In four seasons, coach Jeff Monken has taken Army from a program that lost to Yale to one that has defeated Navy and won a bowl in consecutive years. Suddenly, the team has a number of players who have no idea what it is like to experience a losing season. Even if QB Ahmad Bradshaw does not return, the culture Monken has developed combined with a good number of experienced players should allow for the winning ways to continue.
Previewing Army Football's Offense for 2018
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The Black Knights went through spring drills not knowing whether Ahmad Bradshaw, who ranks fifth on Army's all-time career rushing list despite not playing as a freshman, would be granted a fourth year of eligibility. Coach Jeff Monken looked at different options under center, including giving plenty of reps to 5'9" junior Kell Walker, who averaged 7.3 yards per carry as a slot back last year. Junior Kelvin Hopkins emerged as Bradshaw's backup last season and has the strongest arm among the group. Senior Luke Langdon has also been given an opportunity to step up.
Whoever is under center will have experienced backs behind him, including senior fullbacks Darnell Woolfolk and Andy Davidson. The duo combined for 1,439 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. Four starters from the offensive line graduated, leaving senior center Bryce Holland to lead the group. The line should benefit from the return of guard Mike Johnson, who sat out last season due to an ACL injury.
Previewing Army Football's Defense for 2018
While the graduation of linebacker Alex Aukerman and end John Voit leaves a void in leadership, the Black Knights return five of their top seven tacklers. Led by linebackers James Nachtigal (team-leading 103 tackles) and Cole Christiansen, a unit that ranked 32nd nationally in total defense should be strong again.
Chandler Ramirez made the move from linebacker to end in the spring after Amadeo West suffered a setback while rehabbing a torn ACL.
Monken is looking for a leader to step up in a secondary that lost the services of four-year starting safety Rhyan England. One thing is for sure: There is plenty of experience, as six players started at least five games last season, including corner Elijah Riley. The junior sat out the first eight games of 2017 due to academic issues before returning to start the final five contests. Max Regan, who started five games last year when England was injured, is in line take over at one safety spot. The unit could receive a boost from the return of corner Jalen Sharp, who was limited to two games a year ago due to a knee injury.
Previewing Army Football's Specialists for 2018
Walker handled the bulk of the kick return duties last season, though that will change if he is anointed QB. Junior Glen Coates, a defensive back, has some experience in that area. Thanks to senior Nick Schrage and his 42.9-yard average, Army improved from last in the FBS in punting to 46th.
While there is a trip to Norman in September, the Sooners are the only FBS team on Army's schedule that won more than seven games last season. The slate also includes two FCS programs and one transitioning to the FBS. It should all add up to the academy playing in a bowl game for a third consecutive season -- something that has never happened. "I think it's easy for guys that haven't experienced anything but winning seasons to maybe think it's a lot easier than it is," Monken says. "We have to keep our team from being complacent."