Brandon Jackson game set for April 15 at Michie Stadium

The New York Police Department’s Finest and the Blue Flames of Philadelphia’s Police Department will play a football game in honor of late Army football player Brandon Jackson on April 15 at Michie Stadium.

Jackson, a West Point cadet and starting cornerback, died in a single-car accident on Sept. 11, 2016. Morna Davis, Jackson’s mother, is a detective in the NYPD. Davis served in the Army reserves during the Iraqi War.

The Army football team will play its annual Black-Gold spring game at 2 p.m. prior to the memorial game on April 15.

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Practice blog: March 25

Army shifted its practice to Shea Stadium due to men’s and women’s lacrosse games at Michie Stadium.

The session was the first full pads practice of the spring. Army practiced in “scrimmage-like” conditions for four and half out of the 18 periods.

The following were among the players that didn’t practice: RB Jordan Asberry; LB Alex Aukerman; CB Richard Hanson.

Depth chart (from my observations)
First-team offense: QB Ahmad Bradshaw; FB Andy Davidson; SB Kell Walker; SB Malik McGue; WR Jeff Ejekam; WR Christian Poe; LT Jeff Panara; LG Josh Boylan; C Bryce Holland; RG Mike Houghton; RT Brett Toth

Second-team offense: QB Chris Carter; FB Darnell Woolfolk; SB Donovan Franklin; SB Dejoun Lee; WR Jermaine Adams; WR Glen Coates; LT Alex Herndon; LG Jaxson Deaton; C Josh Rea; RG Jack Sides; RT Austin Schuffert.

First-team defense: DE John Voit; NT Andrew McLean; DE Ray Wright; LB Kenneth Brinson; LB Scott Washle; LB James Nachtigal; LB Bayle Wolf; CB Elijah Riley; CB Jaylon McClinton; S Rhyan England; S James Gibson

Second-team defense: DE Jacob Covington; NT Cordarrell Davis; DE Amadeo West; LB Jacob Ellington; LB Ryan Parker; LB Cole Christiansen; LB Ryan Grady; CB Jalen Sharp; CB Malik Hancock; S Max Regan; S Cameron Jones.

Number change: Junior safety Rhyan England has switched from 20 to 8.

Kicking update: Junior Blake Wilson, sophomore Nick Schrage and freshmen John Abercrombie and David Cooper kicked off during a special teams period. Wilson made a 35-yard field goal at the end of one scrimmage period.

Quotables: “We have a lot of guys coming back. At the same time, we were coming off two pretty rough seasons (before last year) as well. We are all working hard in the weight room, on film and on the field. We came out here with the right mentality today and I think it’s a good sign for the future to come.” – sophomore fullback Darnell Woolfolk

Practice observations: Fullbacks coach Mike Viti demonstrating a cut block on a rolling donut-shaped tire during position drills…Freshman linebacker Rashaad Bolton leaping in the air to interception a pass during scrimmage-like conditions…Freshman cornerback Elijah Riley keeping his feet inbounds on an interception near the sidelines during 7-on-7s…Freshman quarterback Kelvin Hopkins breaking off nice run…Sophomore safety Max Regan solid coverage on a deep route…Freshman linebacker Joe Ryan tackling fullback Andy Davidson in the backfield…Don Bosco Prep (N.J.) junior defensive tackle Ian Grayson and Girard (Pa.) defensive end-tight end Chris Mottillo were among the recruits visiting practice.

VIDEO: Freshman cornerback Elijah Riley on first day of full pads.

 

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Recruiting: Why top commit Trevor Gear isn’t headed to West Point

Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy (Ga.) running back Trevor Gear, one of the top commits in Army’s 2017 class, has reopened his recruiting after being told Tuesday that he will not be admitted into the academy.

Gear said he received a phone call from Army coach Jeff Monken with the news. He was told a background check by academy admissions revealed that Gear was suspended from his high school during his junior year.

When filling out his application and asked if he was suspended, Gear replied, “No,” because he thought the question pertained only to his senior year and not his four years of high school.

“He (Monken) said for admissions that put up a red flag,” said Gear, who committed to Army on Jan. 31, the eve before signing day. “The admissions made it seem like it was trying to hide being suspended.

“If he ever asked me if I ever got suspended in my four years of high school, I would’ve told him or anybody that asked me about it. He said West Point is made up of honesty and they’re not going to let me in.”

