Co-Defensive Coordinator Payam Saadat was quick to point out during Media Day on Monday that there's an eagerness with both coaches and players who have been anxiously waiting in the starter's gate to start the race for the 2011 summer camp and season.
"I want to get back into it, and it doesn't seem like not too long ago we were still in it, to be honest with you," Saadat said.
Going into spring training camp, it was clear that the Army staff had its work cut out for them as they had to replace several prolific players on defensive.
The proverbial question was and is today: How does one remain optimistic as well as productive when you consider having to replace your defensive captain in Steve Anderson, who led the team in tackles from his inside linebacker spot? Not to mention you also have to replace, your high-profile defensive end, Josh McNary, who ended his career as the Black Knights' all-time leader in sacks. Also gone will be underrated nose guard Mike Gann, the defensive coach on the field in free safety Donovan Travis and his running mate in strong safety (Sam) Donnie Dixon. And you can't forget one time starter Joshua Trimble, who rotated at both safety spots.
But if that wasn't enough, last year's starter at cornerback, Richard King, along with backup defensive tackle Chris Swain, who would be pushing for a starting role this summer, were both separated from the squad as well as the academy.
"There's no question about it ... we have some work to do," said Saadat. "We have to make some good headway here this offseason."
However, even with veteran leadership and productivity lost primarily to graduation, the cupboard is not bare and there is seasoned talent sprinkled amongst the youthful but athletic newcomers.
So with Monday officially kicking off summer practice, GBK takes a look inside as we go position by position.
Defensive End (Quick)
Projected 1 & 2 Deep: Jarrett Mackey and Jacob Drozd
Clearly a very significant role within the Black Knights' defense, this position houses what we would call the mainstay, where one could easily call themself the defense's "equalizer" -- someone who can handle the most field around him.
That designation goes to former defensive tackle Jarrett Mackey, who is a bonafide starter. Mackey absolutely has the experience, but he also has some big shoes to fill.
"We are going to see if he can fill Josh McNary's shoes, if not more," Saadat said.
To get into the right frame of mind, the Snellville, Ga., native traded in his No. 94 jersey and can now be seen wearing No. 34.
Behind him there is Jacob Drozd from the prep school.
"Drozd is a really talented prospect," Saadat said. "Then you have another kid who came in direct, James Kelly. And we have Jay Jolliffe from the prep school."
Projected 1 & 2 Deep: A.J. Mackey/Brian Zalneraitis & Clayton Keller/Broghan Carnes
When you look at the personnel up front, there really isn't a Gann type defensive tackle to emerge ... or more so, what is called a nose tackle. Clearly, losing Swain has some impact on the depth and talent component, as well as the experience factor. As it stands right now, the cast of players are interchangeable from either of the two inside tackle spots.
"For the two tackle positions ... we look like we have Clayton Keller, A.J. Mackey, Brian Zalneraitis, Parker Whitten and Broghan Carnes," Saadat said. "Then you add in the Tom Houser kid from spring. All are same park, some have experience, some coming off of injuries and others are untested.
Saadat was quick to point out that he is excited about seeing what prep school alumni Mike Ugenyi and Richard Glover can bring, along with two direct admits Derrick Sanchez and Joe Drummond.
"There's four to five younger guys and four to five older guys ... along with some others who are being considered," he added.
Defensive end (Bandit)
Projected 1 & 2 Deep: Corey Watts & Chad Littlejohn
"Corey has some good pop there and high motor," Saadat said of Watts, who will be joining his brother Zach on the field this season. "It's a new position for Chad, and it may suit him. ... He has lots of experience.
Then there are a couple of young guys there in AJ Armstrong and Chris Outing from the prep school.
Projected 1 & 2 Deep: Zach Watts & Bill Prosko or Justin Schaaf
Zach Watts is returning, and he has the potential to be an outstanding defender. Two other names to look out for are Justin Schaaf and Bill Prosko.
