Sunday, May 19, 2024

Army Football Prediction: Defense – As for Football

Everyone and their brother wants to talk about Army’s new offense this offseason, but what about the Bad Boys? What about Defense?

Do you remember them?

This week we’ll preview Army’s Defense and ask what changes, if any, DC Nate Woody has in store for the Black Knights this season.

As always, if you missed any of the previous articles in this series, please find them archived below.

— Army Football Preview: 2023 Season Preview (First Quarter)
— Army Football Preview: 2023 Season Preview (Second Quarter)
— Army football preview: 2023 season preview (third quarter)
— Army Football Preview: 2023 Season Preview (Quarterback)
– Analyzing Army’s Appearance on the NFL Network
– Some favorite photos from the 2022 season

Army Defense: The Seventh Front

Unfortunately, the Army defense regressed last season, especially against the run. As the team looked to move on from the losses of NT Nolan Cockrill and LB Arik Smith, we opened the 2022 season with some big question marks. Unfortunately, even though LB Leo Lowin came up in the middle for the Black Knights as the year went on, their defensive line struggled at times, especially up the middle. AND ESPECIALLY at the beginning of the season. To this, we now add a new, literally million-dollar question:

How will Army compensate for the departure of OLB Andre Carter?

Carter spent most of 2022 being double- and triple-teamed, and when he couldn’t get into the backfield, Army struggled. The Black Knights allowed a whopping 199 yards/game on the ground, a whopping 81 yards/game regression from their performance in 2021. This marked a decidedly unwelcome departure for Nate Woody’s unit, which has typically been excellent against the run and on 3rd downs. Last year, they were neither of those things. In fact, some offenses only abandoned the passing game against the Black Knights, as we saw in Georgia State’s 31-14 win at Michie Stadium, in which the Panthers threw just 12 times.

Thankfully, the defensive line should be better in 2023. At the very least, they’re returning a lot of size and experience. NT Darius Richardson will be back and should benefit from a year in the trenches in which he got 11 starts. He and first DL Isaiah Filisi, both plus 290 pounds, provide much needed bulk for Army’s 3-4 scheme. Firstie DE Chris Frey also returns, bringing two years of wideout experience plus 43 tackles, 11 solo, over the past two seasons. Frey hasn’t seen the spotlight often with Andre Carter on the court, but he’s been an extremely solid player for the Black Knights, who may yet have a breakout campaign. Meanwhile, DE Austin Hill has the makings of a star, having totaled nearly 41 tackles despite starting just five games.

Army’s linebackers are its anchor, as we’ve seen from any number of past Army defenses. LB Leo Lowin eclipsed 100 touches last season, while LB Jimmy Ciarlo showed explosive playmaking ability on the outside with 3.5 tackles for loss and a pair of pass breakups. Assuming the interior D-Line can eat up some blocks, we’re looking for this unit to take a real step forward in 2023. Additionally, this is a unit with a bunch of good players. LBs Kalyn Crummie, Spencer Jones and Camden O’Gara have a combined 19 career starts. It’s unclear exactly how all of these guys will shake out in the rotation in 2023, but all three have shown in moments when they’ve been given the chance, and each of them could be bottom players this season.

Army Defense: Secondary

Army’s quarterback is its most experienced defensive unit, with three of four starters returning to a group that allowed just 160 passing yards/game. On the face of it, this should be the Black Knights’ best bet, but they have to make up for the loss of arguably the team’s best player in former safety and team captain Marquel Broughton. Broughton was the heart and soul of the Army defense in 2022. He always found the ball, racking up 88 tackles, three tackles, two forced fumbles and three tackles for loss and otherwise making a significant contribution in all aspects of the game. More than once last year, the AFF Crew noted that Broughton personally kept the Black Knights competitive, seemingly single-handedly.

However, this is an experienced and talented group. S Quindrelin Hammonds was the team’s fourth ranked player last season and a real standout as the season progressed. S Max DiDomenico also earned ample playing time last year, and while he didn’t start often, he brought a strong presence downfield when called upon. At cornerback, Jabari Moore and Cameron Jones have a wealth of experience. Moore was particularly impressive, breaking up five passes last year and earning second-team all-independent honors from Phil Steele.

So yes. These guys have to learn to play without Marquel Broughton this year, and that’s tough. But then again, they held Troy QB Gunnar Watson under 50% passing last year when Broughton was hurt and threw an interception, too, and by the way, they played well against the run in that game too. Granted, they’ll have to rise to the occasion against the likes of Garrett Shrader, Frank Harris, Grayson McCall and Jayden Daniels at quarterback.

Special teams

Jeff Monken’s teams usually feature on special teams, and last year was no exception. The team boasts excellent punt and punt coverage units year in and year out, and last year saw SB Tyrell Robinson record Army’s first punt return since 2007. That came on an impressive 73-yard punt return vs. Villanova. Army has also been very good at blocking shots over the years, including two in key moments last year, first against UConn and then against Navy.

Assuming Robinson returns healthy, he should be a consistent return man, averaging more than 10 yards/return on 30 career returns and 21 yards/return on 18 returns early in his career. This is especially evident because the Army doesn’t often shoot back. They returned just 10 kickoffs and 12 punts in all of 2022, excluding punts. However, when the opportunity arises, the Black Knights definitely have a guy who can get the job done.

Army also has arguably the most experienced hitting room in the country, as both K Cole Talley and K Quinn Maretzki have multiple years of hitting under their belts. Talley boasts a 9/14 field goal record, while Maretzki is 13/17. Talley was excellent in his starts last year, with 31 of his 59 starts producing touchdowns. However, missed extra points have been a concern for both kickers, as they have a combined five career losses. Both guys can also point to at least one critical error in a high-leverage situation. Still, Maretzki made the shots when he had to last year at Army-Marin, and that counts for a lot.

We’ll close by noting that Billy Boehlke had the unenviable task of replacing Army legend Zack Harding at punt last year. Army’s punt production dipped, with Boehlke’s average and net average falling nearly six yards below Harding’s average in 2021. Boehlke has been pretty good at producing short-field punts, but only three of his 43 punts carried more than 50 yards overall. His overall performance was far from bad, but it remains an area where the Black Knights can improve.

Final Thoughts

The Black Knights return a ton of experience on defense and special teams, but they have a handful of questions to answer as well. If they can get stronger in the Nose and give their linebackers more freedom to attack, this defense will likely return to the type of play we’re used to seeing from Nate Woody’s defenses up until last year. If, however, they give up a ton of running in the middle of the field again, well, that will make it that much tougher all the way.

Likewise, we believe Army can cover punt and punt returns and be explosive at times in the return game itself. However, if they can also add a level of consistency to their pitching game, that’s probably worth +1 win to their season win total.

Friends, this team has all the tools. It’s just a matter of how they put it together.

Cover image via USMA Flickr.

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