Gear, who rushed for 1,511 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior, said he spoke with Tucker Waugh, Army’s recruiting coordinator, and Jeremy Trimble, West Point’s football admissions officer, on a regular basis and was told, “everything was good.”

“This just hit me out of nowhere,” Gear said. “I was talking to Trimble and he told me my application is good and I should be in and everything was going smoothly. I just finished up all of the physicals a few weeks ago and he told me, “all was good,” and talking to Monken yesterday (on Monday) just caught me by shock.”

Gear was planning on attending Army Prep in the fall. He said he has talked to Ole Miss, Samford and The Citadel since he reopened his recruiting.

“I’ve changed a lot from that (the suspension),” Gear said. “I’m a completely different person than I was in 11th grade. I’ve been doing everything right, training and getting ready to go there (West Point) and this just drops on me. Most of the schools that recruited me have signed everyone they can sign.”

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Spring practice blog: March 21

Army spring practice started with words of caution from coach Jeff Monken.

Monken said he will be cutting down the number of practice reps for his experienced players in an effort to avoid injury.

Quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw, fullbacks Andrew Davidson and Darnell Woolfolk, offensive lineman Rick Kurz and Brett Toth, defensive end John Voit and safety Rhyan England are among the players, who will receive a reduction in snaps, Monken said.

“The fine line that you walk is you want to get better and you need to evaluate guys playing full speed football but you also run the risk of guys getting hurt and missing time in the fall because of a spring practice,” Monken said. “Some of the guys that are out here that have had a lot of reps we are going to limit what they do in the spring.”

Players at positions where Army doesn’t have a lot of depth may be given a day or a certain amount of plays off, Monken said.

Two players, who may not be taking many plays off, are freshman cornerbacks Elijah Riley and Jaylon McClinton.

“They haven’t played enough football,” Monken said. “I think it’s going to be valuable for them to get reps. When they went through preseason camp, they were playing safety. They kind of got thrown to the wolves (and we said), ‘Well, you are a corner now.’ This is the first chance for them to go through the whole installation as a corner and learn the defense from that vantage point.”

Riley appeared to be in mid-season form on the first pass of 1-on-1 drills. He knocked away the throw intended for wide receiver Jeff Ejekam. Maybe, it’s too early to say, but Riley has the potential to be one of the Army’s best cornerbacks. And, the Black Knights have had some solid cornerbacks over the recent years with Chris Carnegie, Brandon Jackson and Josh Jenkins. Riley is smart, has exceptional ball skills and hits like a safety.

Practice observations: Freshman quarterback Kelvin Hopkins was solid in his first spring practice. Hopkins had good control of the offense and threw the ball well. Freshman Malik McGue said the transition from quarterback to slotback is going well. McGue played slotback and slot receiver up until his junior season at Science Hill High in Johnson City, Tenn. He made a nice sliding catch on a low pass during one of the periods…In what appeared to be the first-team defense, junior Scott Washle and sophomore James Nachtigal as the inside linebackers in positions manned the last three seasons by Andrew King and Jeremy Timpf…

New wide receivers coach David Corley didn’t stop coaching fundamentals with his position players…For those of you keeping track, sophomore fullback Calen Holt, a former linebacker, is now wearing No. 22…Sophomore Juwan Griffith-James has moved back to defensive line. Griffith-James, who was recruited as a defensive lineman, finished the 2016 season as a has played tight end and tackle…Junior Sam Johnson has shifted from linebacker to tight end.

VIDEO: Junior safety Rhyan England

VIDEO: Army coach Jeff Monken

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2017 Spring Practice Central: Special teams under watchful eye, QB talk, Washle ready

One of more interesting position battles this spring figures to be at kicker with all of the struggles during the 2016 season.

Special teams, as a whole, will be examined this spring, coach Jeff Monken said.

Monken said there’s uncertainty at punter and long snapper and hopes 15 spring practices, beginning Tuesday, will sort things.

Freshman John Abercrombie, who kicked for the sprint (lightweight) football team last fall, will indeed get his chance to be Army’s No. 1 kicker.

“He’ll be in the mix,” Monken said. “He doesn’t have the strongest leg of the guys out there but he’s got a very accurate leg.”

As for the competition at kicker, Monken said, “I wish I could tell you that I felt good about any one of them but I just don’t right now.”

Army used three different punters, including junior wide receiver Jermaine Adams last season. The Black Knights averaged just 35.1 yards per punt.

