Interview: Rich Ellerson Part II

Rich Ellerson (USMA)

I recently spoke with head coach Rich Ellerson regarding the current state of the Army football program. Topics discussed included certain positions, an overview of this year's offense and defense and his recruiting philosophy. In part II we discuss the outlook for this year's defense and some of the new talent on the roster.

ArmySports.com: Switching to defense. Last year you had great success installing your defense the Double Eagle Flex. You played your traditional front with Victor Ugenyi at defensive tackle playing down in a three technique. You've now created a bandit tackle position playing upright in a two point stance. Watching practice it looked like Army was playing with two quick ends next to each other. Was this switch due to personnel or was it a schematic change you wanted to make?

Rich Ellerson: We'd go back and forth. We have different personnel. We will play with both of those looks. I really don't want to get into that discussion. That helps the bad guys.

ArmySports.com: Okay. Is the bandit tackle responsibility still to play a three technique, shoot the gap and penetrate?

Rich Ellerson: The Bandit is still three technique. It's unchanged. Our bandit is still our three technique.

(Note: This means the bandit tackle is will line up on the outside shoulder of the offensive guard in the 3 position. This DT is sometimes called a "3-technique" because of where he lines up and will have responsibility for a B gap)

ArmySports.com: Are there any concerns about how the bandit tackle, Jarrett Mackey, will hold up at the point of attack against the run since he only weights 230?

Rich Ellerson: He's a little bit bigger than that. We can personnel that position a couple of different ways. The next best guy to go in may not be one of the flex guys, it may be one of the down guys. So we still have some positional flexibility built into the line. Jarrett (Mackey) is a rush end (quick end in the flex) by trade. I didn't want to have is one of the next best defenders standing with us (on sidelines), especially with the absence of Andrew Rodriguez. With Andrew out of the mix right now we just wanted to make sure we're getting our best most productive football players an opportunity to be on the field given the situation; so that's what you're seeing. You're seeing a little bit of the flexibility that we're trying, as we grow into this system, we can personnel that based on the threat. We can personnel a couple of those positions (on defensive line) differently based on the threat and situation we find ourselves in. Given the situation we wanted the opportunity to have Jarrett (Mackey) and Josh McNary on the field together. .

ArmySports.com: That answers my follow up question, based on down and distance you may use different defensive personnel on run downs, short yardage and goal line than just the bandit tackle in a flex two point stance.

Rich Ellerson: Yes. The nice thing is you don't have to, the makeup of bandit and whip for that matter, can vary depending on the situation.

ArmySports.com: Speaking of the whip linebacker and Andrew Rodriguez. How is Andrew's back right now?

Rich Ellerson: It's not good. It's mending but it going to take some time.

ArmySports.com: I know you moved Nate Combs from bandit to whip to compete with Rodriguez's backup Chad Littlejohn. Combs is now the starter. If A-Rod is able to return does Combs stay at whip linebacker or does he move back to bandit?

Rich Ellerson: He can play both. Just like a couple of others guys who have position flexibility.

ArmySports.com: In watching scrimmage recently Richard King defensed a few passes and looks very solid at cornerback. How do you feel about having him back on the field and rejoining the program after missing last year with a concussion?

Rich Ellerson: That really helps us there. We lost Mario Hill a perennial starter out there. We return Antuan (Aaron) and get Richard back then see the growth from Josh (Jackson) and LB Brown. Maybe our expectation that the corner position (in the flex) may have been a concern. It really hasn't been. It's been well played.

ArmySports.com: Do you plan on playing Richard King at boundary or field corner. I saw him do both.

Rich Ellerson: He has the ability to play both. To get that taught we play them (the cornerbacks) left and right through most of training camp. In our minds eye he would be boundary.

ArmySports.com: With Richard King at boundary his corner spot is typically responsible for jamming at the line of scrimmage and funneling the receiver to the free safety. With his history of concussions do you worry about him staying healthy?

Rich Ellerson: Aw, he's fine! That's urban myth.

ArmySports.com: The Defense finished 16th in the nation last year and did a terrific job executing the flex. You return most starters. Overall how do you feel where you stand on that side of the ball?

Rich Ellerson: Again, we see that we're much further along this point than we were a year ago. Obviously you take a couple of really good players like Mario (Hill, Field cornerback) and Victor (Ugenyi, DT) out of the picture you always kind of keep your fingers crossed. Then of course now you take Andrew (Rodriguez) out. Andrew was as productive as anyone on the defense. The good news is we're returning a lot of guys, the bad news is we lost some key guys. We're encouraged. It's much easier to come in and be a little bit inexperienced around a bunch of veteran guys who know what's going on . They can talk to you. There's ample examples of what it supposed to look like when somebody snaps the ball, which is the case now. The thing I was talking about when we discussed the offense. We're in some ways very much better but most of that is due the experience we have. The experience does not imply depth. Experience is always shallow.

