Cole Christiansen accepts invite to NFLPA Collegiate Bowl

Army senior linebacker Cole Christiansen has accepted an invite to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. The game will take place on Jan. 18, 2020, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. Roughly 200 scouts, general managers, head coaches and player personnel staff from all 32 NFL teams are expected to attend to watch practices, conduct interviews and review tape.

A few days earlier, Christiansen was named a Lott IMPACT trophy semifinalist.

Christiansen is tied 13th nationally in total tackles (99) and solo stops (58).

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Army releases 2020 schedule

Army released its 2020 schedule on Wednesday. You can read a breakdown of the games here. Below is the list of opponents. Times TBD.

Sept. 4            BUCKNELL

Sept. 12          at Rice

Sept. 26          OKLAHOMA

Oct. 3              at Miami (Ohio)

Oct. 10            PRINCETON

Oct. 17            EASTERN MICHIGAN

Oct. 24            BUFFALO

Nov. 7             AIR FORCE

Nov. 14           at Tulane

Nov. 21           at UMass

Nov. 28           at UConn

Dec. 12           vs. Navy (Philadelphia)

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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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Army news and notes: 10/21

Another Saturday, another sad day to be an Army fan. Here’s the story of Army’s third consecutive loss, this time at Georgia State. The following is a list of observations from the game, including Army head coach Jeff Monken’s full quotes from his latest postgame press conference.

JB Hunter got his second straight start at center. He is the third center to start at the position, following Peyton Reeder and Jack Sides.

Connor Slomka was the third fullback to receive a carry against Georgia State, following backup Sandon McCoy and seldom-used JaKobi Buchanan. It’s unclear at this point whether this was done to motivate Slomka or merely just switch things up.

It was looking like Kell Walker might not suit up the week leading up to Georgia State after being injured at Western Kentucky, but he managed to make it on the field in his home city, rushing a pedestrian three times for 10 yards.

Cole Talley, the freshman kicker, returned to the lineup after being injured in week two at Michigan. It had been believed that even once he got healthy, he was benched in favor of senior David Cooper. After Cooper shanked a 24-yarder in the fourth quarter at Western Kentucky last week, however, Talley was given the nod at Georgia State. While he didn’t have any field goal tries in the 28-21 loss to the Panthers, Talley drilled all three extra point opportunities.

Monken postgame

Opening statement:
                  “Well, Georgia State made more plays than us; it’s tough when you don’t make a punt all night. We had chances to get them off the field on third down; we missed tackles; and we didn’t make big plays. Offensively, we didn’t sustain enough drives. We had some fourth downs we didn’t make there—we had some long yardage. The last route, we had the crossing route that seemed a little bit short, and we came back (the route) in the other direction, and it wasn’t there—we didn’t read it right like we were supposed to. We shouldn’t have been in that situation; we need to get first downs…”

On Army’s last drive:
“We didn’t sustain blocks, and we ran the ball. And we didn’t gain enough yardage when we did run the ball. We just need to put ourselves in more manageable positions—that’s about it. I’m just disappointed.”

On Army’s offensive performance as a whole:
                  “Like I said, we got to keep them (GSU) locked, and we didn’t. We did (allow) some plays off the backside, and we weren’t getting the backside cut off like we needed to. And on the play-side, on the point-of-attack, we were leaving more bodies out of the way. And we needed to find some answers to how to move the ball better.”

On Army’s plan for GSU quarterback, Dan Ellington:
                  “Well, we tried to make him (Dan) get rid of it—not let him hold onto it for a long time—where they could pick us apart. We didn’t get enough pressure; we had them couple times, but. he had the one out on our sideline and flag on the third down situation; we had pressure coming; and credit to him, he got rid of it on fourth-and-one; and they converted—he’s a good player.”

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Army LB explains why team has struggled

You can read my feature on Army senior linebacker and two-year team captain Cole Christiansen from this week here.

I didn’t include this in the story, but I asked Christiansen on Tuesday why he thinks his team has struggled the first five games of the season. I thought he gave a very thoughtful answer. Here it is:

“It’s a shame that it’s happened my fourth year, but I think it’s happened almost every year I’ve been here where we start with success and we get in the repetition of preparing for each team each week, installing new defenses, running new fits, you’re running new plays and as you’re fitting up these new gaps, you’re losing focus on the fundamentals. When you get to the ball carrier, you disappear late, you kill the angle, you wrap the legs, you run through the tackle, and we haven’t prepared poorly the last three weeks. I just think, and I think we’ve been going hard, but I think we just have lost focus on the fundamentals when you get to the ball carrier and every little detail that makes you a good football player, we’ve kind of strayed away from focusing on that.”

