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Army looks to keep raising bar, starting with first practice

Photo by Lynn Fern/Black Knight Nation

Jimmy Ciarlo’s anticipation was over.

The spirited summer weight-room workouts and captains’ practices were history.

The day had finally arrived for the 2023 Army football team to take the field for the first time in the preseason.

As one of four captains, Ciarlo was interested in checking the pulse of this season’s squad. In Ciarlo’s mind, Wednesday’s workout was a win for the Black Knights.

“It is real exciting to get back together,” said Ciarlo, a senior outside linebacker from Ringwood, N.J. “We have not been in pads or put on our helmets since spring ball. This has been one of, if not the best, first day of camp since I have been here. It just goes to show that the hard work this summer has paid off. It is just real exciting to get back on the field.

“I think that each day we will keep raising the bar. If we do that all summer, we will really like what we see come September and the rest of the season.”

With much optimism and a few key questions, particularly about a new offensive scheme, filling some key roles on defense and who will be the starting quarterback, Army held its first preseason football practice at sunny Howze Field on Wednesday morning.

The Black Knights visit Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 2, the start of what promises to be a grueling schedule, featuring an October road game at national championship contender LSU, plus difficult contests at Syracuse. Air Force and UTSA. The Army home schedule is no cakewalk either, with the Black Knights hosting Boston College and defending Sun Belt Conference champion Troy this season.

Army finished a somewhat disappointing 6-6 last season, though the Black Knights knocked off arch-rival Navy, 20-17, in a thrilling double overtime game in Philadelphia in December. The two squads will meet on Dec. 9 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.

Still, there is much to be hopeful for amongst the more than 125 players and coaches taking the field.

Other team leaders saw good things as well. “It was a great day,” added co-captain and defensive lineman Austin Hill, who is from Memphis, Tenn. “Attitude and effort are the two things we can control. There was a great attitude out there and the effort was there. I am confident we are in a good place. It was the first day of camp and we got to get the jitters out, but I am excited where we are at.”

But, along with the confidence comes a bunch of questions about personnel and the much- discussed change from a triple-option offense to a more conventional shotgun offense that coach Jeff Monken said was necessary due to a change in NCAA rules and the desire to run an offense that is a bit less complex.

And the questions about replacing some stellar performers on both sides of the ball. Gone are outside linebacker Andre Carter, who signed as a free agent with the Minnesota Vikings this summer. Also missing from the team is defensive back and two-year captain Marquel Broughton, who was second in
solo tackles last year with 46, and defensive lineman Kwabena Bonsu, who had 18 solo tackles last year.

On offense, Army needs a quarterback. The team’s top three signal callers – Tyhier Tyler, Jemel
Jones and Cade Ballard – all graduated, leaving little-used Bryson Daily as the only quarterback
with any type of game-day experience.

Daily, a junior who threw just one pass last year, will fight for the starting job with the likes of Alex Meredith as well as several other candidates, including possibly several freshmen, according to Monken.

There are a lot of returnees, including on the offensive line and at linebacker. One is Connor Finucane, another co-captain from Baton Rouge, La. and an anchor on the offensive line last year. He added that he and his fellow linemen all bulked up for this season, noting that the top 10 players on the offensive line are all over 300 pounds this year, something he says that has never happened at Army before.

“We can plan an offense where weight is very helpful,” he said. “The triple option required a bit more bending and running style movement patterns. Now, it is more upright, different posture and different footwork.”

On defense, Army also looks solid at linebacker, with another senior co-captain Leo Lowin, holding down one of the outside linebacker positions. Lowin led the team in tackles with 100 last year.

“I am really excited about the whole linebacking corps,” he said. “From top to bottom. there are very few differences (in talent). To be at the center of the defense is a huge honor.”

Monken see opening day of practice simply as step one in the process of putting together a football team.

“It is hard to make an assessment off of day one, with guy in shorts and helmets and no contact,” said the Army coach, who is entering his 10 th season at West Point. “Everyone is enthusiastic. But for passing judgement on anyone at this point, it is the first day.

“I really like our team. We got good leadership. (We have) enough guys out there that have played football for us that we are not re-teaching the philosophy, not re-teaching the fundamentals of how we practice and all those moving parts.”

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