ArmySports.com: In watching the team practice throughout the year I really noticed the improved fitness and speed of the players. The team looks stronger and faster. What do you think of the job Army head strength coach Brett Gerch has done?

Rich Ellerson: Brett Gerch understands exactly what it is we're looking for, he really compliments what we're trying to do offensively and defensively in the way he trains the guys in the offseason. The summers here are challenging and diverse. I think it has been one of the great things he and the strength staff has done under the leadership of coach Swanson ( Army ) down there has been take that effort into the different summer routines. They match up where they have to so that the guys can continue to gain physically. They're probably not having the same developmental experience, pure physical development perspective that their contemporaries are. At Arizona State all their doing is taking summer school classes and training. Our guys are doing all kinds of great things, important things, tough, demanding things. While they're doing that we found a way we can support that effort, mesh with that effort and keep the arrow up in terms of their speed, explosiveness, strength and development. That's a real juggling act as you can imagine with guys spread all over. That's maybe one of the great things that the guys have done there.

ArmySports.com: After summer camp and reviewing scrimmage tape who are some of the young players Army fans might not have heard of yet but have impressed you that just joined the program?

Rich Ellerson: Raymond Maples who we discussed, that was good to see. Jared Hassin (fullback) who we are very excited about what we think he can become over time. He hasn't played football for two years. There will be some starts and stops as we get him going. Anthony Stephen is in the mix, he's a wide receiver who's brand new but really gifted. We're going to keep coaching him. He's a long way from being all the way ready to go but we're going to continue to make sure we invest a lot of time in him. Tyler Dickson is a free safety who is not quite ready to go. We're investing a lot of time in him. We think he's a real coming talent. He sure has the chance to get in the middle of some stuff. In the course of the summer we liked what we saw from young (Justin) Trimble. We liked what we saw from Reggie Nesbit. Jonathan Crucitti is another guy who's on the bus.

ArmySports.com:: Jonathan Crucitti was recruited as a defensive back and wide receiver but saw some time at slot back this past summer. Where will he play?

Rich Ellerson: Jonathan will play A &C back, the slots. He's got a great football IQ. He'd be the fifth guy. He, Brian Austin and Julian Crockett are kind of the next wave (at slot back). Crucitti has the most position flexibility.

ArmySports.com: Last year in the prep games I attended Justin Trimble was a wide receiver. You moved him to defense. Will he stay there?

Rich Ellerson: Trimble, right now we're looking at him on defense.

ArmySports.com: Will he be a corner or safety?

Rich Ellerson: Right now he's played both safety and rover. Those are the position we are looking at him. I mentioned Reggie Nesbit. Marcus McInney, another guy that's played some linebacker, (at USMAPS). Maybe boundary corner. He's a talented newcomer. Quen Kantaris is a defensive end who looks to be something.

ArmySports.com: Kantaris looks like a natural pass rusher who had 16 sacks last year in high school. Do you project him to quick end?

Rich Ellerson: Yes, rush end maybe another flex guy who knows where he might evolve into. Dan Whitaker is an offensive tackle who shined up on and did a nice job at Saturday (at scrimmage). Got everybody talking about him. Shelby Jackson, a center from the prep school, had a really good training camp. He will likely be traveling and getting meaningful reps in practice.

ArmySports.com: Regarding roster size you tend to carry 15-20 players less than the other service academies. Do you have a set number on how many you'll carry?

Rich Ellerson: We'll never let our numbers go over 150. That's A squad and B squad. That's the threshold we can work under.

ArmySports.com: What keeps you up at night when you think about this year's team. What's your major worry?

Rich Ellerson: I think we have a chance to be an improved football team. I also think it's fragile and that's what keeps me awake. We continually find ways to prepare our people for what's coming. We do it in a prudent way that keeps them. We don't take unnecessary risks with the experience that we have because that's irreplaceable. We have to do things in practice particularly with our young players fundamentally that are going to be aggressive and demanding physically. We need to make sure the guys are pad ready for the tempo and the physical nature of a college football game as possible without putting them in undue harm's way in a practice environment. That's what I think probably every coach in America agonizes over. Certainly this year it's more of a concern that last year. Or it's more prevalent because I keep on talking about the relative level of experience we have compared to last year.

Next: In the final installment of our interview with Rich Ellerson we discuss recruiting.

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