September 27, 2011

GBK: A Tale of Two Cities

Coach Joe Ross has the responsibility of two segments of the Army football program. One is the Black Knight fullbacks, who are the center of the triple option offense and then there are the special teams folks.

On one hand, the fullback position, lead by Jared Hassin, who is backed up by frosh Larry Dixon started 2011 season as the focal point of the opposing teams defensive coordinators.

But as it is with any coordinator, it is a matter of picking your poison when defending Army's option offense. As such, that allowed quarterback Trent Steelman to break off two hundred yard games this season and lead the team in rushing. In addition, the perimeter rushing attack lead by slotbacks Malcolm Brown and Raymond Maples has prevailed throughout the season.

However, it appears the the defensive strategy or at least with last week's opponent Ball State shifted to stopping Steelman and the corp of slotbacks. This allowed junior fullback out of Delafield (WS) to have his most productive game this season, where he rushed for 111 yards against the Cardinals.

"I thought Jared had his best of the season," Ross shared with GoBlackKnights.com on Monday. "He got 100 yards and they were a hard 100 yards. Based on last year, teams are making him fight for every yard. So the first four games people were keying on him. They are not going to give the fullback dominate like last year. I thought his effort was great last week ... he ran lower and harder."

"I told Jared before the game that the defense (Ball State) has to make a choice because we are killing teams on the perimeter and they are going to start choosing the other poison and things are going to open up.

And because the fullback spot is such a physically demanding role .... even when he is not carrying the rock, Hassin is taking hits from defenders. Although he's a warrior, he will need to take a breather from time to time and that's where Dixon begins to earn his keep.

"A couple thing vary and depends on what the defense is doing to the fullback," shares Ross when discussing the use of his frosh fullback. "The next thing will depend on how Hassin's doing and if he is in a zone and running well, of course we will keep him in the game, but give him blows."

With the luxury of having such a productive and seasoned fullback in Hassin, Ross realizes that providing the 6-foot-0, 220 pounder Dixon with a combination of proper mentoring, along with game reps removes any pressure to get the Bremerton (WA) native on the field too soon and allows for him to develop at a less pressing rate

"Larry is young and he's still learning," Ross adds when discussing Dixon's maturation. "He's probably still a year away from being the real Larry Dixon that we'll see hear in future years. Of course we want to bring along slowly and let him develop that way.

Special Teams

On the bright side, there are two areas on special teams that Coach Ross has seen an upswing in productivity.

Regarding the kickoff returns, the Black Knights seem to have found their guy as there has been a spike in productivity as sophomore Scott Williams has interjected life into that aspect of Army's game.

The same could also be said for kicker Eric Osteen and the kickoff coverage crew, who have limited the opposing teams return yardage.

Two weeks ago, Ross shared with GBK that punters Chris Boldt and Kolin Walk were neck and neck, whereby they were alternating starts. With Boldt getting the call against Ball State, as well as having a productive day, who will get the nod versus Tulane?

"I liked the way Chris kicked, but they will always be neck and neck," Ross pledges. "I would never feel bad putting either one in the game. I really like how Chris got the ball off and was hitting his spots and he will still the starter when we play on Saturday."

Conversely, Alex Carlton woes continue as the senior PAT and field goal specialist has missed on his last three field goal attempts.

"There is nothing that he has to do mechanically," Ross inserts. "The field goal we missed Saturday had all three phases go bad .... it was a low snap, Kolin (Walk) had a difficult time handling it and Alex had to pause for a second. "

"But if you look at the extra point efforts, I felt real good about all three of them. What I saw was the Alex and Kolin that I saw in camp. I think he (Carlton) is back and will do fine.

Another phase of special team and one that has not productive is the punt returns, where the Black Knights house one of their best athletes in Josh Jackson. Clearly Ross wants to ensure that Jackson is afforded the opportunity to make things happen and even takes some of the responsibility in Jackson's lack of production.

"For the most part, I don't think he has had a lot of returnable punts," says Ross.

"And then last week I thought we had some breakdowns and you could probably say scheme wise we kind of put the guys in the wrong position to give Josh the one chance that he did have to have a return. And that's my fault."

"On the other side, a lot of the punts have not been returnable because we have put pressure on the punter and so forth. I think the week before the kid was kicking 50 yards and I think we had Josh too deep."

Tidbits:

First it was Ball State defensive tackle Joel Cox and now it will be Tulane's defensive tackle Julius Warmsley that will line up against the Black Knight offensive line. Making it back to back weeks that the Army has faced players that verbally committed to the program but ended up elsewhere.

In Cox's case, he sincerely wanted to be a Black Knight and attend West Point. Unfortunately for the 6-foot-1, 267 pound sophomore, he was disqualified medically.

In Warmsley's case and when push came to shove, he did not want to be at West Point. The sophomore who is out of Louisiana and initially choose Army over Tulane, is listed at 6-foot-2, 281 pounds.

Clearly both players have the size that make some Army fans wonder .... if only.

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