Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Army Football Preview: Closing Out Spring Practice

There wasn’t as much news as I’d expected out of last weekend’s annual Black and Gold spring football game.  Given West Point’s attempt to drum up publicity via the controversial “rebranding” event, I thought for sure they’d follow up with a flood of new “Army West Point” branded merchandise and a gaggle of make-work press releases covering the happenings on the various sports teams.  So far that hasn’t happened.  You can get a hat or a polo shirt with the new logo on it if you really want one, but for the most part the Army Sports Store is still filled with the same crap it’s always had.  90% of this carries the outgoing logo, but at least that stuff looks like it was designed by someone on purpose.  By contrast, all the gear with the new logo is strictly rudimentary, like it was designed by one of Nike’s summer interns and printed on demand by CafePress.Com.  Why Nike/West Point couldn’t synchronize the new season’s clothing and merchandise rollout with the logo rollout is something of a mystery to me, but then again, so is the decision to launch a logo with four separate design elements.  Clearly no one with an actual working knowledge of design was consulted during the so-called “design phase” of this new branding thing.
Frankly, if these guys can’t help themselves, I’m not sure that I should be helping them, either.  And yet here we are.

Whatever plan the brass at West Point had to capitalize on the excitement of rebranding fizzled spectacularly, and Army Football’s spring game was caught in the backblast.  Though reports are that some 2,500 spectators attended the game—an excellent showing, all things considered—nobody besides Sal Interdonato, Army’s lone beat writer from HudsonValley.Com, seems to have noticed.  Even Interdonato put up just a single, sparsely written blog post covering the game.  Coach Jeff Monken gave a short press conference as well, but what is there to say?  The team’s players all have Term End Exams coming, and the team’s presumed starting quarterback missed the entire spring season.  The fact that there’s any news at all ought to come as something of a surprise.  
There is a little news, however, so why not talk about it?
1. We have a quarterback competition coming.
Quarterbacks Ahmad Bradshaw, Matt Kaufmann and Seth Gonzalez combined to complete 7-of-20 passes with three interceptions. A couple of throws were dropped. But, in other cases like Alex Aukerman’s 15-yard interception return, bad reads were made.
“I have to protect the football and don’t be the hero,” said Bradshaw, who rushed for 45 yards and threw for 37 more for the Black in a 40-17 win. “Just do what your team needs you to do and execute the play. (Edgar) Poe and I weren’t on the same page on both of them.”
These are not great numbers, but Bradshaw is a converted running back who started this spring as the number three quarterback, having just missed an entire season for “Academy related” reasons—whatever that means.  However, he beat out Matt Kaufman over the course the spring and has every chance to challenge for the starter’s job in August.  Even if rising firstie AJ Shurr manages to hold onto the starter’s spot, it’s a good bet that Bradshaw will see action given Shurr’s injury history.
Bradshaw has speed.  I’ve not personally seen him play, so I don’t know how well he handles decisions in the triple-option, but he can definitely make plays when he keeps the ball.  His speed can also, presumably, create problems on the outside if the pitchman is in the right spot.  He obviously needs to make better decisions throwing the ball, but this can be said of many, many Army quarterbacks.  
It’s worth noting that the spring game appears to have featured quite a bit more passing than we’re likely to see during the actual season, so Bradshaw’s performance Saturday isn’t necessarily reflective of his true potential in Army’s offense.  We really need to see how he handles the decision to pitch or keep before deciding whether or not he’s the future.  Regardless, he’s got a lot of talent.  Here’s hoping he can learn the rest.
2.  Army defense.
From Coach Monken’s press conference (on the defense):
“Xavier Moss, Josh Jenkins and Chris Carnegie are the most experienced, but I think the two inside linebackers are really a strength for us as well. Jeremy Timpf is a really good football player who made a lot of tackles for us a year ago. King is a very good inside linebacker, he is a big body and a physical guy, a good tackler and he does a nice job taking on blocks. Those two guys along with Jenkins and Carnegie who have played a lot of football are probably the strength of the defense right now just because of their experience."
Last year’s Army team had a distinct lack of talent on defense, while the offense frequently had more athletes than it could consistently use.  This offseason has seen a reversal of that trend, and that’s a good sign.  Xavier Moss asked to transfer from receiver to safety, and by all accounts, he’s made excellent use of the opportunity.  Rising cow—and 2014’s leading tackler—Jeremy Timpf was elected as a team captain, the first cow captain since 2009.  He may be Army’s best player.  LB Andrew King and DE John Voit have also played well by all accounts.
Army’s defense is young.  It boasts exactly two rising firsties.  And yet, they have experience and are looking to get more.  This is an excellent trend long-term.
The problem with this logo is the star at the bottom.  It's obviously meant to be reminiscent
of the USCC crest, and that's fine, but the star is a superfluous design element. Using
the USCC crest with sword drawn for combat would have made much, much more sense.
3.  Coach Monken is already counting on a strong plebe class.
Rumor has it that this year’s incoming recruiting class is the best in decades.  Army has extended over 150 offers, and while many of those will undoubtedly go to the Prep School (or to competing colleges), the Class of 2019 will bring with it a substantial share of immediate contributors.  
Where?  Monken singled out Fullback as a place where a plebe will probably play.  Army could stand to get a little bigger on both lines as well, especially on defense.  There’s not a lot of proven talent behind Moss at Safety, arguably Army’s worst position group of 2014.  Finally, Army could use some speed at tailback to match Bradshaw’s speed at quarterback.
To make room for the new class, Army is already cutting players.  Between twenty and twenty-five players have either quit or been cut—a necessity given the summer’s military training requirements.  Clearly, Coach Monken doesn’t want to drag half the Academy away from Beast Barracks and Camp Buckner, especially if many of these soon-to-be commissioned officers don’t have a realistic shot at making meaningful contributions to next year’s team.  That’s laudable.  It’s fine to schedule training around football and vice-versa, but being honest with non-competitive cadets has to be tough.  It’s not like Monken is under pressure to control the number of scholarships he has out.  He could easily keep these kids through the summer and have cuts in the fall (in case of injuries), but he is instead being honest with those who are never going to play.  The sooner those cadets can move on to whatever is next in their Army careers, the better.  
During his press conference, Monken made a point of saying that the 2015 team may not have the same level of raw talent that the 2014 team had, but that this does not mean that 2015’s team won’t win as many games.  Granted, the over/under on wins is four, so this is not exactly overselling expectations.  No matter how you look at it, though, Army’s program has lost a goodly number of talented firstie contributors, many without ready replacements.  Instead of proven leadership, we have questions, especially on offense. 
The upside, though, is that the players have a year under the system.  Moreover, Monken is starting to get some of his guys into positions of leadership.  That’s good.  Likewise, it’s telling that a lot of starters are young.  2015 may well be something of a learning experience, both for the team and for its fans.  However, if we start to see real improvement towards the middle and latter half of the year, we’ll know that good things are just around the corner.

No comments:

Post a Comment