Army is going for a new look and more formal name in 2015, updating its logos and preferring to spell out its name as “Army West Point.” Renewed results, though, remain in question. The Black Knights have reached one bowl game since 1996, and with six starters returning, a postseason seems a reach once again for the Cadets.
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Previewing Army West Point’s Offense for 2015
With Angel Santiago having graduated and A.J. Schurr sidelined with a shoulder injury, Army went through spring drills without a quarterback who saw game action in 2014. Schurr, a senior who started two games last season, is the Cadets’ leading returning rusher. He will be challenged by Ahmad Bradshaw in fall camp. Bradshaw has explosive speed, and coach Jeff Monken noted how he improved his decision-making as the spring progressed. Junior Matt Kaufmann also got a lot of reps in the spring.
With the country’s fifth-best rushing attack having graduated nearly 3,000 of its yards, there will be ample opportunity for several players to step up. Junior Joe Walker joins Elijah St. Hilaire and converted defensive back Joey Giovannelli among those vying for playing time. Monken is looking to build depth at fullback behind the solid duo of senior Matt Giachinta and junior Aaron Kemper.
An offensive line anchored by senior center Matt Hugenberg returns Justin Gilbert, who missed last season with a torn ACL after starting 2013 at right tackle. Sophomore Jaryn Villegas started at both guard spots the second half of last season.
Among receivers, junior Edgar Poe started nine games last season, and sophomore Jeff Ejekam had a good spring. Senior Kelvin White returns at tight end.
Previewing Army West Point’s Defense for 2015
Five of the front seven graduated, including all four linemen. The holdovers are junior linebackers Andrew King and Jeremy Timpf. The former recorded a team-high 5.0 sacks last season, and the latter led in tackles (117) and tackles for a loss (14.5) while also picking off three passes. Monken was very pleased with the spring performance of sophomore end John Voit, who appeared in 11 games as a reserve last season. The second-year coach believes senior T.J. Atimalala was making strides toward being the starting nose tackle.
A new face in the secondary is former receiver Xavier Moss. The junior was moved to safety prior to spring drills. Senior Chris Carnegie — whose 99-yard interception return sealed last year’s win over UConn — and junior Josh Jenkins are returning starters at corner. Steven Johnson, who started six games at safety last season, filled in for the injured Carnegie during the spring. Monken feels Johnson is a better fit at corner, which is where he could find himself in nickel packages at the very least.
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Previewing Army West Point’s Specialists for 2015
Jenkins handled the bulk of the return duties last season. But after placing 117th nationally in punt returns and 123rd on kick returns, both units could stand considerable improvement. Poe, Ejekam and perhaps a freshman or two will be given an opportunity to breathe life into the return game. Kicker Daniel Grochowski and punter Alex Tardieu are back for their senior seasons. Grochowski’s 52-yard field goal against Navy last season was the program’s longest in 20 years.
With so many starters on both sides of the ball having departed, Monken has a lot of holes to plug, and a few jobs will not be determined until well into fall camp and perhaps beyond. Monken has assembled a solid staff and has been an aggressive recruiter. He may have to rely on players coming in from the Army prep program and/or members of this year’s recruiting class arriving in the summer to fill vacancies. He is also recruiting faster and more athletic players, something that has been noticeably lacking at West Point. This may be a season of growing pains, but many indicators are at least headed in an upward direction as Monken continues to put his stamp on a success-starved program that has lost 13 straight to Navy.