The 2022 campaign is just around the corner, and As For Football is back to bring you coverage of your Army Black Knights! This week, we’ll go through the offensive position groups and get you ready to watch some triple-option football come September 3rd!
This year’s offensive line is quite experienced, returning 3 players who have started 14 or more games. C Connor Bishop will be Army’s starting center as well as the offensive team captain. Immediately to his right, RG Connor Finucane should start at guard, having started every game last season. On the left side, LT Jordyn Law will likely start at tackle after having started in 12 games last year, including the Air Force game where he scored the winning fumble-recovery touchdown in overtime.
Aside from those 3 likely starters, Army will have to find a left guard and a right tackle. On the left side, LG Sam Barczak is a strong candidate. He has seen a lot of meaningful action, though he has never started. Guards Simon Dellinger (converted from tight end) and Adam Gaines have also seen the field a few times and will likely see meaningful time again as the season progresses. On the right side, RTs Jackson Filipowicz, David Hayward, and Shane Buckingham all have a shot to start; we’ll just have to see how their battle plays out in summer camp.
As with any triple-option offense, the entire offense can only be as good as its offensive line. Despite ever-changing cut blocking rules, the O-line needs to find a way to gain a step on the defense in order to allow the quarterbacks and running backs to work their magic.
TE Joshua Lingenfelter is the only player on Army’s roster who has meaningful tight end experience. A four-time starter last year, he had 1 reception for 31 yards. His experience from last year should serve him well, though, in place of departed TE Chris Cameron. Lingenfelter is two inches shorter and 25 pounds lighter than Cameron, but he is extremely athletic. He is an excellent blocker, obviously, but he can be a slippery receiver as well.
WR Isaiah Alston had a breakout season in 2021. After testing the transfer portal, he returns this year as the presumed #1 starting wideout. Alston compares fairly well to former standout Edgar Poe, but another year like 2021 might put him over the top. QB Cade Ballard could be the Black Knights’ passing quarterback this year; more on that below. But a former Tennessee Mr. Football with 9,000+ passing yards in high school needs a primary target. Isaiah Alston is that guy.
WHAT A SIMPLY UNFATHOMABLE CATCH BY ISAIAH ALSTON pic.twitter.com/RALKwhcJ7P— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) October 23, 2021
SB/WR Cole Caterbone will likely split time at wide receiver and the backfield this year, but you can expect to see him and Ryan Jackovic get some playing time. Army will likely look for some new players to emerge in camp this summer as well.
Senior QB Tyhier Tyler is your presumed starter under center. He is already a career 1,000 yard rusher and was Army’s game one starter a year ago. Despite his relatively small frame (5’8”, 183 lbs), Tyler led the Black Knights effectively during the 2020 COVID year and played very well again in spots last year, though the coaching staff has shown a decided tendency to run Quarterback Power when Tyler’s on the field in lieu of reads and pitch plays.
What you see with Tyler is what you get. He runs hard and is an incredibly consistent performer, averaging about 4 yards per rush with occasional breakouts resulting in big gains. Offensive line play and play calling can almost always explain his bad statistical performances. He has good speed and a truly excellent up-field cut, but his greatest asset by far is his sheer will to win. This man is a fighter. He had a historically bad first half against Georgia Southern two years ago, coughing up the ball three times. But Coach Monken stuck with him, and Tyler secured a comeback victory for the ages. You’d be hard pressed to find a tougher 183 pounds anywhere in college football.
QBs Cade Ballard and Jemel Jones join Tyler in the quarterback room. Both players have seen limited playing time in the past few seasons. They both weigh in at 200 lbs. flat, and both have shown the ability to bulldoze defenders. Ballard, when performing at his best, is probably the most sound triple-option decision maker on the team, and he is arguably the best passer as well. But both quarterbacks lack significant playing time against quality opponents. For better or worse, Army’s first five games should provide ample opportunity to evaluate them.
Army has two running back position groups: slotbacks and fullbacks. That’s why you’ll find a Slotbacks Coach and a Fullbacks Coach on the Army website. But when it comes to a position on the field, triple-option running backs are split into A-Backs and B-Backs. On depth charts, you’ll see different names and abbreviations for these positions in different years at different triple-option programs. But at the end of the day, A-Backs are smaller, faster, and generally take the pitch option, while B-Backs are bigger, stronger, and generally take the dive option.
SB Tyrell Robinson returns for his third year as an established 1,000 yard rusher. Perhaps even more impressive is his nearly 500 receiving yards. Robinson has been the primary A-Back since his first year with the team. He flirted with the transfer portal in the offseason but ultimately returned and looks to begin cementing his legacy with the team. Robinson has excellent speed and can be deadly in space, but he struggled running inside at times last season, particularly in the Navy game. However, his presence as a pass-catcher alongside WR Isaiah Alston gives Army’s offense a legitimately new dimension down the field. We’ll have to see how the coaching staff uses these two in combination with the rest of the triple-option offense.
SBs Brandon Walters and A.J. Howard graduated, so the second A-Back role will be a competition. SB Braheam Murphy is likely to be the other starting A-Back. Murphy saw the field in 9 games last year, playing well every time he touched the ball. Cow Ay’Jaun Marshall has also made a name for himself in the offseason after seeing limited action in his first two years. We could also see a younger player step up or a player transition to A-Back from another playing group like quarterback.
Arguably, the two most experienced position groups coming into the season are the offensive line and the fullbacks. This ought to excite Army fans quite a bit.
Woody Hayes was famous for his “3 yards and a cloud of dust” offense at Ohio State, but Head Coach Jeff Monken and Offensive Coordinator Brent Davis will tell you they actually need at least 4 yards from their B-Backs.
Who starts at B-Back is largely irrelevant as Army switches out multiple players even within a single set of downs. But there’s one name above all others at this point — FB Jakobi Buchanan. The former Lowman Trophy winner returns as another career 1,000 yard rusher. During his tenure as a Black Knight, he’s rushed for 4 yards per carry and has gone 266 career carries without ever losing a yard.
That has got to be one of the most impressive stats in all of college football.
Army fans will get a healthy diet of FB Tyson Riley alongside Buchanan. Riley has 15 games under his belt and will make a great number two B-Back. From there, it’s anyone’s guess. Army usually rotates four B-Backs through their starting rotation. Yearling running backs over 200 pounds include Miles Stewart, Markel Johnson, Lucky Brooks, Jarel Dickson, AJ Williams, and Bo Kite. Expect one or two of those guys to see significant playing time this year.
This team has as much returning offensive talent and experience as we’ve seen in recent memory. The last time we saw this kind of sheer experience on offense might’ve been all the way back in 2017. Some specific positions like secondary tight end, reserve B-Back, and right tackle might show some growing pains early on, but in the Transfer Portal Era, some turnover is inevitable. Even so, this offense ought to be a blunt force weapon that defenses fear.
Let’s hope that we get to see some of that beautifully orchestrated triple-option offense we all love!
Go Army! Beat Navy!!!
*Cover image via @ArmyWP_Football