Army captain and linebacker Steve Erzinger is making the most out of his final season wearing the Black & Gold. The Houston (TX) native is currently ranked 13th in the nation in total tackles, while taking on the role as leader and mentor to a very young defensive squad that has had it's ups and downs all season long.
Erzinger and his crew of defenders are facing a much needed bye week before they make their way South to take on Vanderbilt of the SEC.
But surely there is little time to rest and much work to be done, especially after falling short in their 35-28 loss to Miami (OH).
"We had off yesterday (Tuesday), but we didn't miss out on one, but they choose to give us the day off and today and tomorrow we are going to hit it pretty hard," shares Erzinger, who indicated that much of this week's focus will be the basic.
"This week is just to get the fundamentals again and doing the little things right ... typical bye week stuff."
As successful and consistent as Erzinger's play has been during the first half of the season, the same can not be said about the team's overall performance defensively.
Depending on which game you observed will determine how you assess the team's defensive performance. But if you are a true Army fan, you have witness the first six contests and you walk away completely bewildered with the Jekyll and Hyde performances.
The proverbial question that reigns around the defense's up and down performance, was posed to the Army captain to get his thoughts on the current disposition of the "D" thus far.
"It just comes out to having that game time experience and understanding where you are at in your season," he professes. "Knowing that each game is precious. Defensively we have had great games and games where we could definitely improve. I think that's across the board and largely everybody needs to take a step back, focus and kind of relax and have fun with the game."
From the sound of Erzinger's comments, it appears that getting back to what has guys out there playing the game is where some players need to get back to. "Football can be stressful if you let it, but sometimes you have to make sure you focus on the basics, doing the fundamentals right and having fun which is why you play," adds the hard hitting linebacker.
You always think about that (final season) and I've thought about it and it hasn't really bothered me too much. At the end of the day you're not going to really notice until you're not in spring practice.
- Captain & Linebacker, Steve Erzinger
Some of the speculation regarding "D's" woes point to defense's inexperience. Does Erzinger feel that the younger and less experienced guys are pressing more so than the seasoned veterans?
"I think they (inexperienced players) are going out playing naturally and some of the older guys may be pressing a little too much ... I know sometimes I do it. " says Erzinger. "It's just one of those things ... again you have to relax. The younger guys have been doing a great job, they're doing everything we tell them to do, but sometimes the stuff is new. Anytime you see or play a great receiver or you play a guy who may be faster than you use to and you go oh man, I didn't realize it. And sometimes that's a wake up call, but again it's still competition and you want to have fun."
Unlike last season, where there was seasoned veterns up and down defensive roster, this year is entirely the opposite. But what Army fans are now witnessing is the maturation of many players who will be leading the charge over the next 2-3 years.
"I think there's a lot of guys that are eye catching," declares Erzinger, who is witnessing the transformation first hand. "Hayden Pierce is doing a great job, Bacon is doing a great job, L.J. Harris is doing a good job ... they're all doing great."
"There is a lot of potential, especially with the Yucks and the freshmen. Just getting them out on the field and letting them play, kind of get comfortable with everything and it will turn out great," shares the optimistic senior linebacker."
During the course of the season, the 6-foot-1, 225 pound linebacker has ranked as high as 5th in the nation in tackles. To the liking of the coaching staff, Erzinger's numbers have dropped, as the Black Knights are receiving more contribution defensively from several other players, especially from the likes of safeties like Tyler Dickson , Hayden Pierce and Thomas Holloway , who lead Army in tackles versus Miami (OH) with 16 in total.
"We switched out scheme up, so we have two safeties back like a cover-two and it allows them to make a lot more plays back there," adds Erzinger. "I'm more of a set guy now, so I'm establishing the edge and turning things back into people. So it's really the nature of the cover two defense.
2nd Half of the Season
After Army's 45-6 win over Tulane, many observors felt that the Black Knights would take care of business and come away with a victory over Miami to bring their record to 3-3 ... making the second half of the season more interesting.
Instead, the Black Knights are 2-4 and face the most difficult segment of their schedule. "I think it being the 2nd half of the season, everybody kind of ... there's always a kind of establish sense of hey, we're on the other side (final six games)," says Erzinger, who realizes that it is as much mental as it is physical to finish the season strong.
"As you get to the mid-season grind it's kind of like "oh man" this is a long season. Coming to the end of it, you are kind of beat up and you are emotionally torn, but gosh there's only so many games you have left. And each year, it's kind of hard not to get up and play for them."
"Emotionally you just want the guys to stay stable and have fun. And physically just take of yourself and make sure you are getting the right rest and sleep."
SEC Territory vs. Vanderbilt
"It's exciting and Vandy is obviously a good opponent playing in a very touch conference," he adds. "I'm excited to go back down and go back down south. Obviously I love the south being from Texas. We have our work cut out for us, but it's going to be a good time."
The Senior's Last Horrah
There are six game remaining on the Black Knights' schedule and in football terms that translates to a long stretch. However, the inevitable will be waiting around the corner for Erzinger and that is when he hangs up his #9 jersey for the very last time.
"You always think about that and I've thought about it and it hasn't really bothered me too much," says Erzinger.
"At the end of the day you're not going to really notice until you're not in spring practice. Because you are always weight lifting, you're always training and doing good things. I'll deal with that stuff when I get there. I know everyone tries to feel that it's my last hurrah or my thing and I have to do something big ... at the end of the day you are still just trying to have fun, play the game and enjoy it while you can."
Note: This week's practice will be somewhat abbreviated with two heavy session on Wednesday and Thursday. Many of coaching staff have spent the past 48 hours on the recruiting trail and return to West Point this evening.