Army Football Preview: Offense
Hallelujah! This is the very last offseason Army Football Preview. We’ve got a real game next week!
In the Defense preview, we noted quite a few spots where younger players ought to get a chance to step up. The same is less true on offense. In fact, this year’s Army Football team has quite a bit of offensive experience, especially at its most important positions. That’s gonna make it tougher for even hyper-talented underclassmen—of which there are several—to crack the starting lineup.
For any other team, you’d start a preview like this with the quarterback. I think most Army fans, though, understand that the Offensive Line is the Black Knights’ most important position group. When Army’s O-Line is getting good push, the team has a real chance to win regardless of any and all other factors.
The good news, then, is that Army is returning an experienced, versatile, veteran group. Firstie LT Alex Herndon moved over from reserve center during the spring. He’s one of just two new starters this year, though he’s seen plenty of time on the field. Firstie LG Jaxon Deaton is back next to Herndon. At 6’4”, 310 lbs, Deaton is a Hell of a presence in the middle. The same could be said of cow Peyton Reeder, who came out of spring camp listed as the starting right guard but was then named to a national watch list as a center. At 6’6”, 290 lbs, Reeder is also a physical force, and he served as the backup center in 2018. The idea of teeming him with Deaton to open the Midline-Option has to be tempting to Offensive Coordinator/O-Line Coach Brent Davis. If Reeder doesn’t start at center, firstie Jack Sides will. Sides is comparatively smaller, standing just 6’2”, 285 lbs. This, of course, means that any team besides Army would automatically put him at center. But when the Midline-Option is your staple play, that’s not a given, especially after the team saw so much success in 2018 running behind now-graduated C Bryce Holland.
Finally, cow J.B. Hunter returns at right tackle. It’ll be interesting to see how Hunter develops. Davis really likes to run Quarterback Power out behind a big, powerful right tackle as we saw endlessly with QB Ahmad Bradshaw and RT Brett Toth. Can Hunter develop into that kind of player?
Verdict: The reason to be scared, if you’re Michigan, is that these guys actually out-mass Big Blue’s fast but slightly undersized D-Line, especially in the middle. With that, we should expect a very healthy dose of the Fullback Dive early and often. Once that’s established, this thing might get interesting.
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) August 16, 2019
Firstie captain Kelvin Hopkins is back, and to my eyes, he looks noticeably bigger and stronger than he was a year ago. It looks like his arm strength has improved as well. You can tell because he’s throwing the ball on a flatter trajectory. Think about the difference between Patrick Mahomes and Chad Pennington. Both guys are accurate, but one throws rainbows while the other dishes laser beams. Hopkins didn’t always throw on a rope last year. This year, I expect we’ll see some real improvement.
But while K-Hop is a known quantity, that’s less true of the guys behind him. Yearling Jabari Laws appeared to have the backup spot coming out of camp, but Christian Anderson hasn’t gone anywhere, and Tyhier Tyler showed out when given the opportunity. Former Tennessee Mr. Football Cade Ballard is on the team as a plebe, as well, though he’ll probably spend at least the next full year on the scout team.
Verdict: Coach Monken said last season that he felt like he had a good nucleus of young quarterbacks to build around. That’s true, but it’s also true that none of those guys has anything like the experience of Hopkins. The Black Knights would be well advised to get whoever becomes their backup as many game reps as possible. They’re gonna need Hopkins to beat Michigan and some of the other tough teams on their schedule, but given the physical nature of the triple-option offense, they’re also gonna need a good backup quarterback, too.
Kelvin Hopkins is over 100 yards on the ground for the third time this year and first since our game against Eastern Michigan earlier this year.
He has 114 yards on 7 carries for an avg. of 16.3 yards per carry.
— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) December 22, 2018
We saw a full five-headed monster last season, and this year’s Fullback Room looks as stocked as ever. Firstie Connor Slomka is back to lead the Black Knights’ carnivores, along with cow Sandon McCoy. After that, it’s a bit of an open question, though. Rashaad Bolton and Cade Barnard both looked more than capable during the Black and Gold Game. My guess is that the 6’3”, 230 lbs Barnard will come in for Slomka’s former role as the team’s sledgehammer/short yardage back while Bolton picks up where now-graduated Calen Holt left off. Bolton has terrific hands, and as we saw against Hawaii at Michie Stadium last year, that adds an important dimension to Army’s offense. Plebe Anthony Adkins might be the team’s fifth fullback, though I’ll be very surprised if he hits the field prior to the game against Morgan State.
Verdict: Slomka looks like the most-motivated guy I’ve ever seen. Having watched Darnell Woolfolk and Andy Davidson split the majority of Army’s carries over the last three years, this is finally his time to carry the load. He’s a big, strong guy with a lot more speed than you’d think, and I expect he’ll make the most of his opportunity.
