This is the last of our position preview series heading into the 2019 football season for Army. We’ve spent the last month or so looking at each position group along the offense, special teams, and now the defense. And the old saying “save the best for last” most definitely applies here. That’s no knock to the other position groups on a team coming off of an 11-2 season, and I know I’m just the Navy guy who runs the site and therefore ends up spreading the love as necessary to both Army and Air Force at times so you can tell me if I’m wrong, but Army’s defensive backfield is scary good and will be a key reason why they will pick right up where they left off last year.
Led by lock-down corner Elijah Riley and do-everything playmaker Jaylon McClinton, this group is not only talented, not only full of experience across all four positions, but has themselves setup perfectly if healthy to pass the baton into 2020 and beyond.
Let’s breakdown the corners and safeties and tell you just why they are going to be the backbone of the Army defense this season!
It all starts at corner with Elijah Riley. And speaking of starts, Riley got his first one his freshman year against Buffalo and never looked back. We all know it’s pretty rare for a freshman to get the nod at a service academy, so when they do, you usually take note. Riley has been as consistent as they come for Coach Monken and Co. the last three years, and he really took his game to new heights in 2018, ending the year with 55 tackles including 7.5 tackles for a loss and 10 passes defended. In the biggest games of the year, Riley elevates his play. Against Oklahoma he had nine tackles. And it’s not just his lock-down ability at corner that makes him so good. He blocked and returned a field goal for a TD against Buffalo last year and has a fumble recovery for a TD on his record from 2017 too. He is a rarity in that he isn’t just the boundary corner, but can line up against a team’s best receiver and stick with him all game.
Maybe this is a you heard it here first moment, but I believe Riley, who was an All-Independent First Team selection last year and is on the preseason Bednarik Award Watch List for 2019, will get a shot at the NFL under the new policy being implemented by President Trump.
Opposite Riley at corner is Javhari Bourdeau, who is no slouch himself. Bourdeau, the lone junior starting in the defensive backfield, has played in all 26 games since he was a freshman. He finished last year with 21 tackles including 3 for a loss, and has a blocked punt return for a TD in his career as well. While he doesn’t get the attention of Riley, Bourdeau has been steady each of his first two seasons, has a ton of experience, and will only add to the depth and abilities of this group.
Behind Riley and Bourdeau are two sophomores, Malkelm Morrison at the boundary and Akyah Miranda at the field corner spot. Morrison is lacking in game experience, but the talented sophomore from Iona Prep couldn’t have a better person to learn from than Riley. Miranda saw action in the first three games of the season last year before injuries derailed his freshman campaign. Expect him to learn from but push Bourdeau this year for playing time.
If Riley is the guy at corner, Jaylon McClinton makes it happen at safety. Another guy who has played extensively since his freshman year, McClinton comes into this season with 128 tackles in his career. Just like Riley, he elevated his game even more in his junior campaign in which he seemed to be all over the field, racking up 54 tackles including 4 for a loss, 8 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and 2 interceptions. He also seems to shine brightest in the biggest games, and you only need to look back to last year’s Army-Navy game to see that on display. He had nine tackles, a tackle for a loss, a huge interception, and a forced fumble.
Like Riley, Jaylon could have some options come April next year as well.
Oh, and it’s not just McClinton, but the DB group as a whole has a certain swag to it as evidenced below.
This is my new favorite gif pic.twitter.com/538TeebwMN— Inside & Outside Army (@InOutArmy) July 2, 2019
Just like at the corner position, don’t sleep on the guy opposite McClinton either. Senior Cameron Jones has plenty of experience, having played extensively in each of his first three seasons. Last year he had 32 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, 4 passes defended, a forced fumble, and 3 fumble recoveries on the season. The Columbia, SC native will join Riley, Bourdeau, and McClinton to make an incredibly formidable starting four in the defensive backfield for the Black Knights. There’s also Cedrick Cunningham Jr. behind Jones to be reckoned with too. The fellow SC native saw action in 12 of 13 games last year as a freshman and will look to continue the legacy of playing early and often for Army.
All in all, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say this is the best position group for Army heading into this season. They have so much experience across their starting four, with three seniors and a junior, all who have played a ton since they were freshman. They have several sophomores waiting in the wings looking to get into some game action as well while they learn from the best. And it’s not just the experience, this group is uber talented and will be looking to build off what was an already impressive 2018 as they get one last ride together this season.
The season opener against Rice can’t get here soon enough!