Army Black Knights"/>
Athlon Team Previews: Army Black Knights
2009 Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Rich Ellerson
Josh McNary :: Frank DiBrango/Icon SMI
at Eastern Michigan
Rutgers (East Rutherford, NJ)
at Kent State
Notre Dame (Bronx, NY)
Navy (Philadelphia, PA)
at Eastern Michigan
at Iowa State
at Air Force
at North Texas
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Trent Steelman, QB: He became the first freshman to start a season opener at quarterback for Army since 1944.
Patrick Mealy, RB: He had a very impressive 6.1 yards per carry average a year ago.
Josh McNary, DE: He was a terror for opposing blockers with his 22.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks.
Victor Ugenyi, DE: The defensive line will miss his dependability and motor.
Mario Hill, CB: The talented corner was a two-year starter in the secondary.
Ali Villanueva, WR: The 6-foot-10 receiver had all five of Army's touchdown catches last season.
117: Army made tremendous strides under first-year coach Rich Ellerson, but the offense still struggled, ranking 117th in the nation in yards per game (275.3).
Quarterback Trent Steelman was thrown into the fire as a freshman last season and quickly adapted to coach Rich Ellerson's option scheme while displaying leadership beyond his level of experience. There is no reason to believe that Steelman, who rushed for a team-high 706 yards, won't be even better as a sophomore who is more familiar with the offense.
Seniors Patrick Mealy (673 yards) and Jameson Carter (238 yards) are the most experienced returning slot backs. They could be joined in the triple option by sophomore fullback Jared Hassin, a transfer from Air Force.
Make no mistake -- this is an option offense. But Ellerson knows that in order to be effective, a change of pace is needed. That's why Army fans might soon become very familiar with Davyd Brooks, a junior receiver from nearby Newburgh, N.Y., who dazzled in the spring. Junior Austin Barr, who excels at blocking, and sophomore Kyler Martin, a former linebacker, could also be called upon. Sophomore Malcolm Brown can stretch the field.
The Black Knights also welcome back an experienced offensive line that has built some depth in the past year. Center Zach Peterson and right guard Seth Reed are both seniors who started every game last season.
Army lost one mainstay from its defensive line -- end Victor Ugenyi graduated with 31 career starts on his résumé -- but the Black Knights welcome back Josh McNary, who set an Army single-season record with 12.5 sacks from the other end position. Defensive tackle Mike Gann, a returning starter, was fantastic during the spring and should team with McNary to give the Black Knights a force inside and out on the line.
The linebacking corps appears to be in good shape with last year's starters back for another tour of duty. The one question mark is Stephen Anderson, who missed the final three games of the 2009 season and all of spring practice with a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee. Assuming Anderson is back, Army will have its top three tacklers from last season at linebacker -- Andrew Rodriguez (85 tackles), Anderson (83) and Steve Erzinger (71).
Senior Donovan Travis is the star of the secondary. The hard-hitting safety led the team with four interceptions last season and anchors a unit that also features fellow veterans Donnie Dixon (safety) and Antuan Aaron (corner) in the starting lineup. A big boost could come from senior corner Richard King, who missed all of last season with a concussion.
Placekicker Alex Carlton was solid as a sophomore -- he hit 6-of-8 from 40 yards and out -- but struggled during the spring. Ellerson will not hesitate to turn to senior Matt Campbell, who is 8-of-12 in his career at Army. Senior Jonathan Bulls returns to handle the punting chores. The return game could use a shot in the arm, as the Cadets averaged only 19.3 yards per kick return (104th nationally) and 5.4 yards (105th) on punts.
Ellerson came from Cal-Poly armed with the triple option and a reputation as a program builder. He used both to his advantage last fall, leading the Black Knights to five wins -- the most at the school since 1996 -- and creating a new attitude in the program. Now, after another spring practice with his team, Ellerson believes Army is poised to take that next step -- playing in a bowl game.