Potentially, this is an exciting time for Army offense that was ranked number one in the nation in rushing, as well as time of possession. Exciting because there are several key players returning and unlike our projections for the Black Knights' defense, the "O" can surely say that at certain positions there are established anchors who are a lock to start at their particular spots.
Case in point, no one can argue that Trent Steelman is 'the man' at quarterback or that the young man providing Steelman with the pigskin won't be Ryan Powis at center or even in the exchange between QB and running back, will have 1,000 yard rusher Raymond Maples as a guarantee at his familiar 'A' slotback position. Oh yeah, and who would dare attempt to bet against seeing #79, Frank Allen at the left guard position, where he has been a starter since he made his way onto the West Point campus.
Of course, the flip side to all of that is the proverbial competition at a variety of other spots and even though the aforementioned players are not being pushed for their starting roles per say, the talent behind them offers up a comfort level for the staff and fans when it comes to quality depth. Something that escaped the offensive, even during the 2010 season where the were crowned Armed Forces Bowl Champions.
A good example of that is at the heart of Army's triple option offense, quarterback ... where sophomore Angel Santiago will be "the man" behind Steelman followed by our projected #3 signal caller in USMAPS product, AJ Schurr.
Freshman Angel Santiago appears to have a lock on the #2 spot on the QB depth as much as three year starter Trent Steelman holds down the lead role as the Black Knights' signal caller.
For Santiago, who will only get better, still needs a little more experience in the system and have the game slow down for him a little.
This turned out to be the Raymond Maples show in 2011, as the sophomore dashed his way for an impressive 1,066 yards. What makes Maples work of art worth applauding is that it happen during his 2nd year at the academy, which is typically the toughest year academically. Like most player in the midpoint of the football career, there is room for improvement and the Philadelphia native is no different, but the best is still in front of him.
Picking up the slack in terms of carrying the load will be freshman Larry Dixon. The 6-foot-0, 220 pound bruiser averaged over 6 yards per carry from his fullback spot. Of course, you can't forget fellow fullback, Jared Hassin, who just two years ago broke the 1,000 yard rushing mark.
Then there is Marcus Poling, who was probably the top offensive player at the prep school and will now begin to integrate his talents with the already deep pool of players at fullback . Although he played 'B' at prep, he also saw time at 'A' back as well.
If there is any achilles heel for the offense, it would be with the receiving corp. One question mark or two if you want to be more specific surround this group. With the spots vacated due to the graduation of Davyd Brooks and Austin Barr, which of the young players will finally step up and take hold of the starting roles?
Jared McFarlin and Chevaughn Lawrence are young talents, but both players need to mature physically and mentally in order to be truly effective going forward. Of course this is part of the maturation process at West Point ... often much harder than outsiders and even newcomers to the program realize. Then there are a couple of other players knocking on the door in Anthony Stephens and E.J. Tucker - both played some last year. Stephens needs to be more consistent with his route running and blocking, which is something that all the receivers must come to enjoy and perfect within the Black Knights' triple option offense or you will find yourself on the sideline holding a clipboard.
Patrick Laird is still in the wide receiver conversation, albeit that he is a different type of receiver, where he is more of a hybrid tight-end type of player. Michael Hudson, who came into the program as a quarterback hasn't been able to stay healthy, so spring practice will be an opportune time for him to show the staff what he can do.
Frosh Justin Newman who had shoulder surgery several weeks ago will set him back for spring practice. He good tools and was probably set back a little this year going through Beast Barracks.
Then you have several guys with raw talent at the prep school, starting with Coach Ellerson's son, Andrew, who stands at 6-foot-6 and who may be a year away from having impact. You also have fellow prepster, Deandre Bell, who like Hudson was a quarterback in high school.
At this stage, the staff realizes that first and foremost they must see true competition at a higher level at this position. Add to that being physical along with making plays when the ball is in the air ... something lacking in 2011.
Collectively speaking, this group must raise their game up a notch or two.
The Offensive Line
As previously mentioned, the group up front has two mainstays in Frank Allen at left guard, along with Ryan Powis at center.
Will Wilson, who actually started the 2011 season at center is more than an adequate backup to Powis.
At right guard there's 6-foot-3, 278 pound junior Matt Villanti who started the second half of the season when Joe Bailey broke his leg.
Then there's frosh Steve Shumaker who can come and challenge for a starting position at either right guard or maybe even at one of the tackle spots and there's Wilson again, who has the flexibility to play guard if called upon. The 6-foot-2, 285 pound junior can stretch and play almost any of the roles up front. If you were to ask the coaching staff, they would tell you that 'he gets it'.
At right and left tackle respectively, Michael Kime returns, along with Ben Jebb. But Derek Bisgard missed all of last season and who destined to start in 2011 returns and will put pressure on both tackle spots.
However, as good as the offense was by leading the nation in rushing and time of possession and can be even better, but there are some areas that will need to be address this spring in order for this group to reach its maximum potential.
First and foremost, Offensive Coordinator Ian Shield will be working diligently to ensure that unlike 2011, this upcoming campaign is to keep the ball off the ground, because this is a squad that lost 22 fumbles last season.
Then there the need to see this offense grow in the passing game, which is a collective effort. What does that translate into relative to actual numbers? In Ellerson's triple option offense, the optimal number of passes could be at least 15 passes per game ... give or take 1 or 2.
From the prep school, keep an eye on Will Butler, who played on the defensive side, but could turn out to be an effective hole opener with the Black Knights.
Of course, the reality or mindset of the coaching staff is 'Let's make it through Spring Ball before we worry about any of this'. Because truthfully, there is much to be done between now and training camp - It will change every day between now and then, but it's fun to discuss even now ...
... So what are your thoughts?
Post them on "The 12th Knight' or the Non-premium message boards.