The competition at long snapper has opened up with the returns of junior Trey Ratliff and sophomore Zach Saum. Ratliff was an offensive lineman as a freshman. Saum, a tight end, has returned from medical leave after missing the 2016 season due to injury.

“Ratliff has come back with a desire to snap,” Monken said. “He may find his way into some other responsibilities, maybe as a tight end or a tackle but right now, that’s (long snapper) where he’s concentrating his efforts.”

“(Saum) long snapped some for us (as a freshman),” Monken said. “Maybe, he will come back around. He’s going to have to knock the rust off a little bit.”

Sophomore Scott Flanick, a Pine Bush graduate, snapped the majority of the 2016 season.

Quarterback talk: Junior Ahmad Bradshaw, a returning starter, and sophomore Chris Carter are set as the team’s top two quarterbacks. Freshman Kelvin Hopkins appears to have the edge in the competition for Army’s No. 3 quarterback. “Just the improvements that we’ve seen over the freshman year of Hopkins, I think he’s got a lot of potential,” Monken said. “I don’t know if he’ll ever be the guy or maybe, he will be. (There’s) a lot of potential.”

Sophomore quarterback Luke Langdon is back at “full go” Monken said after missing the 2016 season following knee surgery. Freshman Joey Benden rounds out the quarterback in spring practice. “I don’t know if he’s below Hopkins or not,” Monken said of Benden. “He might be right there nip and tuck with him but he’s not in the top two yet right now.”

Monken on Army’s quarterback situation as compared to years past: “It will be fun to see them battle. The guys that play that position are usually pretty competitive guys and they are kind of the alpha males in the room wherever tjhey have come from and now they all compete with each other. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out. We are sure glad to have a guy like Ahmad back, who played a bunch for us and performed well, and Chris Carter, though he didn’t play as much as we anticipated (in 2016) he has some game experience. I think we are better there.”

Washle ready: For the first time since the 2013 season, Army will have a top middle linebacker not named Andrew King. Monken said junior Scott Washle is, “probably as ready to play as anybody we’ve got that’s had some limited time. There’s as little apprehension there in terms of a replacement as any place else on the field.” Washle has played in 26 games in his first three seasons and made 32 tackles. He started one game his freshman season when King was injured. Washle has been a member of the football team’s leadership council since he stepped on post.

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Roster updates: Campbell departs, McGue to slotback

Tyler Campbell, a game-breaking sophomore slotback, has left Army’s football team, coach Jeff Monken.

Monken, who will open his fourth spring practice at West Point Tuesday, said he isn’t sure that Campbell, a starter in 11 games last season, is going to remain at the academy.

Campbell rushed for 326 yards and averaged 9.6 yards per carry in 2016. Campbell’s 70-yard touchdown run in the Heart of Dallas Bowl was a career best.

Army will miss Campbell’s big-play ability and speed. Campbell’s career numbers – 51 carries, 444 yards (8.7 yards per touch) and five catches, 128 yards (25.6 yards per reception). Campbell didn’t participate in offseason mat drills.

Army’s slotback depth took another hit when sophomore Christian Drake decided to run track this spring. Drake rushed for 172 yards and a touchdown in two seasons.

Monken said junior slotback John Trainor will miss the spring practice due to injury.

Freshman Malik McGue is moving from quarterback to slotback this spring. McGue was Army’s third-string quarterback last season and saw action in five games under center.

“We have the find a way to get him on the field so we are going to play him at slot and see how he does,” Monken said. “That doesn’t mean he won’t be a quarterback or can’t play quarterback.”

McGue took some practice snaps at slotback toward the end of the 2016 season. He rushed for 128 yards and a touchdown in limited action as a freshman.

Some other position moves: Sophomore James Nachtigal, an outside linebacker last season, is now one of the candidates to replace Jeremy Timpf, who will graduate in May, on the inside. Nachtigal had 16 tackles and 3.5 sacks as a situational pass rusher last season. Monken said freshmen Cole Christiansen and Ryan Parker are also among the players in mix at the “Will” linebacker position.

Sophomore Calen Holt is switching from linebacker to offense and will play fullback and perhaps some slotback this spring. Holt played in passing situations last season. He had 13 tackles and blocked a kick. “We are going to give him (Holt) a look at B-back (fullback) and slot as a kind of fresh start,” Monken said. “He wanted a fresh start.”