Christiansen added Tuesday that he felt like the team had a great day of practice and said, “I think if we practice like we did today, we’ll have a really good chance of getting better.”

Injury updates

After limping through the first half of the season with injuries to major playmakers, Army is about as healthy right now as a team can expect five games in.

Of the three players who went down with injury in the Tulane game — slotback Kell Walker, defensive end Jake Ellington and left guard Jaxson Deaton — only Deaton looks like he could be in danger of not suiting up this weekend.

Safety Jaylon McClinton appears on track to start this week after being held out for the last three games with injury. His defensive backfield mate Cam Jones, however, will remain out on Saturday. The trio of Ryan Velez, Cedrick Cunningham and Malkelm Morrison did a fine job of filling in with both starting safeties absent last weekend.

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10/6: Army news and notes

Army’s lost 42-33 to Tulane on Saturday to fall to 3-2 on the season, ending a 15-game home win streak in the process.

Here’s a few notes from the game:

First off, Tulane is really good. It may be hard for some to grasp, since those who follow college football know the school has been putrid at football for some time now. But under head coach Willie Fritz, the program has ascended to become a threat not only in its conference but to some Power 5 teams across the country. Army head coach Jeff Monken said he texted Fritz after the Green Wave’s thrilling victory over Houston to say, “Congrats. I wish you guys stunk.” He’s likely still wishing.

Army’s rushing total, 193 yards, was its fewest since last season’s opener at Duke. The 170 passing yards were the most this season. Monken said after the game that it wasn’t his plan to pass as much as they did (although Kelvin Hopkins did drop back on the first offensive snap of the game, eliciting an audible gasp from the crowd before the ball even left his hands).

Defensive end Jake Ellington, slotback Kell Walker and guard Jaxson Deaton were all injured during the game, but all of them were able to walk off the field. Ellington and Walker, who were hurt earlier in the game, returned to the game. All in all, Army, which has endured its fair share of injuries through the first four games, was able finish the Tulane game relatively unscathed in the health department.

Monken and his players talked about blocking and tackling over and over again after the game as the two culprits to the loss. I asked Monken if he plans on changing up the offensive line after a performance like that. He indicated that he doesn’t, just that his players need to be more mentally prepared to play athletic teams like Tulane.

The decision to go for two twice was a questionable one for Army, especially the second time when kicking the extra point would have put the Black Knights a touchdown and two-point conversion away from tying the game. Effectively, failing on that two-point conversion after Army’s last touchdown sealed the game. The final drive, which started on Army’s 10-yard line and had a few big plays — notably the hook-and-ladder where Camden Harrison caught a pass and flipped it to Walker — was effectively all for naught because Army was down by nine. Monken chalked his choice to forgo the extra points up to analytics.

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10/1: Injury update

Not unlike most teams more than a month through the season, Army has been ravaged by injuries. Quarterback Kelvin Hopkins, fullback Connor Slomka and safety Jaylon McClinton are just a few of the notable names on the team who have missed some time over the course of the first four games.

Coming off a bye week, some players have gotten healthy, while others are still on the mend. Here’s what we know for sure (and, more appropriately, what we don’t know) as Army prepares for its Saturday noon kickoff against Tulane.


Kelvin Hopkins, Jabari Laws and Christian Anderson have all thrown passes this season, and it’s anyone’s guess which one of the three will be in action on Saturday. When asked on Tuesday who was starting, head coach Jeff Monken said, “Don’t know.” If Hopkins can’t go, Monken said, “either Jabari or Christian” would start. In other words, a decision has not yet been made.

Monken said after the Morgan State game that Hopkins was healthy enough to play if needed, and he did come in for one snap. Since Army has no intention to rest its starters against Tulane, it’s likely a safe bet Hopkins starts, barring a setback.

Laws was injured in the first half against Morgan State and did not return. Monken was optimistic about his health on Tuesday, but noncommittal on whether he’d be a full go come Saturday.

Anderson, the only uninjured quarterback of the trio, proved at least serviceable in the Black Knights’ most recent victory in the absence of the first- and second-string signal callers.

Offensive line

Several offensive linemen have gone down with injury this season, and the bye week didn’t magically heal all wounds. Monken said, “There’s still guys who are banged up.”

He said there’s been three freshmen taking significant reps on the offensive line, a sign that Army will need to tap into at least some of its reserves against Tulane.

“It’s not a great situation to be in,” Monken said. “We would much prefer to be healthy and have the same five guys trotting out there.”


