February 23, 2010
Army Spring Preview: A peek inside the Defensive Line
What a difference a year makes. This time last year, there was some much uncertainty from both coaches and players, especially when it came to the coaching staff implementing the new defensive schemes and the players learning it.
For the guys up front, adapting to the controlled chaos versus pure reaction could cause a defender to end up in an intervention program for "stifled linemen". But that was not the case, and by mid-season, it was becoming crystal clear that not only could the front four be productive, but they could have fun causing havoc on offenses and resulting in offensive coordinators having sleepless nights.
But yet, some wonder is it was possible for the Black Knights' defense to be as good as or better than they were in 2009. To me, the answer to that question is simple, and I answer it with another question: Can the defensive line step up to the plate? If the end results are a resounding yes, this could be a very special defensive unit overall.
Obviously the bell cow for the front four is Army's all-time sack leader Josh McNary at the Quick defensive end position. McNary is someone that the staff will be looking to for leadership and his continuous on field havoc, where he had a great junior year. The hope however, is to see him continue to build on his legacy as a player, but also to emerge as a leader and help bring along some of the younger talent.
With McNary still rehabbing from his off-season shoulder surgery, it serves as an opportunity for Jarrett Mackey and Shola Mustapha to get a lot of reps," shares defensive coordinator Payam Saadat, who points out that the staff is really high on Mackey and that Mustapha will get his chance as well. "As you know, we aren't all that high on how big a guy is, but he (Mustapha) has gotten stronger and added some muscle mass."
Senior Marcus Hilton appears to be the heir apparent at the other defensive end spot, where he will be replacing graduating Bradley Marren. However, the 6-foot-0, 247 played in all twelve games last season and his numbers were almost identical to Marren's. Hilton has more than enough game experience where the transition to starter should be transparent. Senior Carson Homme will be looking this spring to solidify his spot behind Hilton, where he appeared in all twelve games last season, but in the capacity of special teams.
Ironically, the biggest competition for backing up both McNary and Hilton may come from a player who has yet to hit the Army practice field and will not arrive until this summer. That would be prep defensive end, Julius Warmsley, who could actually play anywhere on the line in Ellerson flex defense. He could play where Victor Ugenyi played or where Hilton currently plays. Reports out of the prep school confirm that the 6-foot-3 1/2, 255 pound prospect is getting both stronger and faster. No matter which spot(s), he will be a welcome addition up front.
Mainstay and senior Mike Gann returns at defensive tackle. In addition to ranking eighth on the team in tackles and third in the tackles for lost category (7-17 yards) behind McNary and Stephen Anderson, The Roswell, Ga. native has been one of the Black Knights' emotional leaders. There were numerous games during his career where he could sense the team needed momentum and he took over vocally and then turned it up on the field.
Behind seasoned veteran is a bottleneck of talent. Starting with junior Chris Swain, who can play both the tackles spots
depending on the defensive scheme. This spring will allow for Swain and others to get more of the coaching staff's attention relative to Gann being a known commodity. "Swain is getting a lot more reps because we know what Gann can do and don't need to see a lot from," confirms Coach Saadat, who shares the names of the players who are battling for depth chart ranking behind Gann. "But for Swain, A.J. Mackey and Derek Bisgard, the staff needs to ensure they are on point with what the staff is trying to accomplish."
Saadat was quick to point out that he is looking for all three to take on the challenge this spring. "He's (Bisgard) good and he will get more than enough chances to show what he can do," declares Saadat. "He has the tools to play the position we have asked him to play. We just have to see him do and the desired outcome we are looking for."
At the other tackle (Bandit) spot will be three names that might surprise some Army fans. Leading the charge is Justin Schaaf, and then followed by Nate Combs and Andre Shinda who are presently sharing the number two. All three are being tried at what is a new position for them, because they fit the mold of what the defense is trying to accomplish.
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