March 7, 2012

Inside the Huddle: Look inside the offense

Obviously with college football, no starting position is etched in stone and surely with Friday's Black & Gold upcoming, it will offer an opportunity for players to put a lock on the #1 spot, along with others attempting to seal their position on the depth chart.

As the team prepares to head to Georgia for the spring ball game, the visibility of the offensive landscape is becoming clearer ... at least for those who appear on the road to what is called the starting lineup.

Offensively, this is a group that rushed for over 4,000 yards and the only team in the country to do so. Of course with the majority of faces of 2011 returning, there is plenty of optimism ... so let's look at those who will most likely come out of spring ball and open up summer training camp in the "lead".


When you talk about the Army offense, that finished the 2011 as the number one ranked rushing offense in the nation, you have to point to senior starter, Trent Steelman, where offensive coordinator Ian Shields could barely contain himself relative to the 4 year starter's spring performance thus far.

"Trent has had a phenomenal spring, as he should," shares Shields, chuckling at his pre-season comments on Steelman's performance. "He's played exceptionally well and he's a team leader. "As expected, he's making good decision with the ball and he's been throwing well and strong this spring."

Of course, as Army fans witnessed last season, it takes just one play to change the complexion of the offense as noted when Steelman went down with an injury and eventually the staff went with untested freshman, Angel Santiago Well, with a season under his belt, how has the sophomore to be progressed this spring?

"I think Angel has been throwing the ball well, as well this spring," confesses Shields. "He's looked super and I think this spring has been good for him, he's made strides. Last year was baptism by fire a little bit where he was thrown into some of those situations. But I think he has an excellent spring, he's progressing well. He can play ... he had a 50 yard touchdown run in our scrimmage where he made a bunch of people miss. He can be a real effective player ... he just needs a little more seasoning, where he needs reps and there a lot of reps to be had this upcoming Friday."

But Santiago will have some competition later this summer as prepster, AJ Schurr will be making his way in the mix upon his arrival from the prep school.

The Backfield

This is probably the deepest group of running backs assembled at Army in years. With that means there is a lot to still be determine when it comes to who would get the starting nod come opening game against San Diego State. However, if the season were to start on Friday versus it being the spring game, who is in the lead right now?

Coming out of spring and if Terrance Baggett is heathy, the starting trio would be Larry Dixon at fullback, Raymond Maples at one slot, joined by Baggett.

And when you look at those three, that is a very talented group of running backs.
But when you then add Stephen Fraser, Trenton Turrentine and Jared Hassin(slight quad strain) if he is healthy, in the mix, the depth is awesome.

Of course you can not forget Hayden Tippett, who continues to get better and better at fullback and represents an outstanding backup to Dixon. "He's very good," declares Shields. "He's a physical presence ... he and Larry both. They lift together, they're good friends, they're workout partners, they're both of the highest character, they're freaky strong and explosive. That's a great combination of two physical fullbacks that have the ability to run. Both have good balance, feet and vision. And Dan McGue has had an excellent spring behind them."

Of course there is Mr. Dependable in senior slotback Malcolm Brown. Unfortunately, Brown who was never physically 100% in 2011 has not practice at all this spring. Once summer training camp rolls in, he will be deep in the mix, with the ability to split outside as a receiver.

Wide Receivers

The need for 1 or 2 receivers to step up and make plays, is essential to the offense reaching its full potential and more difficult to defend in 2012. Without a doubt, the Black Knights' offensive has to be more efficient at passing the ball and that speaks to both scheme and talent.

Both Patrick Laird and E.J. Tucker are the steady physical presence out there that can be as or even more efficient in what this staff has had in the past. Laird has very strong hands and is a very physical blocker. Likewise, Tucker is very physical and a solid competitor.

"I think the guy that has really come on this spring is Chevaughn Lawrence," states Shields. "He's made some great catches, he can stretch the defense and make plays with the ball in the air. He has the upside if you will, that you are looking for. He seems to get a little more confidence, play a little more physical and getting more reps."

Offensive Line

There are some real positives up front with this unit, in spite of the aforementioned injured players.

Ryan Powis is as good as it gets at center. He's an excellent player. Frank Allen is the mainstay at left guard, so you have two really fundamental building blocks there with those two.

Steve Schumaker has really done a nice job at right guard. He's going to be a very good player for us," says Shields of the 6-foot-0, 280 pounder.

Needless to say, even with the return of a healthy Matt Villanti, there will be a battle for the starting role. Which of course is a positive for the program, because depth is one of the cornerstones to a quality football program. "We saw when Joe Bailey went down last year, it was nice to know that Villanti was there and able to step in," states Shields.

"I have been please with the tackle spot where Will Wilson been stepping in and playing some right tackle," Shields declares when speaking of Wilson's contribution and versatility. "He's doing a nice job and he's just a good football player. Conceptionally he understands what's trying to be accomplished and he's kind of sneak athletically. It looks funny saying that when you look at him, but he's a good football player and I've been really please with how he's played this spring."

At the left tackle you have Ben Jebb who has been running with the number ones. The senior out of Cornwall (NY) is one of the more athletic tackles on the squad and has had a nice spring.

Yes, if the season were to start tomorrow, that would be the five hole openers and pass blockers up front, but clearly that is subject to change with the upcoming return of Villanti and Michael Kime. And you could probably add tackle Dan Whitaker's name to this list of players up front, because the junior is steady and has received game situation reps.

Spring Practice Notes:

Quarterback Trent Steelman, who has had enough game reps, will be held out of Friday's spring game, eliminating the risk of getting him injured.

As previously reported, the trio of Terrance Baggett, Stephen Fraser and Trenton Turrentine have all been hit with the injury bug. However, there is a chance that Baggett will play in the spring game and an outside chance that Fraser will play as well. In the case of Turrentine, he is being kept out by the staff for the spring as he continues to rehab his knee. Neither of the injuries to the three sophomore backs is serious and come summer practice, each player should be good to go.

Matt Villanti is also another performer who has been sidelined due to injury. Nothing too serious with the 6-foot-3, 278 pound right guard, who is on the mend from arthroscopic surgery on his knee, which was more of tune-up then anything else.

Michael Kime (Mo-Mo) has been out for spring practice. The junior lineman had surgery, which was a procedure done prior to spring practice.

However in the case of offensive tackle [db]Derek Bisgard, who started the 2011 season in the lead role until preseason injury put him on the shelf for year, where his health has been problematic for the last 1 1/2 years.

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