Pads on: Army focuses on passing

Things are starting to pick up now at Army camp, where the pads are on and the team is healthy and focused. I stopped by Foley Athletic Center and nearby Howze Field on Sunday morning in West Point to catch the Black Knights’ first practice with full pads.

August is probably my least-favorite month since the weather is consistently disgusting, but when you’re on Coach Ellerson’s schedule and wake up early for a 7:30 a.m. practice, you have a chance to literally beat the heat. Of course, there was no way I woke up in time for a 7:30 workout — I took the new Challenger up to USMA around 8:40, where I found blue skies and temps in the low 70s. Army was in the middle of passing drills that would continue on for over the next hour.

Army has a nice group of quarterbacks in camp to backup Steelman. Angel Santiago looks like he had a little more confidence and swagger working with his offensive unit after getting multiple starts last year, including at Yankee Stadium. Cody Jackson, freshman AJ Schurr and the huge USMA Prep grad Kelvin Hockenbraugh-White, who also ran track at the prep school.

Here’s the back of Army’s new helmets:

Running back Stephen Fraser ran drills alongside Raymond Maples, Kelechi Odocha, Brian Austin, Larry Dixon and Jared Hassin:

After a halftime break, Army came back with shorts instead of full pads, but the drills continued. Santiago looked sharp on Tuesday, as per Army’s practice report:

“Sophomore QB Angel Santiago caught fire near the middle of practice, lofting a 30-yard pass to senior WR Patrick Laird down the left sideline and then finding sophomore WR Chevaughn Lawrence for a 25-yard touchdown on a seam route. Near the end of the workout, Santiago connected with junior WR Scott Williams on a 25-yard corner route. Williams caught the ball in the deep right-hand corner of the end zone for a touchdown.”

Occasionally, Ellerson has the team switch it up and go outside to Howze Field to run drills. Sometimes it’s just the defense or special teams. Either way, it was nice weather in the shadow of Michie Stadium:

Players emerge from the Michie locker room after half time:

Not pictured but notable, captain Jarrett Mackey remains sidelined in a no-contact red jersey.

Here’s freshman QB AJ Schurr. Like all the rest of the freshmen on the team, Schurr returned to new cadet summer training on Monday and participated in the march-back tradition.

Newly-installed First Captain of the Corps of Cadets Brandon Whittington:

While Army ran a lot of passing drills, including some in a semi-shotgun formation with Trent lined up about five yards back, they still maintained the play-calling routine from last season, glancing over at symbolic cards on the sideline:

Outside of practice, I stopped by the statue honoring American soldiers just up the street from Michie:

Here’s the stadium with Lusk Resevoir:

Back at practice, Zack Watts lined up with the defense.

“San Diego State is our main focus right now,” Steelman said Tuesday morning. “We want to get the season off to a good start and our first target is San Diego State. Everything after that will come, but right now we are focused on our first game.”

Here’s Coach E giving some guidance to Schurr on how to properly hold the ball on an extra-point attempt. That’s freshman kicker Dan Grochowski on the right (below):

“We’re picking up speed day by day, and that’s what we need,” Steelman said. “Everyone is getting settled in and we’re learning. The ability to learn and the ability to fix mistakes quickly will be a big thing for this team. We’re coming out and proving that we can be a veteran squad and a talented squad as well.”

Steelman also looked sharp in his passing attempts, mostly working on quick, short-yardage plays.

“It kind of feels different, but it’s just another football season,” he said of entering his senior campaign. “I have to have the same mentality as I’ve had heading into every season, and that’s to win ballgames and lead the team. It’s been a fun ride, but we have a long ways to go.”

Back outside, the full team lined up for long passes. Ellerson watched from behind, on the far right. (In the background here is the Kimsey Center and Randall Hall, where Army’s workout room, football offices and Hall of Fame are housed. The opposite side of that building faces into Michie’s south endzone)

“The tempo in practice has been unbelievable,” Steelman said. “We’re constantly moving and constantly getting after it without too many breaks, and that’s going to pay off come game time when the fourth quarter rolls around. We’re going to be so well-conditioned that it’s not going to faze us.”

And finally, here she is, my 2012 Dodge Challenger ready to roll outside Michie:

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