August 24, 2015

WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) Army-West Point coach Jeff Monken had to sort through a lot of new players while preparing for the upcoming season.

Monken welcomed more than 70 freshmen, and 53 players on the imposing preseason roster shared a number with a teammate.

''That's a lot of freshmen. We've got a lot of guys that are going to be playing for the first time,'' said Monken, who now knows all of them by name. ''There will be freshmen playing in several places. Hopefully, we were right. They'll grow up quick and be able to perform. Time will tell.''

Monken won his first game at the helm of the struggling program, beating Buffalo 47-39 last September in his Michie Stadium debut. But Army finished 4-8 and failed in its pursuit of the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, emblematic of supremacy among the three service academies. It also lost to Navy for the 13th straight time.

At least now he has a year under his belt at West Point.

''In the first year, it is so different than any other time,'' Monken said. ''It's the first time you've ever taken the field with those kids. Each time we go through it, we feel like there's a better understanding of what we're trying to accomplish.''

There is a big leadership void to replace with the departure of 27 letter winners, including 10 offensive starters and six on defense.

Junior linebacker Jeremy Timpf and senior running back Matt Giachinta have been elected as captains by their teammates. Timpf emerged as a leader last year, finishing the season ranked seventh nationally in solo tackles per game (5.83 and 70 for the season) and also snared three interceptions.

Still, there are all those freshmen.

''There's a great feeling of unknown in every season,'' Monken said. ''You just really have no idea what's going to happen, what the personality of your team's going to be until you play somebody.''

''With this group, we've got a lot of guys that have been in games, that have been on the sideline with us, and we've got a pretty good idea what they'll do when the lights come on,'' he said. ''But there's a lot of places we have no idea who the starter's going to be, or what kind of team we're going to be offensively and defensively just because we've got a lot of new guys.''

Here are a couple areas to watch for Army heading into its season opener on Sept. 4 at home against Fordham:

RUN BABY RUN

Army's option attack averaged 296.5 yards rushing, fifth best in the nation last year, but there is a big void to fill. Quarterback Angel Santiago and an imposing trio of running backs - Larry Dixon, Raymond Maples and Terry Baggett combined for 1,784 yards rushing - graduated. Sophomore slotback Joe Walker (18 carries for 75 yards and two TDs in 10 games) is the only player who has seen game action at the position.

QUARTERBACK CHALLENGE

Santiago was the main guy last season (814 yards and 10 TDs rushing with an average of 4.2 yards per carry), but backup A.J. Schurr played in 10 games, averaged 7.1 yards per carry and is healthy for his final season after sitting out spring ball with a bad throwing shoulder. He is being challenged by sophomore Ahmad Bradshaw, who did not play last year.

WHERE'S JOSH?

Junior cornerback Josh Jenkins, one of the bright spots on defense last season (a team-leading four interceptions and tied for second with 63 tackles), is out indefinitely with a head injury suffered in a fight with a teammate on Fourth of July weekend. The teammate has since resigned from West Point and Jenkins was back helping coach the defense during freshman practice. ''We're just taking it day by day with him,'' Monken said, adding he didn't know if Jenkins would return this season.

PASSING FANCY

The Black Knights attempted only 105 passes and averaged just 62 yards passing per game last season, though they did average nearly 15 yards a catch. ''We're going to have the same mentality, the same goals as an offense,'' Schurr said. ''That's what we do. I think we're going to be a better team than we were last year.''

SPECIAL TEAMS

Army welcomes back kicker Daniel Grochowski (7 for 13 FGs and 35 of 37 PATs), punter Alex Tardieu (39.2 average and 16 downed punts inside 18-yard line) and long snapper Connor Farley, all seniors. ''That is one area where we feel like we've got a veteran group that's going to be able to impact our football team,'' Monken said. ''I hope we'll be able to make some big plays in the kicking game. For a team like us, we're going to need to make some plays in that phase.''

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