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Army Spring Football Recap: Coming Off Best Season Ever, What’s Next for Black Knights?

With some big losses, and a core of key returners, there are plenty of areas for new players to establish themselves.

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl - Houston v Army Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Well, Army spring football has come and gone, and left a feeling of eager anticipation in its place. With just a few months left until the start of the new college football season, it’s easy to speculate about the Black Knights ability to build on their success the past few seasons. For now, let’s take a look at the Army squad as they’ve finished up spring training.

Key Losses

Army football’s graduating class of 2019 had some phenomenal players and they will be sorely missed. Players such as Andy Davidson, one of many workhorses in fullbacks coach Mike Viti’s stable; and Kenneth Brinson, the epitome of a warrior-scholar. Additionally, the Black Knights will be losing impact players in Darnell Woolfolk and James Nachtigal. The significance of Woolfolk’s and Nachtigal’s departure seems compounded by the fact that both players have received NFL rookie camp invites from the Giants and Browns, respectively.

Returners

Army also returns several key players this year, including team captains - Kelvin Hopkins, Cole Christiansen, and Elijah Riley. Hopkins is arguably the first credible dual-threat quarterback that Army has in quite a long time, and it will be interesting to see if Monken throws in any new wrinkles in the option attack to continue to take advantage of Hopkins’ throwing ability. Several of Hopkins’ favorite targets such as Kjetil Cline, Kell Walker, and Artice Hobbs return as well. Mike Viti’s stable still houses fullback Connor Slomka while the offensive line also returns some familiar faces in the likes of Alex Herndon, Jaxson Deaton, and Peyton Reeder.

On the other side of the ball, Christiansen and Riley lead a stout defensive corps which also includes Jaylon McClinton, Cameron Jones, and Amadeo West. Army’s defense looks to be in good shape under new defensive coordinator, John Loose. Solid defense has been a hallmark of Army football of late and it doesn’t look like that will be changing any time soon.

Up and Comers

It’ll be hard to see who will truly step up on defense and make an impact, but linebacker Jon Rhattigan appeared to have quite a few tackles during this Spring’s Black & Gold game. On the offensive side of things, Army fans will be happy to note that both the quarterback and fullback rotations as well as the receiving corps look to be in good shape with some decent talent down the depth chart.

The Black & Gold game mainly showcased backup quarterbacks Tyhier Tyler and Jabari Laws competing against each other. Both have slightly different skillsets, but seem to be quite comfortable running the triple-option offense which bodes well should Hopkins need to come out a game for any reason. Cade Barnard and Rashaad Bolton established themselves as reliable backs who consistently move the chains, an essential trait to keeping Army’s well-oiled option attack running. JC Watson caught a touchdown in the Black & Gold game so it will be interesting to see if he establishes himself as another receiving target.

Summary

Spring ball is very early to start predicting actual success, especially with a triple-option offense. Case-in-point, aside from last year’s OT loss to #5 Oklahoma, Army’s only blemish was a season-opening loss to Duke. In that game, Army had several offensive miscues and really struggled against an opponent that they should have beaten. It was clear that some kinks needed to be worked out.

Based on this round of spring training, it seems as though the Black Knights should hit the ground running this season. It’s also worth noting that the AP and Coaches Polls have Army ranked in the Top 20 (#19 and #20, respectively) in their Post-Spring ball rankings while ESPN has Army at #24. Hopefully the Black Knights can live up to their high expectations once the season rolls around.