Everybody and their brother wants to talk about Army’s new offense this offseason, but what about the Bad Boys? What about the Defense?
This week we’ll preview Army’s Defense and wonder what, if any, changes DC Nate Woody has in store for the Black Knights this season.
As always, if you’ve missed any of the previous articles in this series, please find those archived below.
— Army Football Preview: 2023 Season Preview (First Quarter)
— Army Football Preview: 2023 Season Preview (Second Quarter)
— Army Football Preview: 2023 Season Preview (Third Quarter)
— Army Football Preview: 2023 Season Preview (Fourth Quarter)
— Analyzing Army’s Appearance on NFL Network
— A Few Favorite Pics from the 2022 Season
Saturdays with the Brotherhood. pic.twitter.com/t2mmDFJxmK— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) July 15, 2023
Army Defense: Front Seven
Unfortunately, Army’s defense regressed last season, especially against the run. As the team looked to move on following the losses of NT Nolan Cockrill and LB Arik Smith, we opened the 2022 season with some big question marks. Alas, though LB Leo Lowin emerged in the middle for the Black Knights as the year wore on, their defensive line struggled at times, especially in the middle and especially early in the season. To that, we now add a new, literal million-dollar question:
How will Army make up for the departure of OLB Andre Carter?
Carter spent most of 2022 getting double- and triple-teamed, and when he couldn’t get into the backfield, Army struggled. The Black Knights allowed fully 199 yards/game on the ground, a whopping 81 yard/game regression from their 2021 performance. This marked a decidedly unwelcome deviation for Nate Woody’s unit, which has typically been excellent against the run and on 3rd downs. Last year, they weren’t either of those things. In fact, some offenses all but abandoned the passing game against the Black Knights, as we saw in Georgia State’s 31-14 victory at Michie Stadium in which the Panthers threw just 12 times.
Thankfully, the defensive line should be better in 2023. At a minimum, they’re returning a lot of size and experience. NT Darius Richardson will be back and should benefit from a year in the trenches in which he got 11 starts. He and firstie DL Isaiah Filisi, both 290-plus pounders, provide much-needed bulk to Army’s 3-4 scheme. Firstie DE Chris Frey also returns, bringing two years of extensive on-field experience plus 43 tackles, 11 solo, over the past two seasons. Frey hasn’t often seen the spotlight with Andre Carter on the field, but he’s been an extremely solid player for the Black Knights who may yet notch a breakout campaign. Meanwhile, DE Austin Hill has the makings of a star, having totaled some 41 tackles despite starting in just five games.
Army’s linebackers are its anchor, as we’ve seen from any number of past Army defenses. LB Leo Lowin eclipsed 100 tackles last season, while LB Jimmy Ciarlo showed explosive playmaking ability on the outside with 3.5 tackles-for-loss and a pair of pass breakups. Assuming the interior D-Line can eat some blocks, we’re looking for this unit to take a real step forward in 2023. Moreover, this is a unit with a bunch of good players. LBs Kalyn Crummie, Spencer Jones, and Camden O’Gara have a combined 19 career starts. It’s unclear exactly how all these guys will shake out in the rotation in 2023, but all three have shown out at times when given the chance, and any of them could be breakout players this season.
Saturday feels when you're another week closer to 🏈 pic.twitter.com/8fqQVb4oiN— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) July 22, 2023
Army Defense: Secondary
Army’s secondary is its most experienced defensive unit, with three out of four starters returning to a group that allowed just 160 yards passing/game. On its face, this should be the Black Knights’ best bet, but they have to make up for the loss of arguably the team’s best player in former safety and team captain Marquel Broughton. Broughton was the heart and soul of Army’s defense in 2022. He always found the ball, notching 88 tackles, three interceptions, two forced fumbles, and three tackles-for-loss and otherwise making significant contributions in all facets of the game. More than once last year, the AFF Crew noted that Broughton personally kept the Black Knights competitive, seemingly by himself.
Still, this is an experienced and talented group. S Quindrelin Hammonds was the team’s fourth-ranked tackler last season and a real standout as the season progressed. S Max DiDomenico also earned ample playing time last year, and though he didn’t often start, he brought a hard-hitting downhill presence when called upon. At corner, Jabari Moore and Cameron Jones have a wealth of experience. Moore was particularly impressive, breaking up five passes last year and earning 2nd-Team All-Independent honors from Phil Steele.
So yeah. These guys need to learn to play without Marquel Broughton this year, and that’s tough. But then again, they held Troy QB Gunnar Watson below 50% passing last year when Broughton was hurt and made an interception, too, and oh by the way, they played well against the run in that game as well. Granted, they’ll need to rise to the occasion against the likes of Garrett Shrader, Frank Harris, Grayson McCall, and Jayden Daniels at quarterback.
Some behind the scenes footage of our preseason shoot as we get ready for 🏈! pic.twitter.com/x03OtVxq5M— Army Football (@ArmyWP_Football) July 24, 2023
Jeff Monken teams typically show out on special teams, and last year was no exception. The team boasts excellent punt and kick coverage units year-in and year-out, and last year saw SB Tyrell Robinson record Army’s first punt return for a touchdown since 2007. This came off a scintillating 73-yard runback versus Villanova. Army has also been very good at blocking kicks over the years, including two in pivotal moments last year, first against UConn and then against Navy.
Assuming Robinson returns healthy, he ought to be a consistent return man, having averaged more than 10 yards/return on 30 career punt returns and 21 yards/return on 18 career kickoff returns. This is especially notable because Army doesn’t often return kicks. They returned just 10 kickoffs and 12 punts in all of 2022, excluding squibs. Still, when the opportunity arises, the Black Knights definitely have a guy who can get the job done.
Army also has arguably the most experienced kicker room in the country, as both K Cole Talley and K Quinn Maretzki have multiple years of field goal-kicking under their belts. Talley boasts a 9/14 record kicking field goals, while Maretzki is 13/17. Talley was superb on kickoffs last year, with 31 of his 59 kickoffs producing touchbacks. However, missed extra points have been a concern for both kickers, as they have a combined five career misses. Both guys can also point to at least one critical miss in a high leverage situation. Still, Maretzki made the kicks when he had to last year at Army-Navy, and that counts for a lot.
We’ll close by noting that Billy Boehlke had the unenviable task of replacing Army legend Zack Harding at punter last year. Army’s punting output dropped, with Boehlke’s average and net average dropping nearly six yards below Harding’s 2021 average. Boehlke has been pretty good at producing touchbacks on short fields, but only three of his 43 punts carried more than 50 yards overall. His total performance was a long way from being bad, but it remains an area where the Black Knights could stand to improve.
The Black Knights return a ton of experience on defense and special teams, but they have a handful of questions that they need to answer, too. If they can get stouter at the Nose and give their linebackers more freedom to attack, this defense will likely get back to the kind of play we got used to seeing from Nate Woody defenses up until last year. If, however, they again give up a ton of rushing yardage in the middle of the field, well, that’ll make it a lot tougher all the way around.
Likewise, we trust that Army can cover kick and punt returns and be explosive occasionally in the return game themselves. However, if they can also add a level of consistency to their field goal kicking game, that’s probably worth +1 win on the season win total.
Friends, this team has all the tools. It’s just a question of how they put it together.
Go Army! Beat ULM!!!
Cover image via USMA Flickr.