The plan if A-Rod can’t go

As each practice day passes, the odds of junior linebacker Andrew Rodriguez playing in Army’s season opener on Sept. 4 at Eastern Michigan take a hit.

Rodriguez, Army’s leading tackler, still hasn’t practiced fully in the preseason due to a back injury.

Currently, sophomore Nate Combs is playing Rodriguez’s whip linebacker position. But Army coach Rich Ellerson may have some flexibility. Senior middle linebacker Kingsley Ehie‘s continued development could be the key and shift Army captain Stephen Anderson from middle linebacker to whip.

“Kingsley is a big piece to that,” Ellerson said. “He can jump in there and that frees up Stephen to do some different things that’s he done in the past.”

Anderson was Army’s starting whip linebacker in the last nine games of 2008.

Does Ellerson feel Ehie ready to contribute defensively?

“I do,” Ellerson said. “He hasn’t had live, game-time snaps doing that stuff. But I’m really encouraged. He has great range. He’s very disciplined with his eyes. I would argue that he’s as good or if not the best athlete on our team. He’s really coming up to speed.”

Ellerson said Army can also tinker with hat scheme and personnel it can use. Army could add another defensive lineman (defensive tackles Chris Swain or A.J. Mackey or defensive end Carson Homme to its package and take one of its four linebackers off the field.

“All those guys give us flexibility and they can all be used in different combinations to solve the puzzle if we get in an injury situation,” Ellerson said.

Ellerson also mentioned linebackers Justin Schaaf, a senior, and Chad Littlejohn, a junior, as being in the mix. Schaaf played in all 12 games of 2009 on special teams. Littlejohn was listed as Rodriguez’s backup after spring practice.

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