March 24, 2012

Rich Ellerson talks depth and talent at running back

Army led  the nation is rushing last year with 346.5 yards per game, but this isn't a story about Army needing to reload talent.
 
Everyone one of the Black Knights' two fullbacks and seven slotbacks that started a game last year is returning, including 1,000-yard rusher Raymond Maples.
 
This should be a story about how Army is loaded in the backfield with more young talent on the way up. But the injury bug hit Army in spring football, so there's more to the story than simply returning talent and depth lining up behind fourth-year starting quarterback Trent Steelman.
 
"You look at the board and we have two or three guys at both slot positions," Army head coach Rich Ellerson said. "They are really good football players and in some cases they are veterans like Raymond Maples and Malcolm Brown.
 
"And then we have young guys that have all kinds of upside that started a game as a freshmen -- Trenton Turrentine, Terrence Baggett, Stephan Fraser and Jonathan Crucitti."
 
But then Ellerson's enthusiasm hit the pause button.
 
"When we went out for spring football," he said,  "we couldn't have a full practice because we didn't have enough running backs healthy."
 
Army's backfield was hit by various nagging injuries such as sprains and strains. They weren't debilitating, but they were enough to limit the amount of work and looks Ellerson and his staff could wanted among their backs entering fall camp.
 
"There are some things we wanted to investigate in the spring, but we weren't able to do as much as we wanted along those lines," Ellerson said. "We'll have to try to set ourselves up for doing that early in fall camp."
 
Based on last year's depth chart, at fullback Larry Dixon (6-0, 220) is back as a sophomore with five starts under his belt and Jared Hassin (6-0, 230) returns as a senior after starting seven games and.
 
Dixon's emergence later in the season allowed Army to start Hassin against Navy as one of the slotbacks, where Ellerson plans to continue to use him in 2012.
 
"Jared will always have fullback as part of his portfolio, but he's trying to make the move to A back," Ellerson said.
 
At slotback, Hassin was one of seven players to start at lease one game at the A Back or C Back.
 
The exciting Maples (6-1, 200) started 10 games as a sophomore and carried 146 times for 1,066 yards and four touchdowns.
 
Others starting at slotback that are returning are senior Malcolm Brown (5-11, 180) who played through an injured ankle in 2011 and is Mr. Dependable, sophomore Terrence Baggett (6-1, 200), sophomore Stephan Fraser (5-10, 185), junior Trenton Turrentine (5-9, 209) and junior Jonathan Crucitti (5-11, 195).
 
The most promising incoming frosh running back is Marcus Poling who joins the program this summer from the USMAPS (prep School).

Army's limited also prevented the backs from addressing the case of fumble-itis it struggled with last year when the Black Knights lost 22 fumbles overall (compared the defense  recovering nine).
 
"It's a good group that had a heck of a time practice because of injuries," Ellerson said. "Some guys had a hard time being healthy. I don't think that's the nature of this group, but that's what I'm concerned a bout. It doesn't matter how many good backs you have if they're always hurt."
 
The backfield talent appears to be on the roster, but the lineup is on hold until it can take shape in fall camp.

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