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You can read the entire Army Black Knights preview in Athlon Sports' 2013 National magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
HEAD COACH: Rich Ellerson, 17-32 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Ian Shields | DEF. COORDINATOR: Payam Saadat, Chris Smeland
Coach Rich Ellerson did not have to concern himself with the quarterback position in his first four seasons at West Point. Trent Steelman was a four-year starter who led the Black Knights to their first bowl since the Clinton administration and re-wrote much of the Army record book. With Steelman gone, four quarterbacks got a look in the spring. Sophomore A.J. Schurr has the edge, if only a slight one, heading into fall camp. Schurr played in six games last season, rushing for 47 yards on 12 attempts and throwing for 130 yards and two touchdowns. Junior Angel Santiago, who started one game as a freshman in 2011, is the most experienced of the returning quarterbacks.
While Army isn’t about to abandon the triple-option, the coaching staff tinkered with the shotgun during the spring. The experiment is an acknowledgement that the Black Knights need to be a little more productive in the passing game. Look for junior receiver Chevaughn Lawrence to improve on his team-leading 21 catches.
Raymond Maples was productive on the ground last season with a team-high 1,215 yards rushing. Though he spent the spring recovering from ankle surgery, Maples should again be the main cog. Trenton Turrentine and Terry Baggett were productive in limited work last season. They will be a bigger part of the offense. Larry Dixon is a 240-pound bull at fullback.
Junior center Ryan Powis anchors a line that has two other returning starters in tackle Michael Kime and guard Steve Shumaker. Kime (knee) should be ready to go for his senior season after sitting out the spring. Shumaker, a junior, could line up on either side.
Injuries and experiments made for a lot of spring shuffling. Yet, the hope is that younger players who saw extensive playing time last season are ready to be more productive. It can’t get much worse. The Black Knights ranked 118th in pass efficiency defense, 117th against the run and forced only 14 turnovers (tied for 107th) last season.
Junior Geoffrey Bacon moved to free safety during the spring after leading the Black Knights in tackles (136) last season as a linebacker. Fingers are crossed that rover Alex Meier (ACL) will be fully recovered by the opener after finishing third in tackles as a freshman in 2012. Robert Kough and Richard Glover combined for 17 tackles for a loss on a line that does not lack experience.
Bacon’s presence in the secondary should help a unit that had two freshman starters last season. Brandon Fusilier-Jeffires, held out in the spring due to academics, could play safety or linebacker after finishing second to Bacon in tackles, with 88. Corner Chris Carnegie started the last 10 games and was fifth on the team in tackles.
Dan Grochowski needs to be more consistent after nailing 10-of-16 field goal attempts as a freshman. Alex Tardieu could be the new punter. The return game has rarely provided a spark in recent seasons, and 2012 was no exception. Julian Crockett and Stephen Fraser could again see action on kick returns after combining to average 19.7 yards last season.
There are a few new faces and several revamped job descriptions on the coaching staff. Still, the most anticipated change will be at quarterback. An occasional shotgun look will allow Schurr to utilize his strong arm and give opposing defenses something to think about beyond the option. The defense has nowhere to go but up, which it will do if enough of the young players who were forced into action in 2012 emerge as difference-makers in 2013. If they fail to do so, it will not matter how Schurr — or any other quarterback — performs.