Army Football Practice Notebook

Jeff Monken is preparing his team for his initial game against Buffalo on September 6th as the new Black Knights head football coach. Monken has to deal with numerous injuries that resulted from his demanding hard hitting practice. The offensive line has been hit hard with injuries.

The worst news during summer camp was the serious knee injury suffered by right tackle Justin Gilbert. He will miss the entire season. Gilbert had a terrific spring practice and had impressed the new staff this summer. He was one of two returning starters from last season.

Senior Todd McDonald moves over from backup center to right tackle to replace Gilbert. He has big shoes to fill. McDonald was a starter on the talented United States Military Academy Prep School offensive line in 2010. Todd was a walk-on at USMAPS but won the starting right guard job. At West Point McDonald was moved back to center, where he played in high school, and started on the JV team. He has continued to improve each year. McDonald (6-0, 260) is an undersized player but is strong and a great technician who understands blocking angles and positioning. McDonald moves fairly well and shows some quickness and pop off the snap. He is a fighter with a mean streak who gets after his opponents. He can have trouble with some bigger defensive ends and his ability to handle defensive ends who can rush the passer is a concern at this point because he played his entire career inside.

The entire offensive line has been beset by nagging injuries this summer. It's given some new freshmen reps with the first and second units but even some of those players like Joe Tustin who was a starting guard last year at United States Military Academy Prep School ended up missing time after being hurt. Bryce Holland a direct admit Scout.com three-star recruit from Chandler, Arizona has lived up to his press clippings. Holland (6-2, 260) was widely considered one of the best centers in Arizona last year. Scout.com ranked him third among all the center recruits out West. He has earned the backup spot behind Matt Hugenberg. New center now puts the "huge" in Hugenberg. He's added over thirty pounds of muscle under the new strength and conditioning program. He's been impressive. Senior left guard Stephen Shumaker is now the only returning starter from last year. He missed time this past week like many of his injured line mates.

Junior quarterback A.J. Schurr must be feeling a sense of deja vu. Schurr for the second consecutive year left spring practice as the starting quarterback only to enter fall practice with an injury. Schurr suffered a hamstring injury before summer practice even opened. He just returned to full time practice for this past Saturday's scrimmage.

Senior quarterback Angel Santiago has benefited from the injury. Angel fumbled the opening snap of summer practice but has played well ripping off a number of long runs. Santiago will probably open the season as starter unless Schurr makes a miraculous full recovery in the limited time before the opener. New plebe quarterbacks Ahmad Bradshaw and Kado Brown aren't ready to compete for the starting job but both have showed promise and looked to have bypassed sophomore quarterback Matthew Kaufmann. Brown has demonstrated his speed breaking off some long runs while Bradshaw has run with power and credited new quarterback coach Mitch Ware with improving his passing accuracy. Kaufmann was a star in the spring game but as I mentioned in ArmySports.com post spring practice review he isn't as fast and athletic as the new incoming quarterbacks.

The other sophomore quarterback Tevin Long has been converted to cornerback and while still raw is already competing on the second unit. The Army cornerback depth took a big hit this off season with Shaquille Tolbert, who was at cornerback this spring after starting at SAM safety in 2013, talented plebe James Noble and Stephen Johnson has been moved to safety. Former slotback Jared Rogers was also moved to defense late during spring camp and has done a solid job this summer. Rogers has the skill set for a cornerback in that he is quick, can change direction and accelerate despite lacking top end speed.

The big news on the defense is that senior James Kelly has regained a starting spot as the Rush linebacker. Kelly had been listed as the backup rush linebacker at the end of spring practice. Kelly is a former direct admit who has played in 23 games the last two years and has started six games. Last year he started the season at whip linebacker but ended the year at quick end. As I mentioned in the R-day Incoming report plebe that John Voit would likely transition to Rush linebacker and had the ability to make an early impact. He is currently listed as the backup. Voit was the starting quick end and Defensive MVP at United States Military Academy Prep School last fall. Other Army web sites had barely discussed Voit despite the fact he was the best player on the 2013 USMAPS defense. ArmySports.com had discussed how impressed we were with Voit last fall. He started every game at the flex defense quick end position and led the team in sacks. Voit is a very good athlete with terrific instincts. He is physically strong and is able to hold the point of attack. He uses his hands well to shed defenders to make tackles and rush the passer. He has good first step acceleration and is a solid tackler.

New defensive coordinator Jay Bateman probably received a scare at the beginning of camp when the staff took his best plebe defensive line recruits, Andrew McLean and Jason Nix, and tried them initially on the offensive line before moving them back to defense. McLean was the best defensive tackle last year at the United States Military Academy Prep School. He was probably the strongest player on the USMAPS team. He plays with leverage, strength and has a nice first step off the ball. He moves well and is a handful to block one-on-one. Defensive linemen like McLean are hard for Army to recruit.

Jason Nix was a starting defensive end at the United States Military Academy Prep School last fall. Nix is fast but seems at times he's a little stiff and not very fluid. At an ESPN combine he posted one of the fastest times for a defensive end with a legitimate 4.7 forty yard dash. When he was healthy he did a very nice job getting up the field and creating pressure. Both players should be key defensive linemen beginning next year after the current senior dominated defensive line graduates.

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