Army Football: What to look for, part II

Justin Trimble (Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE)

This is the second segment of ArmySports.com's preview of the Black Knights preseason drills which begin soon.

Rover
Captain Steve Erzinger seemed like he played almost every defensive snap at Rover since Rich Ellerson was hired. It will be interesting to see who replaces him. Two juniors Justin Trimble and Thomas Holloway are in a tight battle for a starting spot. Trimble is the leader for the position coming out of spring. Last season Trimble replaced Reggie Nesbit at Mike linebacker after the blowout loss to Northern Illinois in the opener. With Justin at Mike linebacker Army played two very good defensive games in a row against quality opponents. Trimble played only two games the rest of the way as his season was derailed by injuries. Trimble has the athleticism and ability to cover the position requires. He is competing against Thomas Holloway who played in every game last year and started six games at free safety. He finished second on the team in tackles (76 tackles, 1 Int.) last year. Holloway is a smart and alert player who is a sure tackler. He has only average speed at best for a free safety so moving him closer to the line of scrimmage at Rover plays to his strengths.

Health
Army enters this summer relatively healthy but will be monitoring return of some experienced starters. They had key off-season surgeries to quarterback Trent Steelman, running back Malcolm Brown, defensive end Jarrett Mackey and linebacker Nate Combs. All are expected to be ready for opening day. The only potential contributor that looks unlikely to compete for a starting spot is senior tackle Derek Bisgard. Bisgard started the 2011 opener at right tackle last year but re-injured his knee and played in only five games the rest of the way. Derek was expected to compete for the right tackle spot this year but experienced knee problems this past spring. His chronic knee problem may limit or end his career.

The most important player that Army needs to stay healthy this year is quarterback Trent Steelman. After Steelman set a school record with 32 consecutive starts at quarterback, he injured his ankle against Vanderbilt last fall and missed the next three games. Trent had to leave three others games with injuries and that probably cost Army at least one victory. Steelman's time as an option quarterback has extracted a physical toll on his body during his Black Knights career. He's had to endure surgeries after every season on either his shoulder or his knees. He was injured again late in spring practice but is expected to be ready for summer camp. Army's staff has upgraded its depth at quarterback with this incoming plebe class and the quarterback recruits it sent to the prep school this fall. That should provide solid competition for Steelman's successor next season. However, this team probably needs Steelman to stay healthy if it hopes to post a winning season in 2012. Trent is the leader of this offensive team. When he missed playing time the decline in the efficiency of the offense has been noticeable the past two years.

Defensive line
Army undersized defensive front struggled last season against the run. This spring Army revamped its defensive front with two new defensive tackles in Ellerson recruits junior Bobby Kough and sophomore Rich Glover winning the starting spots. Holt Zalneraitis has moved from defensive tackle to his more natural defensive end position. Jarrett Mackey is expected to return from his knee injury and play quick end and compete with Zach Watts. Watts may move to bandit if Mackey can play at his 2010 level. How will they perform? I really don't know. The good news is that the talented 2011 USMAPS defensive line has improved the size, competition and depth up front. I do not believe any of the plebes will start. They should at the minimum provide some much needed depth to a unit that had none last season and impact the starting lineup down the road.

Stop fumbling
The reason the Black Knights won only three games last season was because they lost more fumbles than any team in the nation. This was a radical reversal from the 2010 season when Army was one of the best teams in the nation in turnover margin. The Black Knights fumbled a pathetic 36 times and lost the ball 22 times. Even in the spring game there were six fumbles. This alarming trend has to stop if Army wants to post a winning season. Protecting the ball is critical this fall and it starts with summer practice.

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