Defending champions of the Collegiate Sprint Football League, the Army West Point Black Knights dominated opposing teams this past season. Clearly, to win a championship, a team needs to be sound in all three phases of the game: Offense, defense, and special teams. But more than anything else, this team’s defense stood out. It’s hardly an original statement/opinion, but the phrase “defense wins championships” is one that certainly holds true for this team.
Having pitched four shutouts (half of their games last season) this defense has a knack for dominating the line of scrimmage, breaking on short to intermediate passes, and getting additional helmets to the ball carrier, stripping the football more than any team last season except for the University of Pennsylvania (Both schools recovered ten fumbles). Outstanding team performances were produced each week because each unit dominated their level of the field.
Let’s start with arguably the most impressive unit on the Army defense. The defensive line. Leading the league in sacks, the four men up front rushed the passer and stuffed opposing running games better than anyone in the league as they led the league with 38 sacks and 216 rushing yards allowed. The interior line is led by two tackles the play with a tremendous amount of leverage, often two-gapping in the run game and pushing offensive lineman into the quarterback’s lap in the pass game. The outside is defined by length, as two tall ends play disciplined edge football, keeping outside contain, squeezing the pocket down from the outside, and wrong shouldering pullers in the run game.
Although this unit is defined by group cohesion and discipline, this defensive line is no stranger to individual accolades. This unit placed four players on the first or second all-league teams. An extremely rare occurrence, the league MVP, Curtis Jerzerick, had his hand in the dirt. Winning this award from a non-skill position is an incredible feat that put an exclamation point on a historic season for this defense.
The linebacker position is the most mentally demanding position on the defense. Like many teams in the CSFL, Army combats the high number of spread offenses by playing a 4-2-5 defense. Leaving only two linebackers responsible for everything between and just outside of the offensive tackles only exacerbates the mental and physical challenges of the position. Unsurprisingly, the two all-league linebackers for the Black Knights rose to the challenge. Because of the dominant front ahead of them, the pair track extremely well against the outside run game and fill the inside gaps with controlled aggression, often meeting players at the line of scrimmage.
The linebacking core for Army play an integral role in the team’s pass rush. Often blitzing A or B gaps from depths of 3 to 7 yards, the two build up a lot of speed by the time they crash through the line of scrimmage to chase down the opposing quarterback. This is a difficult skill to master, for it requires a great anticipation of the snap count and tremendous body control to stop on a dime in the event of a miscalculation.
The five-man secondary serves as the lid of the defense. The Black Knights intercepted eight passes on the year thanks to both a great pass rush and a core of defensive backs that constantly jumped short and intermediate routes, twice taking them all the way for six points. This group flies to the ball, usually having two men closing on a receiver. One plays the ball while the other lays a hit. Not to be outdone by the rest of the defense, two Army defensive backs found their way onto the first and second all-league teams respectively. As a sophomore, Desmond Young was second in the entire league with eight pass breakups. An excellent cap to a standout defense, these back five are a group of hitters and ball hawks.
The combination of standout individual efforts across all three levels of the defense resulted in a league-low 5.8 points and 171.3 yards allowed per game. Boasting the CSFL’s best run defense and third-best pass defense, Army’s defense allowed yet another league low, allowing opponents to convert n third down just 23.2% of the time. Last year’s defense was speed, strength and scheme all rolled into one. Always deep at every position, there is no reason to think that Army won’t reload to have another electric season.