March 10, 2010

Army Spring Preview: A peek inside the Quarterbacks

Yes, in 2009 the Black Knights introduced a new coaching staff, a new triple option offense was installed, an inexperienced offensive line whose best linemen was transformed into the team's leading receiver, a new quarterback who happen to be a freshman. As much as one can have empathy towards the "rebuilding" phase of the program, the Army fans have heard it before and wanted nothing short of an immediate turnaround.

Well, that's Disneyland, and the reality was that there were some real concerns with Army's offense last year. You could start with the offensive red zone struggles that plagued the Black Knights throughout the 2009 season and end with the lack of sustained drives that often resulted in the familiar three and out phrase. However, it didn't take long for observers to notice that perhaps, just perhaps, Ellerson and his staff had found the quarterback they needed in freshman Trent Steelman. He was someone who could effectively run the triple option and get offense moving in the right direction. Throughout 2009, the Bowling Green (Ky.) native demonstrated that this was his offense, as he led the team in rushing with 855 yards, albeit with unimpressive 3.5 yard per carry average.

The good news is that this spring Steelman looks to have taken his game to a new level, but there is still room for improvement.

The challenging news is that the overall lack of quality depth for this team is apparent in several positions, but probably none more impactful and obvious than that of Army's quarterback role.

So the real question becomes, who will back-up Steelman, who has a history of being knocked out of a series or two. This clearly is a legitimate concern, especially when the incumbent backup Chip Bowden is still recovering from surgery in December. But the other issue that may be more significant than simply establishing who the backup might be, but that there is little drop-off in ability.

So, if ever Max Jenkins and Jimmy Reitter wanted to make an impression and push for that No. 2 or 3 spot on the depth chart, now would be the time.

GoBlackKnights.com takes a peek inside the quarterback corp for the Army Black Knights.

QUARTERBACKS

Trent has had an outstanding spring. He's progressed … he's matured as you expect and very confident after taking a tons of reps last year. As it is for most freshmen starters at quarterback, it was really survival mode for Steelman. However, now he can step back and see the big picture. "He's already established himself as a leader offensively," shares offensive coordinator Ian Shields. "He is throwing the ball well this spring, through the one-one-one, the Skelton drills. Everything about his game has improved as the staff has hoped it would."

With Steelman locked in as the Black Knights' starter and backup Bowden having undergone surgery in December with a scheduled return during summer training camp, the proverbial question is … Who will be the backup?

BACKUPS

The clear back up right now it's Jenkins with Bowden out until training camp. He is deceivingly athletic, where when he has tested this winter he has good vertical and broad jump … he test well. However, he is not fast, he is smooth and a strong runner, but he is not going to run away from anyone.

Jenkins missed some time last year with a concussion, which bothered him a little in high school and the obvious concern is can he take a punch.

Should Bowden return 100% in the summer, he is going to be hard to beat out, but Jenkins has sure done a solid job this spring and that will be hard for the staff to overlook.

As it stands right now, Reitter is behind Jenkins. For Reitter, his biggest challenge is being consistent and his decision making skills, along with valuing the football which has eluded him sometimes. Versus Jenkins who completely understands what the coaching staff it trying to do, gets things in the right place and they value him with the ball in his hand. "That is a valuable commodity for whoever the number two or three quarterback may be," confirms Shields.

If Jenkins is called upon, he must remain healthy and if so, he is the type of player who can be a solid distributor of the ball. He won't be called upon to be a game breaker, because that is not his strongest attribute, but he is more than capable of leading the offense.

FRESHMEN

There are three freshmen quarterbacks that will be making their way to the West Point campus this summer. Knowing that Steelman was able to spring board into the starting role as a plebe will only heighten their competitive spirit as they attempt to make an impact upon their arrival.

The two direct admit quarterbacks are Matt Luetjen (6'1", 200) and J.R. Woodward (6'4", 195), along with USMAPS product Cody Jackson, who will all be on post for summer training camp.

Jackson makes his way from the prep school and he is more similar to Steelman in terms of style of play than Jenkins or Reitter. Jackson comes from a high powered high school program, which is the same high school that produced Tom Brady, Lynn Swan and Barry Bonds. The 6-foot-0, 200 pound Jackson doesn't run as well as Steelman, but is as good or a better runner than the other quarterbacks on the roster. He throws the ball as well as any of the quarterbacks in the program and has option background. However, Jackson was a little sporadic down at the prep school, but he has the potential to be in the mix this summer.

Quite honestly, Steelman's ascension is an anomaly for any freshman quarterback, especially at West Point and all the demands on a plebe. The reality is that Luetjen and Woodward will most likely find their initial reps on the JV and scout teams. But then again, if Jenkins and Reitter remain status quo, one if not both of these freshmen could be fighting for a spot on the depth chart.


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