As the Black Knights head into the second half of the season and take on the visiting Scarlet Knights of Rutgers at Michie Stadium, the secondary continues to make significant progress and surely will be tested on Friday.
Last season, the entire defense pull down 7 interceptions, but for the first half of the 2009 campaign, the secondary unit has registered 8 picks already. Part of that credit can be given to a much improved pass rush, but also the maturation and the aggressive style of play that Coach Ellerson expects from his secondary.
Leading the charge is junior free safety Donovan Travis with 4 interception, one of which was returned for a game winning touchdown against Ball State. The free willing safety pulled down his 5th pick of the season against Temple on Saturday, but saw the play nullified on a questionable non-tip-ball penalty.
Senior cornerback Mario Hill has two interceptions to his credit, while fellow cornerback Antuan Aaron and backup corner Josh Jackson, both have pulled in one apiece.
Tomorrow evening and on national television (ESPN2), the secondary will face off against Rutgers' freshmen gunslinger, Tom Savage, who was ranked by Rivals.com as the 8th best quarterback coming out of high school last year. Although still progressing as a signal caller, the 6-foot-5, 230 pound Savage has the size, poise and arm strength that typically is reserved for a more seasoned player. Add to that, a mammoth and experienced offensive line that is lead by pre-season All-American tackle Anthony Davis, along with speedy wide receiver Tim Brown and one of the top freshman wide receivers in the country in Mohamed Sanu (6'2, 215) and you can see that the Army secondary will have their work cut out for them.
"We have a very confident group back there," cornerback coach Tony Coaxum shared with GoBlackKnights.com. "We told them what the game plan is and how we are going to play these guys
and how we are going to challenged these guys and they were excited about it."
So what are Coaxum's thought about the trio of Savage, Brown and Sanu. "Savage has a very good arm, moves well and can get out of the pocket and run if necessary," claims Coaxum.
"Tim Brown has been overshadowed the past couple years by Kenny Britt. He's very fast, very good receiver and he's not very big, but he's not afraid to go across the middle and put his body on the line to make the catch. Those are the kind of guys you want to go against, because it brings the best out of our guys.
And Sanu is a very good receiver, who is only a freshman, mature guy (20 years old) and exceptional athlete. We are use to going against guys like that. We've gone against SEC & ACC receivers, and the monster receiver they had at Iowa State. So it's not like it's the first time we have gone against someone at that physical nature."
One dimension that the Scarlet Knights added to their offensive repertoire is using Sanu in the Wildcat scheme, which is often where Rutgers' fans have seen backup quarterback Jabu Lovelace.
No matter who lines up in that formation, it is clearly one that Army has seen on at least three or four occasion this season, especially against Vanderbilt, who ran the scheme almost 1 out of every 5 plays. Actually, the wildcat offense really represents the spread offense and the Black Knights have fared well against it. From a secondary point of view, their responsibility is simple and that is to cover and let the front seven guys worry about the run part of it.
As a unit, the back four have played well throughout the season, although Mike (strong safety) Donnie Dixon has had moments over the past 2-3 games that have resulted in big plays coming against the junior safety. "There were a few plays in there with Donnie and a lot of those plays were busted plays against Duke and Vandy, where it was about 3-4 seconds trying to hold down the receiver which is extremely tough to do," states Coaxum, in describing some of the apparent lapses in Dixon's play.
"He is playing well and has made some really good plays for us. If you are doing what you are suppose to do which Donnie has done, a lot of times, nothing will happen and the ball won't be thrown to your guy and it will look like a great play (sack) by a defensive lineman. Donnie's has had a very good week of practice and is still our starter for us at Sam."
No matter how effective Dixon is on Friday, look for Jordan Trimble to see the field, and without a doubt he will be in there in the dime package. Although it may look like a substitution package, it's a very good package for the Black Knights. It allows for the better athletes on the field especially in passing situation, and that package will include Trimble and Lamb (Desmond).
One player that has push his way back into the rotation is L.B. Brown. Brown is the #2 guy behind Aaron. He played a lot last year, but moved to offense during spring, but got hit with the injury bug. Coaxum got him back and he's been working himself back in, as he continues to build on his technique and foot work.
Both Josh Jackson and Brian Cobbs have bright futures at Army, but will have to bide their time and continue to develop with every opportunity they are presented with to get on the field. Jackson has been playing a lot of special teams with the emergence of Trimble in the dime and Hill and Aaron just haven't come off the field. Actually, Hill has played every single play this season.
Jackson is the #2 guy backing up Hill and is going to be a outstanding performer and Cobbs is still growing-learning and has played well on special teams.
In the end, it will be interesting to see what the offensive game plan will be for Rutgers' Head Coach Greg Schiano as he and the Scarlet Knights prepared to go against Rich Ellerson "swarm" defense.
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