Army Black Knights (2000: 1-10)
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Coach and programTodd Berry was under no illusion that his first season at Army would be easy. He knew he had new offensive and defensive systems to install, and, more important, a new mentality for a group of players that had not experienced success on the college level.
Record-wise, Berry's 1-10 debut was Army's worst showing since 1973's 0-10 showing. Had it not been for a 21-17 victory over Tulane on Oct. 21, the Cadets would have again gone winless. And speaking of winless, previously winless Navy enjoyed its only celebration of the season at Army's expense, 30-28, in the season finale in Baltimore.
The real story on Berry's second season at West Point will not be written until the 11 Saturdays to come this fall, but the 40-year-old Oklahoma native feels good about the groundwork that has been laid in his first season and second spring practice.
And for Berry, the understanding of what life at Army means has also been enriched. He made his second off-season tour of several bases, the point being driven home what a unique scenario West Point offers.
Think Steve Spurrier ever jumped out of a plane at 11,000 feet with a bunch of Florida boosters? Berry did last spring, making a tandem-jump with the 82nd Airborne at Ft. Bragg, N.C. He also spent time observing the inner-workings of the Pentagon.
Berry, a history buff who possesses a deep appreciation of the military institutions, has a burning desire to get Army back on track. He sees his second season as a step in that direction. Comparing his second spring practice to his first was like night and day, things were so much more evolved.
"Last year was about installing schemes,'' he said. "This year is about creating competition. Competition is a great motivator.
"We have the potential to put a much more athletic team on the field this season. I'm very excited our players recognize we have so much room left for growth. They realize they haven't come close to reaching their potential.''
OffenseLast year, the Cadets labored with a three-man quarterback derby. The graduation of Joe Gerena leaves Berry with a two-man duel between seniors Chad Jenkins (5-11, 175) and Curtis Zervic (6-4, 195).
Jenkins was 58-of-125 with seven interceptions and only two touchdowns. Zervic, known as the "Gunslinger,'' was 65-of-104, completing 62.5 percent of his passes, with six interceptions and four scores. His pass-efficiency rating of 113.49 dwarfed Jenkins' 76.77.
The spring competition was inconclusive, with Jenkins perhaps the leader.
Michael Wallace, gone after leading the Cadets in rushing the last two seasons, leaves an opening in the one-back offense up for grabs.
Because Alton McCallum, the second-leading rusher (231 yards) has been moved to tight end, junior Josh Holden (6-0, 208) is the heir apparent. However, the fact that Holden, who netted 127 yards last fall, spent the spring playing center field for the Army baseball squad leaves the job very much open when fall camp begins.
Making the transition from a wishbone to an open passing game last year gave Army's new staff some understandable willies. Would, for example, Army's receivers be able to step up from a supporting role to the center ring?
In senior Omari Thompson's case, the answer was a resounding yes. Thompson (5-7, 160) multiplied his 1999 receptions (eight) by five to come up with 40 in 2000.
The Cadets are blessed with an excellent receiving option at tight end in senior Clint Dodson (6-4, 235). He caught 37 balls last year for 383 yards.
Unlike the rest of the offensive unit, the line has some major rebuilding after losing three two-year starters. Gone are center Jim Calhoun, guard Josh Gonzalez and tackle Mike Larkin.
Defense and special teamsThere is room for improvement everywhere on a unit that ranked 106th of 114 teams in Division I-A in total defense and 109th in rushing defense. The Black Knights got off on the wrong foot last year when early injuries rearranged the depth chart on the defensive front.
Berry feels more confidence in his two tackle positions than the ends. One reason is losing end Zac Hurst, the school's career sack leader. Brandon Perdue (6-2, 225), a senior out of Georgia, stepped into an unexpected starting role last year when Ron Sporer was injured. Perdue is back, older and wiser, and should hold onto his job.
Depth will come from Odene Brathwaite (6-3, 240), a sophomore who earned a spot on the C-USA All-Rookie team as a freshman. Brathwaite played seven games last year as a reserve and showed flashes that could indicate a breakout year this fall.
Senior outside linebacker Brian Zickefoose (5-10, 210) flourished in the new system last year, recording 128 tackles, second best in Conference USA.
The defensive backfield will have a different look this year, with senior Ben Dial (6-0, 183) moving from corner to free safety.
With Brendan Mullen's departure, the kicking job is wide open, which isn't a bad thing because Mullen was only 5-of-11 on field goals last fall. Punter Dan MacElroy (6-0, 190), a senior, could become a double-duty man if someone else doesn't step up and win the job in two-a-days.
Bottom lineBerry and the Army players are more comfortable with each other in their second season. That should be a positive to balance against the negative intangible of the lack of a winning mentality. None of the Cadets have experienced a winning record on the college level. Getting off to a good start with wins over Cincinnati and Buffalo at Michie Stadium would do wonders for Army's confidence.
How much improvement the defense can make could tell the story on how far the Cadets can step up record-wise. In short, things couldn't get much worse than last year. The plan is to play more aggressively, especially in passing situations. If it pans out, the Cadets should produce more than the 18 turnovers they forced last year.