Army West Point not only claimed a second straight Commander-in-Chief's Trophy for the first time ever last season, the Black Knights gave Oklahoma all it could handle at home before falling in overtime on their way to posting 11 wins. Jeff Monken's team should remain one of the most productive on the ground but there are questions on defense following the departure of seven starters and the coordinator for a unit that finished in the top 10 nationally in both points and yards allowed per game.
Previewing Army West Point's Offense for 2019
After doing an admirable job in backing up Ahmad Bradshaw in 2017, Kelvin Hopkins Jr. took over at quarterback last season and became the first player in Army history to exceed 1,000 yards both rushing and passing in a single season. Now a senior, Hopkins returns to lead an option attack that last year was second nationally with 312.5 yards per game on the ground. Though Darnell Woolfolk and Andy Davidson have graduated, there are a few experienced returning ball carriers, led by running back Kell Walker and fullback Connor Slomka, both seniors.
A major void needs to be filled on the line with the departure of center Bryce Holland, who anchored the unit past three years. Jack Sides, a backup at guard last season, saw time with the first string at center during spring practice.
Senior Kjetil Cline and junior Cam Harrison are returning starting receivers.
Previewing Army West Point's Defense for 2019
The Black Knights were in the top 10 nationally in many major categories last season, including forced fumbles (13, tied for fifth), total defense (295.5 ypg, eighth), and points allowed (17.7 ppg, 10th). A veteran secondary that returns three starters is led by corner Elijah Riley. The senior broke up 10 passes last season and was second among returning players with 7.5 tackles for a loss. Senior safety Jaylon McClinton, who had a career-high nine tackles against Navy, has been a key contributor to the defense's success the past three years.
Led by Alex Aukerman and James Nachtigal, the play at linebacker has been dominant at times the past couple of seasons. Now, it is senior Cole Christiansen's turn to lead the group. Last year, he led the team in TFLs with 12.5 and is the leading returning tackler within a front seven that needs a couple of new starters to emerge.
Previewing Army West Point's Specialists for 2019
A new placekicker and punter are needed and may not be identified until fall camp. Landon Salyers handled kickoffs last season and could assume placekicking duties. Zach Potter is the only experienced punter on the roster. Last season, Army averaged only 12.7 yards per kick return, last in the nation. Walker and Sandon McCoy split duties, which they may do again.
Coach Jeff Monken has taken the Black Knights to extraordinary heights. Army won 29 games the past three seasons, the most in any three-year period at the academy. Back-to-back double-digit win seasons and three successive bowl appearances, all wins, were also unprecedented achievements. What people talk about most, though, are three straight wins over Navy and winning the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy in consecutive years for the first time. Not that Monken will take any credit for it.
"I'm here to serve our players," he said after last year's win against the Midshipmen. "That's my job, to serve them. I want their experience as players at Army to be the greatest experience of their life."
Though a few seniors who played significant roles in the aforementioned success have departed, there is plenty of starting experience and a level of depth that Monken has built through recruiting. Another 10-plus-win season is not out of the question. After Army took Oklahoma to overtime last year, be sure to circle Sept. 7, when the Black Knights travel to Ann Arbor to face Michigan.