ESPN.com, aside from their 24/7 LeBron James blitz, posted a great, in-depth preview of the 2010 Army football program on Tuesday with insight from head coach Rich Ellerson, predicting the cadets will win at least six games, earn a bowl game bid and expand their dreadful passing game in quarterback Trent Steelman’s second season this fall.
ESPN andBlue Ribbon College Football laid out a pretty optimistic future for Ellerson’s second year at West Point. Most notably, it suggests Steelman and the Knights will look to pass more and maul teams with a group of four solid runners in sophomore newcomer Jared Hassin, 2009 breakout Pat Mealy, the quick Jameson Carter and a combination of senior Jacob Bohn and junior CeDarius Williams.
Obviously, the preseason love for Hassin continues — everyone is excited about this guy, a lifelong Army fan who committed to West Point, ended up at Air Force and then rejoined Army last year, being forced to sit out the season due to NCAA transfer rules.
He’s healthy and looks to be the main man behind Army’s running game, which ranked 16th nationally in 2009, mostly thanks to Steelman and Mealy.
Bohn is a converted linebacker who ranks second on the depth chart behind Hassin, ironically replacing Kingsley Ehie, who was converted to be a linebacker and, according to ESPN, may not see a ton of playing time behind senior co-captain Stephen Anderson this fall.
One of the more interesting bits from the offensive preview was what Ellerson termed the searched for someone “magical” to spice up the running game, with ESPN speculating it could be sophomore Malcolm Brown.
Brown (5-11, 180) started five games at slotback last year, rushing for 112 yards. He moved from slotback to wide receiver midway through spring drills, but was moved back at the conclusion of the spring season and is now listed as a backup at one slotback spot.
“We feel Malcolm Brown is one of our best football players,” Ellerson said. “He picks things up quickly, he’s position flexible and very intuitive. We trust him blocking, trust throwing it to him and he’s got some ‘make-you-miss’ ability.”
Pretty high praise for a kid so low on the chart.
Steelman, of course, is the key ingredient to it all — the first ever plebe to start every Army game led the team in rushing attempts, yards and rushing touchdowns last year, but even he said the cadets need to throw more.
“[In this offense] it’s hard to get into a [throwing] rhythm,” Steelman said. “Hopefully we’ll come out throwing this year, which will make it easier for me to get into a rhythm.”
QB Trent Steelman“We need to have that to keep nine [defenders] out of the box,” Steelman said of the passing game. “It really opens it [the offense] up more.”
Let’s hope so. It’s an option offense, of course, but it’s also scary to realize that not only did Army only have five passing touchdowns last year (all to Ali Villanueva, who’ll be at Ft. Drum to begin the season), but Army, no surprise, ranked last — last — out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in passing offense with 71 yards per game.
The preview praised Army’s defense, which returns several key names, most notably DE Mike Gann (who ESPN reports has spent the summer “eating, sleeping and lifting”) and Josh McNary, who “enters this season as one of the nation’s best pass rushers.”
I actually came to enjoy watching Army on defense more than anything last year — they were just that good. Nothing was better than the Corps buzzing behind you on third down and Army coming up with a big stop. The Knights will have Steve Erzinger and Ehie at linebacker along with a solid safety team and the returning Anderson, who missed time last winter with a torn ACL.
On Ehie’s transition, Ellerson said, “We had our fingers crossed there. We hoped it would be positive, and it really was.”
Junior Andrew Rodriguez is another name to watch in 2010; Rodriguez led the team in tackles with 85 and picked off two passes. Erzinger finished third with 71 tackles.
Army ranked third in the nation in passing defense last year, allowing 152 yards per game, and ESPN highlights Donovan Travis, Donnie Dixon and Jordan Trimble as the corps of that pass coverage.
Gann, according to the preview, said Ellerson has been able to adjust well and evaluate his individual player’s strengths and weaknesses thus far.
“He looks at what type of talent he has and who’s playing the best at that particular time,” Gann said. “Then he tailors his system to them.”
“[The atmosphere around the team] already feels more right,” Gann said. “It feels like a good team’s should feel.”
The special teams section basically recycled what Ellerson admitted in the spring — that he’s concerned with the crummy showing kicker Alex Carlton had, mostly after he came up short in the black/gold scrimmage. He proved himself in 2009 so I doubt the coaching staff is really sweating the situation too much.
Overall, ESPN penciled in Army for six wins, a bowl game and declared “Ellerson is making progress.”