The back and forth continues.@ArmyWP_Football answers the Hawaii TD with one of their own.
Connor Slomka takes it home to give the Black Knights the lead. pic.twitter.com/WvRAMtKuyW
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) September 15, 2018
I thought we were gonna have a plethora of talented young slotbacks last season, but then the injury bug hit. SBs Kell Walker and Jordan Asberry wound up carrying the load again, and even FB Calen Holt played some out of the slot in spots late in the season. Asberry was good off the pitch, a great blocker, and a terrific receiver, but he wasn’t ideally suited to running the Rocket Sweep, especially since he was also listed on the depth chart at wide receiver. He still did it, though. Meanwhile, Kell Walker didn’t have quite as many explosive runs as he’d had in past seasons, maybe because he got a little banged up from taking damn-near every offensive snap of the season. He did enough, certainly, and he and Asberry both keyed the passing game out of the backfield effectively, but then, they didn’t really have any choice. Now, the 2019 Black Knights are going to have no choice but to rely on guys who’ve struggled to stay healthy, and that’s a concern.
The good news is that this new group has more pure speed than I can remember seeing from the Army backfield. Walker looks to be sliding into Asberry’s former role—for example, I expect he’ll catch a ton of passes this year—while cow Artice Hobbs showed the kind of burst in the bowl game that could legitimately open up the offense. It’s been a while since Army had a true game-breaking speed threat on the outside. Given the way this team runs inside, that kind of pure speed threat on the edge could cause serious problems for opposing defenses.
Firstie Malik “Herbie” Hancock and cow Dominic Distefano came out of spring camp listed behind Walker and Hobbs, though I very much doubt the full travel roster has been set. We’ve seen Hancock play some, but Distefano is an unknown. Cow Zack Boobas remains on the roster as well. He’s another speed guy who has played well in limited action and who ought to get more opportunities in 2019.
Verdict: Army has a pair of homerun threats in Walker and Hobbs, but Hobbs needs to stay healthy and prove he can catch, and the depth behind the starters looks good but mostly untested. I’d like to see Boobas play more, and if push comes to shove, maybe Rashaad Bolton takes some snaps from the slot. Slotback may also be that rare offensive position where a young player makes a big impact as well.
— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) August 16, 2019
The spring depth listed Zach Saum and Chris Cameron on the two-deep, and I expect we’ll see plenty of both. Obviously, tight ends at Army tend to block a Hell of a lot more than they go out to catch passes, but we’ve seen Saum sneak out into passing routes every once in a while, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Cameron has decent hands. Mostly, though, I’d look for these two to act like extra linemen in Army’s base set. Both guys stand at least 6’4”, 210 lbs.
Verdict: I would never discount the value of what the tight end position brings to Army’s offense, but I will admit that it’s the kind of thing that casual fans have no easy way of noticing. It’s maybe worth noting as well that the use of a tight end in an inside, smashmouth option scheme is one of the biggest differences between Army’s offense and the offenses at the other service academies. Navy and Air Force both generally want to bring in more wide receivers—the Zoomies to throw, the Squids to run the Speed Option outside. Army’s Midline scheme tends to run right at teams, with the tight ends trying to reach the second level and spring those long inside runs.
VIDEO: Black Knights have plenty to work on as they break preseason camp. Jeff Monken cited a list of fundamentals and discipline that need to improve after Saturday’s scrimmagehttps://t.co/nNNZZrizLw
— Sal Interdonato (@salinterdonato) August 18, 2019
Former Army WR Jeff Ejekam used to call Army’s receivers Wide Tackles, and indeed, he was a master of getting out there to lay defenders out. Last year’s crop was maybe not quite that good out on the edges, but they made up for it by catching more passes while springing the occasional Option-Pitch or Rocket Sweep.
This year’s crew returns cow WR Cam Harrison and firstie Kjetil Cline as its presumed starters. The group may miss the now graduated Glenn Coates, but Army brought in a bunch of tall receiver prospects as plebes last year. At least one of those guys ought to work his way onto the field now that they’re yearlings. The Black Knights really need that elusive possession threat. They haven’t had a guy like that since WR Edgar Poe left the Academy.
Verdict: Harrison is clearly the best of this group, and Cline has decent speed, but Army could still use a little help. A big physical receiver with a good catching radius could easily make a name for himself with this team, but is that guy even on the roster? It’s frustrating, but I feel like we’ve been waiting awhile for that next dominant pass catcher to show himself and prove that he’s the real deal.
— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) August 17, 2019
You’d expect this team to throw a bit more with Hopkins in his firstie year, but besides the quarterback, the rest of this team is built to run right at you. K-Hop’s gonna hit Walker for plenty of big gains, and I expect Cam Harrison to catch his share down the field. Besides that, though, this team is strongest in the middle. We’re all waiting for a couple of playmakers to emerge on the outside.