Freshman Ryan Velez, a reserve fullback last season, has moved to safety and will compete for a starting position as Army looks to fill the void left by senior Xavier Moss. “He’s (Velez) going to have to try and be that guy and compete for that spot as is Max Regan,” Monken said.

For more on Army football, follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Periscope and SoundCloud @salinterdonato. Started a Facebook page, solely for Army coverage. Here’s the link.

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McNary’s new NFL home: Jacksonville

Josh McNary is staying in the AFC South.

McNary, a 2011 West Point graduate, signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent Thursday. Army’s all-time sack leader played his first four seasons with the Colts. McNary made eight starts at inside linebacker in 49 games for Indianapolis.

In 2016, McNary led the Colts with nine special-teams tackles. The Colts did not tender McNary an offer, making him a free agent.

The Jaguars have also added Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell, Cowboys safety Barry Church and Texans corneback A.J. Bouye in free agency.

Terms of McNary’s deal were not released. McNary, who made $675,000 last season, and Steelers tackle Ali Villanueva are the lone former Army football players in the NFL.

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Recruiting: Florida kicker Billy Mitchell on his commitment

Billy Mitchell was offered by Army in April 2016.

But, Mitchell didn’t consider Army an option until he visited the campus three weeks ago.

To appease his parents, Mitchell, a kicker from American Heritage High in Delray Beach, Fla., agreed to take this visit.

People’s perceptions of West Point gave Mitchell a negative impression of the academy prior to his trip.

“To be quite honest, I didn’t consider it for the longest time,” Mitchell said. “I was just like, ‘I’m not going to Iraq.’ You hear a lot things about West Point from other people who just don’t know what they are talking about.

“(They say) you are going to march in the rain all day and then you go to practice. And you go there on the visit and you find out they only do the military stuff in the summer and there’s not that much of it. To some extent, it’s almost like a regular college during the school year. They don’t wake you up by blowing a bugle down the hall.”

Mitchell called Army coach Jeff Monken with his commitment Sunday night. He’s the second Florida kicker to commit to Army after signing day. The Black Knights have added Mitchell, a direct admit, and Jesuit’s Camden Bauman in an effort to bolster one of Army’s most disappointing units in 2016. Army kickers missed six of their 12 field-goal attempts and four extra points last season.

“I had such little information on it and I thought I knew what I was talking about but I really didn’t,” Mitchell said. “Then, you go there and you are like, ‘Wow, that’s not what I thought.’ It was just a lot of that the entire day. It was, ‘this is pretty nice, pretty nice stadium, nice locker room, this training room is awesome,’ and it had everything I would want as a kicker. I just took a 180 on what I thought about the school.”

Mitchell said once or twice during recruiting, he didn’t answer a call from an Army coach, because, ”’I just didn’t want to go to freaking Iraq.’” When his parents starting suggesting an Army visit, Mitchell tried calling Keith Gaither, his original recruiting coach. Gaither’s number was no longer in service because he had taken a job at Temple.

“I tell my dad (about the number) and he is talking to an old high school coach of mine and he said, ‘he tells me the number is not even in service, he doesn’t have to lie to me. He can just tell me he doesn’t want to call,’” Mitchell said. “The coach got us the right number and I talked to coach (Sean) Saturnio.”

Mitchell’s plans before the West Point visit were to either attend Florida or try walking on at Georgia.

“My No. 1 was the University of Florida,” said Mitchell, a first-team, all-state 3A punter as a junior. “To be honest, before the West Point visit, had they not been able to take me because of a numbers issue, they still would have been my No. 1 because that’s my dream school.

“West Point was just kind of like there and I would probably rather have walked on at Georgia than go to West Point. After taking the visit, I was like, “I’d definitely rather go to West Point,’ and in my head I just shut the door on possibly going to Georgia.”

Mitchell has a distant connection to a famous World War I pilot. Billy Mitchell, an Army general, was the cousin of Mitchell’s great grandfather.

For more on Army football, follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Periscope and SoundCloud @salinterdonato. Started a Facebook page, solely for Army coverage. Here’s the link.

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Pro Day thoughts

College football programs are judged on wins and losses.

Army is on the rise after an eight-win season in 2016.

Further proof of that may be the turnout of NFL teams at Army’s Pro Day Friday.

Five teams – Jets, Chiefs, Colts, Falcons and 49ers – sent scouts to West Point. And, while the number doesn’t seem like much, it trumps past Army Pro Days where one scout – from the Jets – would run the mini-combine.

