Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Army Football Preview: 6 Questions for Spring Football

Army opens its spring football schedule today, and while I don’t want to make too big a deal about this, Black Knight fans have a few burning questions heading into the 2017 season.  The spring schedule itself isn’t too overly daunting, but given that the team played almost a month more football than normal due to their bowl schedule in 2016, I would expect them to head into its offseason training program looking substantially sharper than they did at this time last year.
The spring practice schedule is as follows:

What are you hoping to see out of spring practices?  Your mileage may vary, but my top six questions are as follows.
1. How well is QB Ahmad Bradshaw throwing the ball?
Bradshaw grew a lot last season, but he’s still at his best as an inside runner.  That’s great, particularly in Coach Jeff Monken’s version of the triple-option.  However, it’s not the kind of thing that tends to come out during an intrasquad scrimmage.  Coach is certainly not going to risk his senior starter running inside in an intrasquad game, so what does that do to the offense?  Can Bradshaw still move the team without relying on his legs?
Army’s quarterback was brilliant for much of last season, making reads, pitching late, and keeping the ball when that was what the defense gave him.  However, as Monken himself has said, “He’s never going to be Terry Bradshaw back there.”  I felt like Bradshaw’s passing improved quite a bit late in 2016, but he was helped a lot by having a receiver in Edgar Poe who has an absolutely enormous catching radius.  WR Jeff Ejekam is a fine player, but he needs to develop quite a bit to replace Poe as a legitimate number one.  This leaves us with a question for spring ball:
How well does this offense move when the quarterback can’t (or won’t) run?
2. Whatever happened to QB Chris Carter?
Army fans were really excited to see what Carter could do in his sophomore season after his performance as a plebe in the 2015 Army-Navy game, and headed into 2016, it looked like the man himself was going to be named co-starter alongside Bradshaw.  But then Bradshaw played lights-out against Temple, and Coach Monken stuck with the hot hand.  No argument.  Bradshaw got his shot and made the most of it.  Meanwhile, Carter himself was hurt during the North Texas home game.  In retrospect, this was his last shot at earning back serious playing time as the team’s co-starter.
Though Monken kept giving Carter chances, typically during Army’s third offensive possession, Carter himself was never able to come off the bench and provide the kind of spark that A.J. Schurr sometimes brought when he used to sub for Angel Santiago.  As the season wore on, I got the impression that Carter got in Monken’s doghouse a bit, especially during Army-Navy when Coach brought in plebe QB Malik MacGue to spell Bradshaw instead of Carter.  MacGue ran an inside draw that went nowhere; Carter almost certainly would have thrown in the flat to Ejekam or to SB Jordan Asberry with better results.
Is Carter still running with the Two’s, or has he fallen on the depth chart?
Barring a phenomenal summer by an incoming plebe, Carter seems likely to keep his role.  Nonetheless, I wonder how much he’ll see the field before 2018.
3.  Which wide receivers are running with the starters?
This goes along with question number one.  I’m sure Ejekam will stay in the starting lineup, and I expect we’ll see some combination of FB Andy Davidson, Asberry, and SB Kell Walker in the backfield, spelled in rotation by FB Darnell Woolfolk and some of the other slotbacks.  Who’s going to start at receiver on the other side?  My guess would be WR Christian Poe, but we’ve yet to see Kjetil Cline get meaningful playing time, and he was arguably last year’s top recruit.  What’s Monken got Cline doing, and how soon is Cline liable to make an impact?

4. Inside linebacker and safety.
Last year, Army’s defense started in the middle with LBs Jeremy Timpf and Andrew King, and it went outside with LBs Alex Aukerman and Kenneth Brinson.  With Timpf and King graduating, Army’s got some holes to fill.  Aukerman had a Hell of a season in 2016, and Brinson is a gifted athlete.  Who’s going to step up with them to stop the run in the middle?  Similarly, S Xavier Moss is graduating, leaving rising senior Rhyan England to captain the secondary.  However, now Army needs another starting safety.
I expect Gibby Gibson will be at least part of the answer.  He’s been listed at both linebacker and defensive back over the past two years, so it’s a little harder to say exactly where he’s going to play.  If I were betting on it, though, I'd put money on him taking Moss’s spot.  Beyond that, I have no idea who’s coming up on the depth chart.  Timpf and King were both such warriors that I can’t remember their backups making any meaningful plays.  This doesn’t mean they’re not talented players.
5. Who starts opposite CB Elijah Riley?
Army found a player last season in Riley, but they had a Hell of a hard time keeping anybody on the field opposite him.  Who’s going to start at the other corner?  It’s been a long time since the Black Knights have had consistency at the corners.

6. Special Teams.
Punting and kicking were both adventures last year, to the point where Coach Monken and company made special teams recruiting a focus this past offseason.  With that in mind, I doubt we’ll see any meaningful change this spring, but it’s still something to watch.

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