Unlike last year, that not only saw the Army defense start the season with their version of the youth movement, but on the interior line, players were forced to play out of position .... and it showed through the season.
So, coming into summer training camp, there was obvious optimism surrounding the Black Knights' offense that lead the nation in rushing and the excitement hasn't dwindled.
On the other hand, there were tons of questions relative to the 2012 defense coming into camp.
But with just one day before Army takes the field against San Diego State, there is less uncertainty and more anticipation around the maturation of 2011 and what they will bring to the table on Saturday.
Upfront the squad will kick off with inexperienced, but talented sophomores holding down the defensive tackle positions. Bobby Kough will be at left tackle, while Mike Ugenyi will man the right tackle spot.
Sandwiched by Zach Watts at the quick defensive end spot and Holt Zalneraitis holding down the whip position
Then you will have senior Nate Combs at bandit, Geoffery Bacon, who came on strong last year as a freshman at Mike linebacker and rounding out this trio you have a name that has become synonymous with Army football and that's 'Trimble'. Whereby junior Justin Trimble will be at Rover.
The quartet making up the defensive backfield will be another sophomore in Hayden Pierce at the Sam (strong safety) spot, along with senior Ty Shrader at free safety.
The corners have two familiar faces in senior Josh Jackson holding down the field side and who is a proven commodity, while the boundary position returns 5-foot-11, 195 pound Tyler Dickson.
Don't be surprise to see standout freshman Chris Carnegie receive reps early and throughout the contest. Although the 6-foot-0, 180 pounder can play both corner position, his primary spot is backing up Jackson at the field cornerback spot.
"He's got good talent, he's got good talent," shared co-defensive coordinator, Payam Saadat of his frosh cornerback.
While senior Justin Allen will run as Dickson's backup.
With various defensive packages that the Black Knights run through the Double-Eagle Flex defensive, along with the versatility of the ball-players, it will not be uncommon to see the staff remain with the players that are already on the field in their nickel schemes.
"To be honest with you, we feel good about where and what the 4-5 guys the back row give us," offers Saadat. "hence none of the players will need to leave the field in those types of situations."
Unlike last year, where the interior of the defensive was smallish even by Army standard, the proverbial feeling amongst the staff is that the addition of Kough and Ugenyi, along with depth will meet the size needs, without compromising the explosiveness that Rich Ellerson looks for at defensive tackle.
Although Kough and Ugenyi are some of Army's bigger tackles, they are undersized by college football's standard definition. And unlike in previous years, where you very rarely saw the likes Mike Gann, Josh McNary, Victor Ungeyi or Marcus Hilton ever coming off the field, 2012 will be different.
Supporting Kough will be Joe Drummond and Clayton Keller, as Richard Glover and T.J. Atimalala will backup Ugenyi.
In order to keep fresh, effective and explosive legs on the field, look for players like Glover, Drummond and perhaps Keller and Atimalala to get reps up front.
Carnegie and Atimalala are not the only frosh defenders who will be making their way to San Diego this weekend. You have Alex Meier behind Bacon, then there's Brandon Fusilier-Jeffires backing up Shrader and Dalton Mendenhall supporting Combs at the bandit spot. Needless to say, each of the aforementioned plebes are products of the USMAPS.
To have 4-5 frosh push their way up the two deep on the depth chart to kick-off the season speaks volumes to the staff's ability to recruit talent. However, equally as important is the impact that the USMAPS has on player development.
Josh Jackson has probably had his best pre-season camp and a lot has to do with Carnegie's development and talents. Hence, playing and practicing to the competition on the roster is what builds a team's talent base and Army fans are beginning to witness more of that within the program.
"He a really good athlete," states of Saddaat on Carnegie's talents. "Him and the other three freshmen who are playing on defense right now. Actually, exclude the d-line because there's the physical nature that the d-line have to content with. And I'm not sure if Alex (Meier), Fusilier-Jeffires and Chris (Carnegie) are going to have to deal with. But from a standpoint of those three in the back end ... they've come in with a relative degree of learning and capturing what they're suppose to be doing, as well as showing their athletic ability. They have not let their athletic ability be hindered by trying to learn a defense. And I think that's why you see them as No. 2 on the depth chart, because they are talented young men and they have a knack for getting to the football."
Comparatively speaking, the 2012 defense is ahead of where this crew was to start the 2011 season.
All one has to do is look at what the Black Knights started with up front in 2011 and hence, what the 'D' was unable to accomplish.
"The other noticeable factor is the youngsters that were thrown into the fire last year are more experienced now and walk around with a different swagger," confesses Saadat. "And the older guys who were part of last year's team have a bad taste in their mouth about what happen and they got the idea how to fix it."
And although there is an obvious positive vibe with the players on defense and the coaching staff, it still has to translate itself come Saturday evening against the Aztecs of San Diego State, on the road.
Because right now it is all speculation, but come Saturday evening reality we will reveal what the coaching staff hopes is a solid and mature group of defenders.
This is still a young group and the elder statesmen are Jackson, Watts (Zach), Shrader and Combs. Hence, there are tons of youngsters on the defense. And when Jarrett Mackey returns ... he could be here for another year as well.
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