Rich Ellerson saw spring practice as another step in the growth of his Army program.
"The spring has been a success, both with recruiting and now spring football," said Ellerson, entering his second season at West Point. "We are a better football team today than we were six weeks ago.
"We've made some great gains physically. We are more at home with our offense and our defense. We explored some options from a personnel standpoint and there have been some positives to come out of that experiment. We like where we are and we are hard back at it. We are back into one of those developmental cycles and the guys working hard.
"The sun is out and life is good at West Point."
The Black Knights had a 3-0 lead on Navy with a chance to make it to a bowl (the EagleBank) for the first time since 1996. They lost the game and finished 5-7 in Ellerson's debut, but the coach is optimistic there's more, and better, to come.
He played last season with freshman quarterback Trent Steelman running a complicated offense and he saw enough of bruising fullback Jarred Hassin in the spring to think Army's option attack can be a handful for opponents in 2010.
"The thing that I'm the most uneasy about is that there are a handful of guys who have played a big role, and that we anticipate will play a huge role in our team this coming season, who didn't practice because they were coming off of a shoulder, or a knee, or an ankle that precluded them from being able to have a spring ball," Ellerson said. "Everything looks fine and is on track to be great this fall, but it's not done yet, so you just worry about what surprises might be out there physically."NOTES, QUOTES
--Quarterback Trent Steelman, a starter as a freshman, continues to grow into the position. "He is much more comfortable in a leadership role, much more comfortable running the offense," said coach Rich Ellerson. "The reactions and decisions that go along with that position are all so much more intuitive for him. He still has some challenges, and he is still not what he is going to be. You knew (the improvement) would happen, but it's still reassuring to see that it did, in fact, take place -- that giant step forward in precision and comfort and awareness."
--Defensive end Josh McNary, who set the Army single-season record for sacks last year with 12.5, sat out spring ball with an injury but was named to the 42-man watch lost for the Lott Trophy, which is an award based on defensive play and work on and off the field.
--Fullback Jarred Hassin could be a key to the Army offense this season. They tried to get him eligible last year after his short stay at Air Force, but he had to sit out. Seen as a load to bring down, he should bring another dimension to the Army attack.
--Army has entered an agreement with the Armed Forces Bowl that would give the Black Knights a 2010 bowl bid if Army is eligible and if either Conference USA or the Mountain West didn't have a qualifier. Army needs six wins in its first 11 games to qualify.
QB Trent Steelman -- A starter as a freshman and learning a complicated offense under fire, he continued to grow into the talent and leadership roles so badly needed to make this thing work.
NT Mike Gann -- Ellerson was happy with the spring work of Gann, who becomes more important up front with the graduation loss of Victor Ugenyi. "I am really pleased with this spring," the coach said. "His development is a positive."
P Jonathan Bulls -- Army coach Rich Ellerson was impressed with the improvement or this senior-to-be. "He is one of those guys that is so stoic in his presentation that you'd never know he was shaking in his boots last fall when he was out there for the first time, because he'd never let it on," Ellerson said. "Clearly he settled down and became much more comfortable with the job as the year went along. He has a good leg, not a great leg, and has a lot of what I call ‘pitches' -- he can get the ball downfield a lot of different ways for you. He has great handling time. Now he's a veteran and he's very comfortable in the role, and that was good to see. We're trying to do some other things to take advantage of that."
LB Kingsley Ehie -- With middle linebacker Stephen Anderson coming off a knee injury, Ehie, moving over from fullback, could be a key in the fall. "We had our fingers crossed there, and we hoped that would be a positive, and it really was," Ellerson said. "He is a very conscientious young man, so sometimes it's not just throw him out there and it's magic. He is very detailed and sometimes the coaching will slow him down until he gets comfortable with where his eyes and feet are supposed to be. Overall, I thought it was a giant step forward for him down the stretch in spring football."
LB Nate Combs -- Where does he play? Doesn't matter. "He is a guy we have moved around a bunch, and we feel like he has the chance to be a lot of things," Ellerson said. "Whatever he is, he is going to be first at. He's another impact player you may be talking about after games, because he's going to show up on the stat sheet -- a defensive front-seven type of guy."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was a productive spring, and there is no way to compare it what we were going through a year ago. It was an entirely different challenge." -- Army coach Rich Ellerson after finishing his second spring on the job.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: Army didn't quite reach its desired goal last year, its bid for the program's first bowl game since 1996 falling short because of another loss to Navy. But you got the feeling things truly were getting better at West Point. Rich Ellerson's first year on the job produced a 5-7 final record and there was enough talent returning for 2010 to make the outlook a good one. The scheduled has been softened but is still a challenge, ending with games at Kent State, against Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium and, of course, Navy.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: They always talk about how important a quarterback is to an offense, right? Well, what about an option quarterback, who has so many more responsibilities? Trent Steelman grew into the job as a freshman and helped lead the Black Knights to within a win of a bowl. Now, he'll be a sophomore and the addition of a bruising fullback like Jarred Hassin could be intriguing. Look for this offense to be more diverse and thus tougher to handle, but running backs Pat Mealy and Jameson Carter didn't have great springs.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Black Knights were third in the country in passing defense last year, as Josh McNary set the program's all-time season sack record with 12.5. Army was 16th in total defense, but 35th in scoring defense and 70th against the run. McNary returns but the defense has key players coming off injuries.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: There was good news and bad news for Army coach Rich Ellerson's kicking game in the spring. The good news was punter Jonathan Bulls looked good. The bad news was kicker Alex Carlton did not, and that throws the kicker spot open to competition. Cornerback Richard King might kick off. Army was 104th in the country in kick returns and 105th in punt returns last year, so, clearly, there's work to be done there.
--WR Davyd Brooks and RB Pat Mealy scored the touchdowns in the spring game, Brooks catching a 23-yard touchdown pass from Trent Steelman, who was 6-for-9 for 80 yards in the game.
--K Alex Carlton made a 32-yard field goal in the game, but also missed from 32 and 21 as his struggles continued.
--FB Jacob Bohn was called "one of the surprises" of the spring by offensive coordinator Ian Shields.
--DE Josh McNary, LB Steven Anderson, QB Chip Bowden and OT Jason Johnson all sat out spring ball but were expected to be fine for the fall.
Previous Report: 03/24/2010