WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) Army coach Jeff Monken is set to begin year three at the helm, which means half his roster includes players he has signed.
Right now, he likes that mix.
''I think we're getting better as a program and better as a team,'' Monken said. ''We've got a lot of guys that have played in games that find themselves in pretty important roles this year. We've just got to perform, execute.''
Army finished last season 2-10, the finale against Navy a heartbreaking 21-17 setback. It was the 14th straight defeat suffered in the series by the Black Knights, who came oh-so-close to ending the skid.
Lost in the emotion of the moment was that Army quarterback Chris Carter was a freshman making only his second career start leading the complicated triple option. And he nearly led the Black Knights to victory against a heavily favored Navy team led by record-setting senior quarterback Keenan Reynolds.
''For a kid to not play in this offense in high school, learn the offense and the very next year he's starting in the Army-Navy game, that's a lot to ask,'' Army offensive coordinator Brent Davis said. ''It was a huge test. He really elevated his game. I think there's something there.''
Carter returns this season along with junior Ahmad Bradshaw, the starter in 2015 before injuries sent him to the sidelines.
''It's important that we start to show some improvement,'' Davis said. ''Guys that we recruited our first year ... for what our vision of the offense is are working their way into the lineup. That's exciting.''
Other things to know about Army heading into the new season:
Running the option usually requires more than one quarterback to get the job done because of the punishment that goes with the position. Army seems to be set there. Bradshaw, a junior, sparkled at times (468 yards rushing with five touchdowns) when he wasn't ailing - he missed four games - and Carter has two big games (Rutgers was the other) under his belt.
''It's not a finished deal,'' Davis said. ''We think it's a good situation to have two guys we feel good about.''
Army's run totals were down in 2015. The Black Knights outgained opponents 2,931-1,982, but their per-game average was just 244.3 and their 4.8-yard average per run was barely better than their opponents (4.5). That's a far cry from the 2012 team, which averaged 369.8 yards to lead the nation.
A lot is expected this season.
''We need a guy to rush for 1,000 yards out of that position,'' Davis said. ''That makes us really dangerous.''
TOO MANY TURNOVERS
Last season, Army lost 13 of 38 fumbles and suffered nine interceptions in just108 throws, while the defense had six picks and five fumble recoveries.
Not a recipe for success.
''We can't turn the ball over and we've got to find a way to get more balls back from the other team,'' Monken said. ''That may be the biggest statistic in football in terms of who wins and who loses. We didn't do a very good job with it the last two years.''
Army, which was forced to start two freshmen on defense last season, has some experience to count on this time. The two-deep preseason depth chart features four seniors, four juniors and zero freshmen.
''I hope we can execute this year,'' said senior Jeremy Timpf, who tied fellow linebacker Andrew King for the team lead in tackles with 92. ''Our fundamentals are coming together. We have a bunch of veterans now on defense and a bunch of good guys on offense. I think this year it's just putting the pieces together and executing.''
King, also a senior, had 4.5 of Army's 15 sacks, while defensive Brandon Jackson had 50 tackles and three picks as one of those two freshman starters.
Army plays only one of its first five games at Michie Stadium - Rice on Sept. 10 - and hosts rival Air Force in November. The Black Knights also play Notre Dame in San Antonio in November before the annual season finale against Navy. With Lafayette and Morgan State of the FCS, and North Texas also at home and road games against Buffalo and Wake Forest, a total of five wins doesn't seem out of the question.
Online: AP College Football Website: www.collegefootball.ap.org
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