After watching the combine, think it’s a pretty safe bet that linebacker Andrew King and Xavier Moss are going to get a shot at the next level. Not sure if either will be drafted but both have what NFL teams look for.

King is physically gifted (he benched 225 pounds 17 times and ran a 4.61 40-yard dash), his football IQ is off the charts as well is his leadership.

Moss looked smooth in position drills and he seems faster than 40-yard time (he was told he run a 4.55 Friday) on the field. The senior safety said he ran a 4.61 40 at a combine at the Washington Redskins facility two weeks ago. Scouts told Moss after the Pro Day that he projects as a cornerback for respective teams.

Wide receiver Edgar Poe certainly has a chance to play at the next level. Poe impressed during position work, making a diving catch that drew a reaction from those watching inside the Foley Athletic Center. How many players dive for passes during their Pro Day?

FYI, former Army quarterback Max Jenkins was throwing passes at Pro Day. Jenkins, a 2012 West Point graduate and captain in the Army, is the team’s new director of football operations.

Defensive end Eddy Ruzga is looking to follow his father’s path to the NFL. Edward Ruzga played defensive end for the Lions. Though Ruzga hasn’t received any contact from NFL teams prior to the Pro Day, he certainly left his mark. He cranked out 24 reps of 225 pounds and held his own in the agility drills.

“I’ve also been training for the Army,” Ruzga said. “I’ve been running two miles and lost a little weight…I was light today (240 pounds). I’ve been a little stressed out with mid-terms.”

NFL teams that don’t know much about Ruzga should watch Army’s 2015 game at Penn State where he had a sack and another tackle for loss.

Some Pro Day numbers (from my observations)
Bench press (225 pounds): Eddy Ruzga 24; Andrew King 17; Edgar Poe 6; Xavier Moss 5.
Vertical jump: King 36.5 inches; Moss 33.5; Poe 33.5; Ruzga 31.5.
Broad jump: Moss 10 feet, 2 inches; Poe 10 feet; King 9 feet, 10 inches.

VIDEOS

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Recruiting: Holy Cross DE Mike Taylor on Army offer

Mike Taylor is counting down the days until April 10.

That’s when Taylor, a junior defensive end from Holy Cross (N.Y.), will take an unofficial visit to West Point.

Taylor received an offer from Army safeties coach John Loose in January and recently announced the opportunity to play at West Point on social media.

“It’s just really a blessing,” said Taylor, who is 6-foot-3 and 230. “It’s definitely something that I was interested in looking into before the offer, especially outside of football. Now that I got the offer, it’s definitely more interesting.”

Taylor isn’t the first Holy Cross player that Army has recruited. Two-year Army starting cornerback Brandon Jackson was a Holy Cross alum. Jackson was killed in a car accident on Sept. 11, 2016.

“He (Jackson) came up to the school a couple of times and my coach introduced me to him,” Taylor said. “Just from what everyone says, he was a great character guy, always smiling. Just to follow him up and to be somewhat in the same facilities as him is great.”

Taylor will meet with Army head coach Jeff Monken, whom he spoke with on Tuesday, tour the campus and take in a practice during his visit. He could project as a defensive end or a defensive tackle at the college level.

“We haven’t got that deep into what position,” Taylor said. “That’s definitely one of the questions I will be asking. I think can definitely play defensive line. If I have to make a move, I’m definitely willing to do it.

“It will be my first time on campus. I’m just soaking it all in and see where it goes from there.”

Army is Taylor’s first offer. And from the way Taylor finished a phone interview Tuesday, West Point is high on list of schools that have showed interest.

“Beat Navy,” Taylor said.

On the recruiting trail: Army recently offered Steelton-Highspire (Pa.) defensive lineman Tim Kater. Kater is the brother of former Army tight end Kelvin White, a 2016 West Point graduate who served as a graduate assistant last season…Monsignor Farrell (N.Y) linebacker John Kelly recently picked up an offer from Army. Kelly said of the offer, “I’m extremely grateful. When coach Loose called, I was very excited being that Army offers everything I’m looking for in a school. Definitely a school I’ve been interested in for a while.”

For more on Army football, follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Periscope and SoundCloud @salinterdonato. Started a Facebook page, solely for Army coverage. Here’s the link.

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    Award-winning writer Sal Interdonato has been on the Army football beat since 2007. He'll take you inside the huddle and into the lives of the Black Knights. Read Full
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