"We kind of like what they are doing collectively," Saadat said.
But the biggest surprise of this group, and of the entire team, could be the possible return of veteran Andrew Rodriquez (A-Rod). If anyone has followed Army football over the past 10 years, A-Rod is an extremely level-headed ball player who coaches often describe as being a coach on the field. His return would only be a plus to the defense.
Another player who will be looking to show his talents this summer is Julian Holloway, another product of the prep school.
Projected 1 & 2 Deep: Steve Erzinger & Justin Trimble
This role is headed up by Army's defensive stalwart and captain, Steve Erzinger. The Black Knights' captain was second only to Steve Anderson in tackles in 2010, when he finished with 76.
Behind him there's some experience in Justin Trimble. Then you have a large cast of players, including Matt Luetjen.
Projected 1 & 2 Deep: Nate Combs & Kingsley Ehie
Speaking of Anderson, whoever steps into this role will be replacing the team's leading tackler, but also the inspirational leader of the defense.
Junior Nate Combs, who hopes to regain a starting job on the roster after suffering a season-ending injury just prior to the kickoff of the 2010 campaign, will lead this group.
There are some experienced guys in Kingsley Ehie, who is returning for his senior year. Also joining the cast are a few plebes who will be in the running this summer to push their way up the depth chart at the Mike linebacker role.
"We are really excited about some of the incoming frosh: Geoffery Bacon, Duran Workman, who has a really good football IQ, and then there's Michael Cermak," Saadat said. "Those three guys will fit in somewhere. Then there are some guys that have been there for a while, like Josh Powell and Kyler Martin."
Projected 1 & 2 Deep: Antuan Aaron/Josh Jackson & Marques Avery/Waverly Washington
Senior Antuan Aaron and junior Josh Jackson lead the charge here, but there is plenty of young talent.
The two seasoned vets will provide support for the youngsters going into summer camp.
"Obviously we have some of the returning guys, like Waverly Washington and James Whittington, but we have a bunch of guys who could go either way," Saadat said. "There are several guys from the prep school and direct, like Marques Avery, Marcus Jackson, Lamar Harris (LJ) and Kendall Frederick."
"All these guys can step up and do some things for us." declares an optimistic Saadat.
There still are the field versus boundary roles, and this summer will determine which side of the field they will occupy.
"You will see who can develop greater amount of skill set to play both positions, or one better than the other or who can handle more field. All those guys will make us better at either position."
The field corner belongs to Jackson, who held the role last season. At the boundary is Aaron, who seems to have regained his confidence this spring, after his 2010 performance took a slight nose dive.
However, both Jackson and Aaron will have to keep an eye on the frosh Avery.
Projected 1 & 2 Deep: Tyler Dickson & Thomas Holloway
At free safety, both Tyler Dickson and Thomas Holloway had solid spring camps. However, coming into summer camp, Dickson holds down the No. 1 spot, as was the case in 2010, when Travis, Dixon and Trimble were a three-man rotation at both safety positions, the same may unfold with the two aforementioned players. Also back again is Ty Shrader, who has some real game experience.
Adding to those are two newcomers: direct admit Addison Holstein, who turned down an offer to play at Stanford, and Hayden Pierce, who is from the prep school.
Projected 1 & 2 Deep: Lyle Baloney & Reggie Nesbit
Youth will prevail at strong safety (Sam), with sophomores Lyle Baloney and Reggie Nesbit, who played the position a lot this spring. Nesbit is moving from the Mike position, and the staff hopes he will have an impact in his new role. You also can add RJ Speidel to the competition. He has played there, although in limited action.
"Also Pierce and Holstein could get a crack at strong safety as well," said Saadat.
Of course that is not unusual for an Ellerson coached team, on which players are never locked into one position.
Keep it right here on GoBlackKnights.com as we look into the offense, along with interviews and our Photo Feature of Army Summer Training Camp 2011.