Last season, Army's off-season training focused mainly on size. Both the offensive and defensive line added over 1,000 pounds of muscle through a rigorous new lifting program. While those gains did help Army against physical teams like Stanford (only surrendered one touchdown in each of the first three quarters), the Black Knights struggled in closing out games, mostly due to a lack of conditioning. If Army wants to make the push towards bowl eligibility, they need to work on finishing out games.
A.J. Schurr, the apparent heir to the starting QB job, is recovering from a shoulder surgery and will be out for the entire Spring practice. While Schurr and the Army offense has little need for a strong passing game, Schurr is missing valuable time working with an entirely new backfield. Army lost 5 of their top 6 rushers due to graduation, leaving only 4 players who have scored touchdowns for Army. Ahmad Bradshaw, a sophomore with no game time experience, has been taking a majority of the snaps under center this Spring. With the Spring Game set for April 18th, it seems that Bradshaw will at least challenge Schurr for the starting position.
The other glaring need for Army to improve on is the pass rush. Other than Andrew King registering 5 sacks, no other player had more than one and the team only recorded 10 sacks, which was fourth worst in the country. The good news is that King is back for his junior year and the secondary led by fellow junior Josh Jenkins will look to give the front seven some time to get after the passer.
Improving the pass rush will also help keep Army from surrendering leads in the 4th quarter. Opposing QBs were able to sit back in the pocket and pick apart the Army defense last season. Defensive coordinator Jay Bateman's 3-4 defensive front failed to break the pocket and sending extra men on the blitz left holes in the coverage that QBs were able to take advantage of.
The spring game, while helpful for the coaches to determine a rough depth chart before heading into the summer, will present a challenge for the defense. Army's only opponents who run an option-attack offense in 2015 are Navy and Air Force. The rest of their opponents will run either a pro-style or a spread offense. The way a team prepares for those last two offenses are very different than the approach for defending the triple option.
The snaps the defensive players will get will be very important for conditioning but mentally they will not be getting looks that they will see for a majority of their games. This is a problem that will always plague a triple-option team and Coach Monken will need to get creative to help get his defense ready for the regular season opener against Fordham.