haven’t had a winning season since finishing 10-2 in 1996! Monken looks like the right man for the job too. He’s responsible for Georgia Southern’s recent success, leading them to a 38-16 record over the last 4 years. More importantly, he runs a similar system to the triple option, which Army traditionally use, although he has updated areas of it. Can he work his magic in West Point? Time will tell.
Note: Army don’t release details of recruits until they arrive on campus, so we can’t gauge the impact of freshmen at this early stage.
There was little surprise to the Army offense last season. They ran the ball a lot – well – and passed a little – not so well – but they were surprisingly competitive thanks to that running attack. Angel Santiago (the runner) won the starting job at quarterback over AJ Schurr (the passer) and Kelvin White, and he did okay, rushing for 593 yards and 10 TDs, but he threw just 2 TD passes in 93 attempts. The trio will battle it out again in camp, but Santiago’s running ability will give him the edge. Top rusher Raymond Maples only lasted 3 games into the season, but Terry Baggett (1113 yds, 8 TDs) stepped it up and eased the loss of their star. Fullback Larry Dixon was banged up and missed some time, but still added 699 yards and 6 scores. When you rush for 310 yards per game without a passing attack, the offensive line has to get a lot of the credit, and this was a great unit. Not one starter missed a game, and left tackle Michael Kime, center Ryan Powis and left guard Stephen Schumaker all made Phil Steele’s all-Independents team. There were some big surprises on offense, but the biggest was freshman Xavier Moss, who caught an impressive (by Navy standards) 35 passes for 463 yards and a TD.
The good news is, almost everyone is back, with 9 starters returning. The departing players are, unfortunately, Kime and right guard Zach Reichert, but the academies have never had much trouble plugging in new offensive linemen, and Ellerson hasn’t left the cupboard bare. Nick Bennett backed up Kime, while Matt Hugenberg was the reserve at right guard. Both will get a shot, but there should be plenty of competition. As he did last season, Terry Baggett will take over as the main ball carrier. Dixon will continue as fullback, but his inability to stay healthy is a concern, although he is excellent when he’s on. Trenton Turrentine and Tony Giovanelli took over for Maples and combined for 599 yards and a TD, and will compete for the starting job. Receiver looks to be in capable hands with Moss back to provide a target, but the number 2 receiver, Chevaughn Lawrence only caught 10 passes, although he’s back. Hopefully some of the young guys can step it up, as a threat of a passing game could really open up the offense.
The Black Knight defense improved a little over the 2012 edition, but it certainly was nothing to write home about. It is expected that the Army defense will struggle against the run, due in no small part to the defensive line generally being outweighed by about 50 pounds per man. Still, Army were gutted at times last season, giving up 213 yards per game, although they stiffened in the redzone. Defensive end Robert Kough was the star of the line, making 8 of his 33 tackles in the opponents backfield, although he led the team with a mere 3 sacks. The linebackers at the academies are usually active types, and last year’s were no different. Shaquille Tolbert and Jarrett Mackey combined for 111 tackles, with 8 for loss. In the secondary, safeties Thomas Holloway and Geofferey Bacon combined for 129 tackles, despite playing in just 8 games each. Freshman corner was the best of the bunch though, making 34 tackles and 2 interceptions, while knocking down 6 passes.
Like the offense, the defense only loses a couple of starters, and the unit should be better in 2014. First they have to find a way to get more production out of the line. Kough, end Mike Ugenyi (6.5 TFLs) and nose tackle Richard Glover (5 TFLs) have plenty of experience, and it’s hard to envision anyone beating them out. Dalton Mendenhall was the quick end, but missed a lot of time to injury. He will be pushed in camp though. Mackey is gone at linebacker, but Tolbert will be back to lead the unit. The middle linebacker was manned by a bunch of guys, but settling on one will be a focus in camp, as will replacing Mackey. Colby MIller finished the season in the middle and did a good job, while Mitch McKearn could replace Mackey after a brief stint on offense. Holloway’s brother Julian will be in the mix after earning a few starts midseason. The secondary should be decent, although the elder Holloway needs to be replaced. Jenkins and Chris Carnegie should form a decent pairing at corner in their second season together, and Bacon should be back to top form after an injury-hampered year – he is a star when healthy. Justin Trimble played well enough in replacing Holloway to earn a look in training camp, but he’s no lock to start.
Daniel Grochowski didn’t get a lot of opportunities last season, but he made 8 of his 11 kicks, including a 48-yarder. Punter Alex Tardieu didn’t have a very impressive gross (37.3), but he was accurate and only had 16 punts returned. Julian Crockett and Trimble were pedestrian at best returning kicks and punts, but the coverage units were strong.
Grochowski and Tardieu are both back this season, although Ralph Freibert will get a shot at punter. The Black Knights need new returners, but likely would have opened competition after last season. They need far better efforts to help out the offense. This should be a decent unit, at least with the specialists.
New coach, new expectations, and so forth. How far are the Black Knights from contending for bowl games? Probably not as far as you may think despite the last 3 years. The biggest concern over the last number of years has been speed (can’t help the lack of size, unfortunately), and Ellerson has improved the team in that area. With 18 returning starters, plus both specialists, and a manageable schedule could see Army win 6 or 7 games. Even if they can’t get the defense to tighten up, 4 or 5 could be a possibility.
Tags: Alex Tardieu Angel Santiago Army Black Knights Chevaughn Lawrence Chris Carnegie Colby Miller Dalton Mendenhall Daniel Grochowski Geofferey Bacon Independents Football Jeff Monken Josh Jenkins Julian Crockett Justin Trimble Larry Dixon Matt Hugenberg Mike Ugenyi Mitch McKearn Nick Bennett Ralph Freibert Richard Glover Robert Kough Shaquille Tolbert Stephen Shumaker Terry Baggett Thomas Holloway Tony Giovanelli Trenton Turrentine Xavier Moss