Army offensive line shake-up

Army played arguably its strongest game of the season Saturday against Air Force, yet the Black Knights suffered another discouraging defeat. The offensive line, a source of concern heading into the Air Force game, held up surprisingly well, considering the guys who received the starting nod.

The starting offensive line looked like this: LT Luke McCleery, LG Jake Baumert, C Noah Knapp, RG Dean Powell, RT Jack Sides. For those keeping score at home, that’s four new starters from Army’s usual lineup. Aside from Sides, who, luck would have it, went down with injury at Air Force, the other four guys are generally backups.

There could be multiple reasons for this. The first is that the starting offensive line (Alex Herndon, Jaxson Deaton, JB Hunter, Sides and Peyton Reeder) just wasn’t getting the job done. The more accurate answer likely is that some of the starters simply weren’t healthy to play a full game. Many of them have battled injuries all season, and head coach Jeff Monken probably made the decision that healthy backups were going to be better than hobbled starters.

Now, Hunter, who was starting at center, did play, as a blocking tight end first and then at tackle once Sides left the game. And Deaton was involved, though he was called for two false starts, including one where he literally tackled quarterback Jabari Laws while shifting to his right.

The offensive line actually played well for most of the game, though Laws did ultimately exit with injury — his second in as many games — late in the fourth quarter. Although the running game was once again lagging behind, Laws was given plenty of time behind the pocket to throw for 214 yards (you read that right).

Army coaches and players talk about being able to win no matter who is under center, but with four different centers and three different quarterbacks receiving extended playing time this season, it’s tough to get into a rhythm. This season, Army is averaging less than 25 points per game. Last season? 32.8.

If Las Vegas put betting odds on who the starting five Army offensive linemen would be next week, the sports books would be raking in money. It’s almost impossible to predict who to expect at each position. At least Army can be happy that there are so many offensive linemen with experience playing in big games, even if that experience came under not the most ideal circumstances.


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