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CFN Preview 2013 - Army Black Knights
Theres a lot of tinkering going on, and it looks like it should be more of the same style-wise, but eventually it all has to start leading to wins.
After going to a bowl game a few years ago, it seemed like head coach Rich Ellerson would quickly turn the program into another Navy, but instead the ineffectiveness on defense and special teams and the painfully inefficient passing game have been too much for the nations top running game to overcome.
To put it bluntly, Army has been awful at everything but running the ball, and while the ground game was enough to blast away on Boston College and shock Air Force, the embarrassing 23-3 loss to Stone Brook and too many breakdowns and inconsistencies led to the programs worst season since 2004. It was supposed to be a stronger season with so much experience and promise returning, but it didnt come close to happening, closing out with a gut-wrenching fumble in the loss to Navy.
However, even with all of the problems, as long as the running game keeps on working, the program has something to rely on and work around. Now its up to every other phase of the game to start improving a little bit. The schedule is relatively manageable, and theres more than enough talent and experience coming back to start winning. But has the coaching staff been able to tweak and massage the roster enough to finally start to turn things around?
The offense wont be the problem. It would be nice to get a wee bit more from the passing game, and it could with some nice receivers coming in, but itll be all about running the ball again. However, the special teams that were so disastrous in just about every area last season have to improve in the closer games, and the defense must find something it can do well.
Ellerson is a terrific coach who knows how to get creative. With this team, hes going to have to make everything work better.
What to watch for on offense: More from the passing game but not much more. Theres always talk by option teams that the passing attack will be featured more, but Armys problem is the lack of deep balls and not just overall production. After finishing last in the nation in passing and first in rushing theres a chance to at least be more effective with some of the best receivers the program has had in a while. Chevaughn Lawrence is a big deep target who needs to get the ball in his hands on a more regular basis, and quarterback A.J. Schurr has to be more accurate and efficient.
What to watch for on defense: lots and lots of shuffling in the secondary. Brandon Fusilier-Jeffires, Justin Trimble, Hayden Pierce and Marques Avery were all starters last season, but all were out for one reason or another this offseason. Leading tackler, Geoffery Bacon, moved from middle linebacker to free safety, while Lamar Johnson-Harris emerged as a promising corner to work around. Overall, its going to be a work in progress to find the right fits, but it should still be the strength of the defense.
The team will be far better if theres some semblance of a pass rush. Everything else broke down on defense because of a lack of pass rush, generating just 15 sacks on the season with five of them coming against Boston College and three against Stony Brook. With too much time to bomb away, quarterback roasted an Army secondary that came up with three picks against Air Force, and four against everyone else. With the athleticism and quickness on the front seven in lieu of size the D has to be more disruptive.
The schedule: Its interesting, but its also front-loaded with three weeks off in November between Western Kentucky and the lovely road trip to Hawaii. As always, theres time off before the Navy game, too, but that means Army has to play nine straight games to kick things off before getting a week for Air Force. With the trip to Fort Collins, and with a road game at Temple a few weeks earlier, the Knights get exactly one home game from October 12th until December 14th, and two from September 21st and on. Going to Dallas to face Louisiana Tech wont be fun, especially with a date at Boston College to follow. Even so, there are only four games against BCS conference teams and enough winnable games to hope for a rebound year.
Best offensive player: Senior RB Raymond Maples. A two-time 100-yard runner, the senior might not be much of a scorer, but he cranks out yards in big chunks starting out last season with four 100-yard games in the first five, and closing out with 156 yards against Navy. Lightning quick and great on the outside, he turns the corner in a hurry and is good for six yards every time he touches the ball. With the opportunities hell get, 1,000 yards is a lock again.
Best defensive player: Junior FS Geoffery Bacon. Is he a linebacker? Last year in his spot in the middle, he cleaned up all the messes left by the porous defensive line coming up with 136 tackles including 14 against Navy. Now hes being move to free safety where hell use his tackling ability, range and smarts to try to secure the defensive back seven. Hell put up big numbers no matter where he plays.
Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB A.J. Schurr. Trent Steelman was more than just the four-year starter and team leader; he came up with a team-leading 1,248 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground and occasionally threw it, too though not very well. Schurr could add more to the passing game while also bringing the requisite quickness and decision-making ability. He has to be effective for the machine to work.
The season will be a success if Army beats Navy and goes to a bowl game. Its asking a lot after losing 11 straight in the series to the Midshipmen, but after coming so close last year, its time to catch a few breaks and finally make this a true rivalry battle again. Going bowling would be a plus after two straight disasters, and there are just enough winnable games to get to six wins with a couple of upsets to help the cause.
Key game: Sept. 7 at Ball State. As always, the Navy game means everything, but for the season, the Knights need to come up with an early tone-setter, and Ball State is it. With an almost-certain win over Morgan State to start the season, beating the Cardinals in Week Two would equal last years win total before getting into mid-September. It will also be a good test for a defense that needs to prove it can hold up against the better offenses Ball State should have a terrific MAC attack.
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