March 23, 2012

Ellerson looking for big things from the DL in 2012

Army head coach Rich Ellerson is known these days for his triple-option offense, but at the root of his coaching heart is defense. He was a defensive coordinator at Arizona and Hawaii and a defensive line coach at Cal State Fullerton.
So it was  painful for Ellerson to send out a mixed-and-matched defensive line last year with ends forced to play as undersized interior lineman. Effort and heart aside from the out-of-position Black Knights, the results were predictable.
Army ranked 100th in the nation in rushing defense at 194.9 yards  per game and 104th in the nation in red zone defense with opponents scoring 37 of 42 times.
But now that Army has wrapped up spring football before the official end of winter with the spring game March 9 at Doughboy Stadium in Fort Benning, Ga., Ellerson likes the the Black Knights' head start on the defensive line. He feels the 2012 pieces are coming together.
"I'm encouraged by the play up front on defense," Ellerson said. "That group is much more physically mature. We have guys back playing their positions instead of forced into positions where they didn't want to be."
The revamped defensive line is highlighted by the return of senior defensive end Jarrett Mackey, who missed 2011 with a knee injury suffered in the season opener. Mackey (6-1, 240) is still rehabbing his knee, but his potential for 2012 doesn't worry Ellerson. Mackey already has been named a legacy captain by his teammates.
"Jarrett Mackey is doing good," Ellerson said. "He's in leadership role. He's doing a good job with the team, in the locker room and with the Corps. His recovery is right on track. That should be a solid group coming out of training camp."
Mackey will be backed up by more depth at defensive end than a year ago.
Senior Zach Watts (5-foot-11, 207) was a starting defensive end last year after Mackey's injury. Holt Zalneraitis (6-foot-2, 225), now a junor is one of the linemen who moves from inside to outside.
"(Zalneraitis) played an interior role last year and we were able to move him to defensive end," Ellerson said. "He had a tremendous spring -- as did Zach Watts. He's much more comfortable with the job description. It's more consistent with his physical makeup. He really produced in the spring."
Two other young defensive ends on last year's depth chart that are back for their sophomore year are Michael Cermak (6-foot-0, 220) and Colin Linkful (6-foot-0, 200).
Inside, starting nose tackle AJ Mackey is no longer on the team, but Ellerson liked the spring performance from junior Bobby Kough (6-foot-3, 250), sophomore Richard Glover (6-foot-0, 270) and sophomore Mike Ugenyi (6-foot-3, 250).
Ellerson added it was an beneficial for his young players to compete in the spring game before 8,000 fans at Doughboy Stadium on March 9 in Fort Benning, Ga.
"I wanted (Kough) to step into a game environment and that felt like a game down there," Ellerson said. "There was excitement and there were butterflies that are associated with that. It didn't feel like a spring scrimmage. (Kough) wasn't 100 percent (ankle), but even at 85-90 percent he still made statement."
Ellerson said Glover's improved offseason conditioning was evident in the spring.
"We were real happy with Richard and excited about the spring he had," Ellerson said. "He's changed his body. Through the course of the spring, he really made a statement."
Ugenyi is another young player Ellerson feels is maturing into a new role.
"Mike Ugenyi's is catching up with his body," Ellerson said. "His legs are getting underneath him. He's got a ways to go, but the progress he's made is consistent with what we're expecting from him."
Other young defensive linemen returning from last year's depth chart are junior Clayton Keller (6-foot-1, 226), sophomore Jacob Drodz (6-foot-3, 225) and junior Corey Watts (5-foot-11, 211).
As noted in several of GBK's previous articles, incoming freshman Evan Finanne (6-foot-1, 260) of St. Elgin (Ill.) St. Edward can crack the depth chart, along with 6-foot-1, 275 pound USMAPS product Tala Atimalala

"The defense up front is my orientation," Ellerson said. "That's where good defense starts. It looks like we made some good gains there. That bodes well for us."

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