The Army Black Knights just released their post spring football practice depth chart. The spring practice saw many players, especially the running backs, limited by minor injuries. There was plenty of competition at the wide receiver and tackle spots in battles to replace graduating seniors. Overall offensive coordinator Ian Shields feels the team had a productive spring with so many returning starters playing well. He believes the running back positions are "the strength of the offense" after having rushed for a team record 4,158 yards last fall. Shields discussed they have worked on ball security which was an issue fall. Ian says "there are a lot of positives [with the offense] if we can fix that negative [fumbling] then we can be two or three games better at the minimum."
With spring practice concluded, ArmySports.com will look at the projected post spring practice depth chart. We'll review the offensive starters, projected backups and players who might contribute in the future. As is our usual policy at ArmySports.com we do not directly discuss athletes currently attending the United States Military Academy prep school who might possibly impact the 2011 depth chart. We will discuss these players by position, along with direct admits, after they take the oath on R-day.
Starter: Trent Steelman #8 Sr.
Back up: Angel Santiago #3 So.
Player to Watch: Gino DeBartolo #11 So.
Trent Steelman has been the face of Army football during the Rich Ellerson era. Last season Black Knight fans learned Steelman wasn't the Man of Steel and was not indestructible. Shortly after setting a school record for 32 consecutive starts at quarterback, Trent suffered a high ankle sprain against Vanderbilt that caused him to miss the next three games. Steelman also had to leave the San Diego State, Miami (Ohio) and Temple games with injuries probably costing at least one victory. He was injured again late in spring practice but is expected to be ready for summer camp.
The reality is this team may need Steelman to stay healthy if it hopes to post a winning season. Trent is the undisputed leader of this offense. When he was out of the lineup it was noticeable. During his time at West Point Steelman has become noticeably quicker and stronger running the ball. In nine games last season Steelman rushed for 645 yards, averaging 4.9 yards per carry and scored 12 touchdowns. He showed terrific leg strength in short yardage situations. He did a solid job in reading the option but he fumbled l2 times and lost seven. A number of games he forced pitches that were not there. Despite his mistakes the Army's offense was improved as the team led the nation in rushing but he needs to cut down on the turnovers, Steelman really struggled passing the ball the first four games as the staff tried to break-in new faster sophomore receivers. For the season Steelman completed 24-of-45 (53.3 %) of his passes for 424 yards with three touchdown passes and two interceptions. He threw the ball well this spring. Steelman has proved to be the most irreplaceable player on this offense.
Backup quarterback Angel Santiago, who played in four games, demonstrated plenty of ability last year as a plebe. Santiago played well in mop-up duty against Vanderbilt and Fordham and in a start against Rutgers at Yankee Stadium. Angel struggled the following week against Temple after he replaced an injured Trent Steelman and was pulled himself in the second half. Rich Ellerson has mentioned that Santiago could pressure Steelman for the starting job but I believe that is more a coach letting a team which is coming off a 3-9 season that no one's job is safe. However, I don't dismiss it totally as a coach using it as motivation since Santiago does have ability. Army offensive coordinator Ian Shields said Angel "has the skill set, he can run and throw. He's very quick and he's an up and coming talent. He did a nice job this spring."
Santiago is the fastest quarterback on the roster. He is a very quick, explosive runner with surprising leg strength for his size. He needs to improve on his reads and make quicker decisions distributing the ball. Angel showed his speed during spring practice when he scored a touchdown on 50-yard run when he ran past and through the scout team. Santiago completed only 33% of his 21 pass attempts last year but threw the ball fairly well in his start against Rutgers. Despite possessing only an average throwing arm for an option quarterback, Santiago is not a one dimensional player. He did throw for 6,900 yards and 57 touchdowns during in his high school career. At the United States Military Academy Prep school in 2010 he was a dual threat option quarterback running for over 1,000 yards and passing for over 600 yards in eight games. To me the biggest concern about Angel is his small frame and ability to withstand the pounding a Division I option quarterback receives as a starter. At times the tiny Santiago can be smacked around like a pinball but to his credit he always gets up ready for the next snap.
Third string sophomore quarterback Gino DeBartolo is possibly a player to watch. DeBartolo was a direct admit last season who played well at quarterback for the JV team. He saw playing time with the varsity last fall in the blow out win against Fordham (4 carries, 20 yards). While he handled the ball like it was a greased pig in the spring game he did break off a 44 yard run and threw a touchdown pass.
The staff likes his size (6-2, 205) and ability to manage the game. He has a lot of option experience having played quarterback in an option offense during his high school career. Like most option quarterbacks he has an average arm but he demonstrated playing on the JV team he can deliver the ball with a nice touch at times.
The player to look forward to seeing at quarterback may be the starting quarterback at the United States Military Academy Prep school who is expected to join the program after R-Day. We'll discuss him and his teammates in our Incoming features on the freshman joining the program this fall after R-Day.