July 28, 2012
Army defensive ends boasting new look
Army football fans may not recognize their defensive ends this season, aside from the return of a healthy Jarrett Mackey.
Among the quick defensive ends practicing next to Mackey is Zach Watts, a formerly high-school sized body listed as either/or with Mackey as No. 1 on the depth chart coming out of spring ball. Watts still stands only 5-foot-11, but he's bulked up 25 pounds from last year's listed 203. He no longer is blocked out standing behind Mackey (6-1, 235).
At the whip defensive end, that former undersized defensive tackle looks bigger and more mobile now that Brian Zalneraitis has moved outside to his natural position. Instead of being buried or tied up by bigger offensive linemen, he can use his quickness as a 6-2, 230-pounder (five pounds heavier) to get free and rush the quarterback.
The backups and the incoming freshmen from the USMA Prep School are bigger, too.
Junior Kyle Maxwell (6-5, 230) and sophomore Derek Sanchez (6-3, 215) are listed as either/or at No. 2 behind Zalneraitis. Maxwell is about the same weight but more experienced; Sanchez has put on 10 pounds.
Behind Watts and Mackey at No. 3 is sophomore Colin Linkul (6-0, 200), who has added 12 pounds to crack 200 while competing with intensity similar to Watts.
Although Army defensive ends coach John Mumford said he prefers to leave the incoming freshmen unnamed before the start of fall camp, the coaching staff likes the talent that is on the way.
"I'm not anointing anybody by any stretch," Mumford said. "But we've got guys returning who have played and guys from the prep school to create a competitive atmosphere. You want guys pushing each other. As a coach, you like that."
Watts is such a model overachiever, there is an urge to label him "Rudy" for the famed Notre Dame scout-team player, but that would be unfair to Watts. Unlike Rudy Ruettinger's story in the 1993 movie, Watts doesn't need to see the bench cleared in a one-sided victory or the support of his teammates overruling their coach to get in a game. In fact, Army doesn't want to start the 2012 season without Watts on the field.
"Looking at Zach doesn't put fear in people, but I'll tell you, he plays as hard as any young man I've ever coached," Mumford said. "He's extremely coachable. He's a guy who's so active that he's got to be on the field for us. His work ethic is an example to every young man on the team."
Army is excited about Mackey's return from last year's season-ending knee injury in the season opener, but they won't know for sure what they have until fall camp opens. Mackey was still rehabbing his knee during spring drills in February and early March. He resumed running in April, cutting drills in May and is expected to be 100 percent for the start of fall camp on Aug. 7.
"We'll have to knock some rust off him," Mumford said, "but he's been tracking (in his rehab) at 100 percent."
Linkul is a situational player for pass rushing until he shows he can play the run.
"Colin has speed coming off the edge; that's his niche," Mumford said. "As he continues to gain weight and get stronger, he could be more of a factor against the run. In the spring, I was amazed that a kid as light as him was always throwing his body around. The will to do so was not an issue. It comes down to physics -- how many times can he do that and stay on the field."
Nobody will feel more at home than Zalneraitis after a season of sacrificing his body for the team plugging holes among a thin cast of defensive tackles.
"Brian had a good spring," Mumford said. "He's made good gains. He's got some explosion. He's back outside at defensive end where he's comfortable. He's a complete team player for having played inside last year."
Maxwell and Sanchez will try to separate from each other in fall camp.
Mumford on Maxwell: "Kyle has always been a steady guy and has been around long enough he knows what to do and how to do it."
Mumford on Sanchez: "Derek did good things this spring and on the JV team last year. He's coachable and he's a guy we need to learn more about in camp."
With more players remaining at West Point in the summer and others working with strength and conditioning coaches while assigned to military training at Fort Benning, Army's coaches anticipate their players reporting to fall camp closer to playing shape than past years. Army has fought a losing battle of the players dropping some of the weight and strength gained during the school year from fulfilling their summer military duties.
"They've been around here more and had access to the weight room, but it hasn't been at the expense of their military training," Mumford said. "We're just sequencing things differently now."
The results include the new (read: bigger) look among the defensive ends.
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