Army Football Preview: Defense and Special Teams
With less than two weeks to go before the season’s first real college football, it’s finally time to preview the 2019 Army Football team. We’ll preview defense and special teams first. Next week, we take a look at Army’s offense.
In reading this, remember: all college football teams are works-in-progress. This is doubly true for Army. The Black Knights recruit many more players than most colleges but far fewer obvious athletic standouts. Imagine creating a pro team with 130 players instead of the standard 53 but having the roster entirely composed of 6th and 7th round pics, along with unlimited undrafted free agents. This leaves Head Coach Jeff Monken and company little choice but to play the guys who practice the hardest and improve the most in their time at the Academy. Moreover, the last few years have shown that the guys who start in Week 1 are not necessarily the same guys who will start in Week 3, especially on defense. Recent high-impact players such as CBs Brandon Jackson and Mike Reynolds and current captain LB Cole Christiansen all got their starts after the season had gotten underway. This preview is therefore intended mostly to provide an overview of each position group and to introduce a few key names. Please keep in mind, however, that things can change in college football, especially at Army.
The Black Knights will introduce three new starters on the D-Line, though all three come with extensive in-game experience. NT Jacob Covington looks to take over from Wunmu Oyetuga, but I don’t expect any drop off. It’s true that Oyetuga played great last season, and he’s maybe a little larger than Covington. However, Covington saw a lot of action last season, too, and he was often mentioned as one of Army’s best, most improved players. It’s unclear who will back Covington up, but the post-spring depth chart lists yearling Kwabena Bonsu. More likely, that second spot will go to the best man at Summer Camp.
Firstie NG Rod Stoddard returns for the Black Knights, but with the graduation of Raymond Wright and Cordarrell Davis, the rest of what has generally been a three-man rotation is up for grabs. Stoddard is listed at 5’11”, 280, playing one of the few positions where Army generally likes to have as stout a body as possible on the line. Connor Smith and Nick Stokes were listed behind Stoddard on the post-spring depth chart, but again, this is one of those spots were the full rotation probably won’t settle itself until we’re well into the season.
At Defensive End,
previous starter Edriece Patterson has graduated but firstie Jake Ellington returns to lead a rotation that will undoubtedly include a number of young, talented players. Yearling Nolan Cockrill came out of the spring listed at number two. I don’t want to sell Ellington and Cockrill short, but Patterson is going to be tough to replace.
Verdict: Technically there aren’t any returning starters, but because Army rotates its D-Line so frequently, all the new starters come have already seen plenty of time on the field. The real concern is depth. The Black Knights will need to get contributions from some of their younger players in order to be successful. On the flipside, Army has recruited some real talent on the D-Line recently, and it can help future recruiting when young players get a chance to contribute. We’ll almost certainly see some youngsters playing along the D-Line.
— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) August 12, 2019
Firstie Cole Christiansen and yearling Arik Smith will get the start inside while cow Jeremiah Lowery moves up to replace four-year starter Kenneth Brinson at Rush and firstie Amadeo West takes over for Chandler Ramirez at Sam.
Inside linebacker is arguably Army’s deepest position group, and Christiansen is a known stud. Similarly, coaches have been raving about Smith for months, and if he falters, firstie Ryan Parker will no doubt pick up the slack. Waiting in the wings are yearling Kemonte Yow and highly recruited cow Jon Rhattigan, both of whom seems to be having a very good camp. These guys are all more than capable, and the ones who don’t start will no doubt contribute on special teams.
The place to be worried is on the outside. West has talent to spare, but he’s also had trouble staying healthy while Lowery has to replace one of the most talented and productive players Army Football has seen in recent history.
Verdict: Army will be fine at inside linebacker, but they might miss Brinson’s versatility. Brinson was such a good player that he forced opposing offenses to account specifically for his talent, creating opportunities for his teammates. If West can stay healthy, then maybe he has the kind of season that Alex Aukerman had as a firstie, but that’s a best-case scenario. It’s also possible that Army just can’t get as much pressure from their outside linebackers. That could create a serious systemic problem for this defense’s ability to blitz.
— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) August 11, 2019
Firstie FS Jaylon McClinton is one of the best players on the Army Football team. He’s a versatile defender who’s a more than adequate cornerback in a pinch, and he’s a hard-hitting ball-hawk to boot. Having McClinton back there helps immensely, though I expect the team will miss his former partner Max Regan, who graduated. Meanwhile, firstie Cam Jones looks to take over for James “Gibby” Gibson at the boundary safety spot. Jones has seen plenty of action, but there was a noticeable drop-off last year when Gibson went out, most notably in the Miami (Ohio) game. Maybe Jones improves now that he’s getting starter’s reps — Gibson did — but as of this writing, he’s not a known commodity.
It’s a similar story at cornerback. Firstie captain Elijah Riley is one of the best players on the team, a four-year starter who’s proven he can cover anyone. But CB Javhari Bourdeau is listed as the other starter, and although Bourdeau improved last season, this team will miss now-graduated Mike Reynolds.
Verdict: Look for some youngsters to step up in the secondary. Riley and McClinton both emerged early in their cadet careers, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bourdeau and Jones having to really work to hold their jobs. Army has recruited quite a bit of secondary talent in recent years, especially at safety. The guys who start against Rice may not start against Michigan, and by the end of the year, we might even see a plebe make his way into the back end rotation.
— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) August 10, 2019
Firstie Zach Potter looks like your starting punter and holder while cow Landon Salyers came out of spring camp listed as the top kicker. The spring depth chart also lists SB Kell Walker, CB Elijah Riley, and FB Sandon McCoy as the team’s kick returners.
Verdict: Potter and Salyers are both known commodities, for better or worse. Which is to say that Potter is a terrific holder and a decent punter, but it’s an adventure every time Salyers lines up to kick. Truth is, I miss John Abercrombie already, and the season hasn’t even started. Salyers is physically capable, we know that, but he’s still got to get the mental part down, and that’s a bad problem for a kicker.
On the other side, Walker probably stays the primary returner, but I’ll be shocked if they leave Riley back there. Army needs Elijah Riley to play corner. Anyway, a guy like yearling QB Tyhier Tyler could be a devastating return man if given the chance, and he’s just one of many. Guys like SB Artice Hobbs and/or firstie FB Rashaad Bolton could get shots, too.
Former Army offensive tackle Brett Toth is ready to play in the NFL and is awaiting a decision from senior Army leadership that would allow him to play for the Philadelphia Eagles, per sources familiar with the situation.https://t.co/dKCACTSn8h
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 13, 2019
The 2019 Army Defense boasts a lot of new starters but much more experience than we might otherwise expect. My sense is that if the secondary shakes itself out in time, new Defensive Coordinator John Loose can figure out a way to get pressure with his new front seven.
They’ll have it down by midseason, I’m sure. But will they be ready for Michigan in Week 2?