August 31, 2012

Army adding “bulk” in defensive trenches

Army's defense is without rehabbing defensive end Jarrett Mackey possibly until midseason, but the Black Knights like that they are adding Mike Ugenyi.

That statement might confuse Army opponents studying the Black Knights' depth chart who view the absence of Mackey's pass-rushing skills as welcome relief. But it makes perfect sense to anyone who understands how undersized Army was last year in the defensive trenches.

Army has other defensive ends to turn to while Mackey continues to recover from last year's knee injury that required reconstructive surgery. But the Black Knights had no one a year ago to compensate for a lack of bulk inside until they increased their size this year with improving players such as Ugenyi, a sophomore 6-3, 257-pounder.

"Mike Ugenyi has been a real positive," Army head coach Rich Ellerson said. "We had our fingers crossed about him (entering fall camp). We liked what we saw in the spring and he's doubled down on that. He's had a real good training camp. That position is where we can really use some help and he's been a real positive for us."

Army, which opens the season Sept. 8th at San Diego State, hasn't released an updated depth chart since the conclusion of spring drills. It appears that Ugenyi has moved up from his No. 3 spot at right defensive tackle behind sophomore b>Richard Glover (5'11", 247) and sophomore Joe Drummond (6-3, 228).

A year ago, Army was forced to start 225-pound Holt Zalneraitis i at defensive tackle in a weekly physical mismatch. And even though 260-pound A.J. Mackey, last year's other defensive tackle, didn't return to the team this year, Army has improved its overall depth and size enough this season for Zalneraitis to move back to his natural position at defensive end.

As Ellerson says, Zalneraitis played hard, but the Black Knights had trouble slowing down rushing attacks. Opponents averaged 194.9 yards on the ground and 359.2 total yards.

"If your defensive front is playing well, your defense has a chance," Ellerson said. "If your defense is playing well, you're football team has a chance."

Coming out of spring drills, the defensive front listed junior Bobby Kough (6'2", 245) and Glover at the tackles and Zalneraitis (6-2, 224) and Mackey (6-1, 235) or Zach Watts (5-11, 203) at the ends.

Backups on the spring depth chart are junior DT Shane Finnane (5-10, 238), junior DE Kyle Maxwell (6-5, 231), sophomore Derek Sanchez (6-3, 206) and sophomore Colin Linkul (6-0, 200).

Army has addressed its lack of size at defensive tackle with the last two recruiting classes. Freshmen joining 'Big Army' in 2012 following a year at the USMA Prep School include Tala Atimalala (5-11, 260), then you have frosh arriving as direct admits in Evan Finnane (6-1, 250), Shane's younger brother, and Khodadod Kia (6-0, 260).

"As I've said, one of the things that I'm excited about in our defense is the play up front," Ellerson said. "We'll have some guys playing a lot of snaps early in the season that haven't played much college football, but we have the right guys. They're going to grow throughout the course of the season. I feel like we've got a job description that's realistic for those guys to fulfill. How far along will they be? We'll have to wait and see."

Ellerson added he considers the bandit position part of the defensive front. Senior Nate Combs (6-1, 216) emerged from spring drills healthy at No. 1 at bandit in Army's Double-Eagle Flex scheme.

"The play of the defensive front has been a bright spot," Ellerson said. "I have high expectations for that group. Right in the middle of them is Nate Combs. It's great to see him back with a bounce in his step and doing a nice job. With Zach Watts and Zalneraitis, this group has been playing well."

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