In speaking with co-defensive coordinators Payam Saadat and Chris Smeland the transition is still occurring and the depth chart for the front seven is written in pencil currently. They have grouped players as interior linemen, quick defensive ends and "flex" players that can play either bandit tackle or whip end. The defensive coaches were hamstrung by the fact that a number of players projected to move up the depth chart and assume starting roles were hurt.
With spring practice concluded, ArmySports.com will look at the post spring practice depth chart. We'll review the defensive starters, backups and players who might possibly contribute. The United States Military Academy prep school, reflecting the improved recruiting by this staff, had a very good season with at least five defenders who can contribute as freshman. Our policy at ArmySports.com is not to discuss athletes currently attending the USMAPS because they can still be recruited. However, we will discuss these players in-depth by position, along with direct admits, after they take the oath on R-day.
Starter: Jarrett Mackey #34 Jr. (last year #94)
Back up: Quentin Kantaris #53 So. (last year #48)
The only returning starter on the defensive line is junior Jarrett Mackey. He played bandit tackle and is returning to his natural quick end position. Ellerson put him in the lineup last season because he was better than any other tackle option and was too good a player to be sitting on the bench. Mackey is quick and rangy with good lateral mobility. Mackey really grew into the role and played better as the season progressed. Mackey finished with 47 tackles, 6 1/2 for a loss, with 4 sacks and forced two fumbles. Mackey is a lock to be a starter and needs to generate pressure on the quarterback. The quick end is the primary pass rusher in the double eagle flex defense.
Backing up Mackey is sophomore Quentin Kantaris. Kantaris moved up the depth chart last year as a direct admit. The 6-foot 3, 220-pound Kantaris is a natural pass rusher from Moorpark, California. Kantaris was voted his high school league's defensive lineman of the year in 2009 after he recorded 16 sacks. He plays fast but needs to get bigger and stronger.
Starter: Brian Zalneraitis #88 So.
Back up: Chad Littlejohn #59 Sr.
Player to Watch: Chris Swain #98 Sr.
With the injuries up front Brian Zalneraitis took advantage of his increased playing time to take the lead at bandit tackle. Zalneraitis is an undersized (6-2, 220) sophomore lineman from Round Rock, Texas.
The bandit tackle is a unique position in the Army double eagle flex in that it features some players who the staff targets as "flex" guys. These are players that can play down with a hand on the ground and also play whip linebacker. Chad Littlejohn is one of those "flex" players. Littlejohn's move to bandit tackle makes sense in my opinion. The senior was third on the depth chart at whip linebacker last spring but was forced into extensive action after Andrew Rodriguez and Nate Combs went down. Chad posted 30 tackles and forced a fumble against Tulane. Littlejohn is a physical player and solid tackler but his lack of range was noticeable in a number of games. Littlejohn weighs 234 so playing with his hand on the ground at bandit is probably a better fit for his skill set.
Senior Chris Swain is grouped with the interior lineman. He played bandit tackle when he started against Temple last year. Swain did a solid job replacing an injured Victor Ugenyi at tackle for two games in 2009. Swain can play both tackle spots and the strong side defensive end position on run downs. At 260 pounds he is one of only two players on the defensive line that size. He missed almost all of spring practice with an injury and was dropped from the two deep depth chart. Swain has the ability to help at three defensive line positions if healthy.