Cam Jones is out at safety this week after both delivering and sustaining an injury on a tackle in the last game.

Safety Jaylon McClinton, who has missed two games after suffering an injury at Michigan, has a chance to return on Saturday. Monken said, “We hope that Jaylon will be ready.”

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8/31: Army news and notes

Quick personal note

Friday was my first Army game watching in person and covering, and boy did I get thrown right into the fire. I’ll be honest, I expected a lopsided result and sometimes the blowouts are harder to write. There was plenty to write about with this one despite there not being much scoring from either side. I had a lot of fun with this one. You can read the game story here.

Now, to the stuff you came here for.


Fullback Connor Slomka was active every practice I attended during preseason camp, but he was inactive in the opener against Rice. Head coach Jeff Monken said that Slomka suffered a setback on an injury he’d suffered earlier. The expectation is that he’ll be ready for Michigan next Saturday. Monken’s full quotes on Slomka below:

“Connor got hurt in preseason camp and kind of was coming out of it and then had another injury while he was still in rehabilitation, and it just set him back. We’re hopeful he’s going to be ready to go this week. Our trainers are confident that he’s going to be ready to go to practice early this week. He’s a tough runner and we certainly value him on our team. I think he’ll help our football team and help our run game both with the ball and without the ball, so we bring guys in and we recruit to the system and we develop guys to play in the system, so when a guy goes down, if it’s a starter, it’s probably not going to change very much of what we do.”

During Friday’s game, many more Rice players went down than Army players. Right tackle J.B. Hunter, however, got injured late in the game. Hunter was starting at the position over Luke McCleery, who had been listed as the starter on the depth chart.

The only other notable deviation from the depth chart was freshman kicker Cole Talley, who got the nod over Landon Salyers. Salyers didn’t kick throughout most of preseason camp due to injury, but the indication isn’t that Salyers is still injured, but rather that Talley simply earned the spot. Talley was 2-for-2 on extra points in his college football debut.

Young blood

Monken was effusive of the way his young players stepped up. Defensively, he brought up names he’s been talking about all summer, guys like defensive tackle Nolan Cockrill, outside linebacker Jeremiah Lowery and cornerback Malkelm Morrison. Lowery got the start, Morrison played in nickel situations and Cockrill was one of a host of defensive linemen subbing in and out throughout the contest.

“I was proud of those guys,” Monken said. “A lot of those guys came through both offensively, defensively.”

He added of the importance of having such a close first game for his new role players, “Playing in those kinds of games and coming out victorious in a game like that, I think that helps them and it does two things: 1. It gives us some confidence. When you get your back to the wall, you can find a way to win and 2. It humbles the team if there’s any sense of, this is going to be easy or people are going to run for cover because we went 11-2 last year, it just gives an indication, don’t be scared of us. They’re going to line up and play us so it’s going to have to be our best effort every week.”

Fullback pecking order

Sans Slomka, it was almost purely Sandon McCoy out of the backfield. McCoy and quarterback Kelvin Hopkins toted the ball 20 and 21 times, respectively. No other ball carrier received more than four carries. The only other fullback who received a handoff was Cade Barnard (2 carries, 7 yards). While Barnard may be third in line right now, Rashaad Bolton saw action on a good portion of snaps, though it was only in a blocking role. Expect to see Bolton have some opportunities with the ball throughout the season, even if Slomka does return. However, it’s clear by the way the handoffs were divvied up on Friday that it’s likely going to be mainly a two-headed attack at fullback with Slomka and McCoy, at least for the near future.

Hopkins said of the fullbacks: “They’re all really good at different things and they all do different things well. I think we have a really good stable.”

Hopkins added, ““Just getting those guys as much experience as possible as early as possible, we’re only going to get better.” One of those guys was Jabari Laws, Hopkins’ backup quarterback. Laws, who Hopkins has been speaking very highly of throughout the offseason, grabbed a handoff and ran once for 3 yards against Rice.

‘Credit Rice’

Monken’s first comments at Friday’s postgame press conference, aside from the obligatory “credit Rice,” was a welcome to new athletic director Mike Buddie in his first football game as Army’s AD. “Heck of a first night,” Monken told Buddie.

Monken then shifted his focus to the job head coach Mike Bloomgren is doing at Rice, building the program into a contender in his second year. Referencing a comment Bloomgren made during the week, Monken commented, “He said we’re going to go to Army and go toe-to-toe with them and they did.”

