Army West Point played in (and won) its first bowl game since 2010, but last season will be known more for the long-awaited victory over Navy. A bulk of the nation’s second-ranked rushing attack returns and will get the luxury of running behind a veteran offensive line. The defense returns seven starters but will need some new leaders and playmakers to emerge. Whether the Black Knights beat the Midshipmen again remains to be seen, but Jeff Monken’s team should have a chance to post a second straight winning record, something that hasn’t been done by Army in nearly 30 years.
Previewing Army West Point Football’s Offense for 2017
A triple-option attack that ranked second in the nation in rushing last season (339.5 ypg) returns its top five ball carriers. The group is led by junior fullback Andy Davidson, who made the move from linebacker following his freshman season and ran for 961 yards and 12 touchdowns. Another junior fullback, Darnell Woolfolk, capped a 600-yard season with a career-high 119 in the bowl victory over North Texas. Sophomore Malik McGue, a jack of all trades last season who even served as the No. 3 quarterback, impressed at slot back during the spring.
Ahmad Bradshaw is expected to be under center again. The senior started all but one game last season and was second on the team in rushing with 824 yards. He often struggled through the air, throwing nine interceptions in 91 attempts. Junior Chris Carter, who has three career starts, and sophomore Kelvin Hopkins could push Bradshaw. Junior Christian Poe was the leading returning receiver but decided to leave the team in late June.
The line could feature four senior starters, including Bryce Holland and Brett Toth. The former sat out the 2015 season due to injury and returned to start every game at center. Toth took over at right tackle a year ago and may be the Black Knights’ best lineman.
Previewing Army West Point Football’s Defense for 2017
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With standout inside linebackers Andrew King and Jeremy Timpf gone from a unit that ranked fourth nationally in total defense, the spring marked an opportunity for senior Scott Washle and junior James Nachtigal to take ownership in the middle.
Outside linebacker Alex Aukerman is the leading returning tackler and paced the Black Knights with 7.5 sacks and 15.0 tackles for a loss last season. The other outside spot is manned by junior Kenneth Brinson, who juggles track (discus) and football at West Point. Senior end John Voit will be a third-year starter.
Sophomore corner Elijah Riley started the final 11 games and led the team with three interceptions after taking over for Brandon Jackson, who was killed in an early season automobile accident. Corner Marcus Hyatt was felled by a knee injury at Wake Forest and missed the spring. Coach Jeff Monken expects the junior to be ready for fall camp. Safety Rhyan England has a 24 career starts.
Previewing Army West Point Football’s Specialists for 2017
While the team has shown marked improvement overall in Monken’s three seasons at West Point, special teams continue to lag, and it may be the beginning of the season before some pieces fall into place. That is especially the case with the kicking specialists, where sophomore John Abercrombie, known for his accuracy, is in the mix after the team’s 6-for-12 showing on field goals. Three punters, including receiver Jermaine Adams, combined to place last nationally (35.1-yard average) a year ago. A kick return unit that ranked 124th (16.9-yard average) lacks a player with as many as three career returns.
An emotional season that included the tragic loss of Jackson and a euphoric win over Navy, the Black Knights’ first over their chief rival since 2001, will not soon be forgotten. Despite winning the program’s most games in 20 years, Monken feels that more could have been accomplished. “We probably didn’t play up to our potential (last year),” he says. “So that is our challenge each week, and if we can do that I am confident we can win more games than we did last year.”
Even with key losses on defense, there is enough of a veteran playmaking presence for the unit to remain formidable. Combine that with a wealth of returning ball carriers and offensive linemen, and the Black Knights appear in position to put together back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1989-90.
National Ranking: 80
(Top photo courtesy of goarmywestpoint.com)