Here’s some other things Monken had to say about the game:

On going for it on fourth-and-1 at his own 15-yard line less three minutes and three seconds into the game: “When we get in short yardage, we find a way to cross the line and it was very disappointing to be in third-and-2 and to run straight ahead twice and not make it. Credit Rice. They did a good job and we didn’t. Those are the things that we need to try to win the game. And fortunately, we forced them into a field goal.”

On why the go-ahead touchdown drive was successful while others weren’t: “Probably at that point, both teams were a little worn down and tired and we just gutted it out. We just gutted it out and that’s not to take anything away from Rice. They do have a physical tough football team and that’s developed over time.

“Our guys were just determined that they were going to find a way to put that thing in the end zone. I wish we done it a lot earlier in the night, but it just was the raw determination and the look in their eye, we just ran Army football. And ran the ball right at them and blocked them and sustained blocks and broke some tackles and it was just a great drive.”

On what Monken told his offense as Rice was driving late to try to tie it up: “Let’s get our one-minute offense ready. Make sure we go back through the Hail Mary passes and all those things because if they score and went for two, we’re going to have to put a drive together pretty quick.”

On how he felt after an emotionally taxing game: “Just really proud of the guys and the way they battled and their belief. They. Never. Flinched. Not one time did they flinch.”

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Jeff Monken on transfers

Army head coach Jeff Monken was asked this week about the amount of transfers in college football today. Here was his full response:

“I think it’s worth looking at and seeing how it all plays out. I think it’s, my opinion on that is you can trade schools and trade players and probably put together a good team. Our job as college coaches is to develop a good program where guys can grow and make it about the experience in the program. We’ve got a great school here. And there’s a lot of schools, I mentioned (Week 1 opponent) Rice. Rice is a tremendous academic institution. For a guy to be able to earn his degree from there and maybe find a different home for whatever reason that is. What I think is dangerous is guys that say, ‘Well I’m not the starting quarterback so I’m going to transfer. I’m not getting to play as many plays as I wanted or not playing the role that I wanted. I’m going to transfer.’ That just becomes a way for guys to be individuals and like the NFL game will go where it’s best for them. Doesn’t mean that’s the case for everybody. I want to make sure that here, we develop a good program, a program that our guys want to be a part of because they feel a sense of responsibility to each other and a sense of pride in representing West Point, this institution, the United States Army and when there’s that kind of buy-in, I think guys are less likely to go. And we’ve had guys transfer and leave. It doesn’t make them bad guys. It’s just what’s going to be best for them, and most of the decisions that our guys make to leave don’t have anything to do with football. It’s typically the other side of it. It’s academics, or it’s the military side, the commitment. But there’s guys that make those decisions based on football, and that’s just part of the game. It’s always been part of it. I also think on the side of the institutions and I’m sure that’s what the NCAA is evaluating — and there’s going to be some good hard looks at it as we get through it for a couple years — is what they want and to be able to have the experience they want in college. Whether that comes with a penalty, having to sit out and those kinds of things, that’s for somebody else to decide. But I think we should try to create opportunities for the young men and women who play sports to be able to have the best experience that they could possibly have, participating in the sport they love.”

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Army Week 1 depth chart

QB: Kelvin Hopkins, Jabari Laws, Christian Anderson

FB: Connor Slomka, Sandon McCoy

LT: Alex Herndon, Mike Johnson

LG: Jaxson Deaton, Noah Utley

C: Peyton Reeder, JB Hunter, Noah Knapp

RG: Jack Sides, Dean Powell

RT: Luke McCleery, Zack Ward, Kamaron Holloway

A-RB: Kell Walker, Malik Hancock

T-RB: Artice Hobbs, Brandon Walters, Dominic Distefano

TE: Zach Saum, Chris Cameron

WR: Cam Harrison, Michael Roberts

WR: Kjetil Cline, Christian Hayes

SAM: Amadeo West, Joe Stephenson

END: Jacob Covington, Jake Ellington

NG: Rod Stoddard, Nick Stokes

NT: Kwabena Bonsu, Nolan Cockrill

RUSH: Jeremiah Lowery, Donovan Lynch

WILL: Arik Smith, Ryan Parker

MIKE: Cole Christiansen, Kemonte Yow

BC: Elijah Riley, Malkelm Morrison

BS: Cam Jones, Cedrick Cunningham

FS: Jaylon McClinton, Ryan Velez

FC: Javhari Bourdeau, Akyah Miranda

K: Landon Salyers, Cole Talley

P: Zach Potter, Zach Harding

KO: Andrew Talley, Landon Salyers

H: Zach Potter

LS: Scott Fanick, Paul Lawless

PR: Akyah Miranda, Javhari Bourdeau

KR: Brandon Walters, A.J. Howard

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