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Army spring game brings encouraging signs for new shotgun offense

Photo by Lynn Fern/Black Knight Nation

A buzz surrounded Michie Stadium during warmups for Army’s Black and Gold game.

The Black Knights 2023 commits and 2024 recruits filled the sidelines before Jeff Monken and the academy’s all-time leading rusher and honorary captain Mike Mayweather led the team for quite possibly the most anticipated spring game in the coach’s 10 years at West Point.

Spring games have become as much about recruiting as the action on the field but all eyes were on the unveiling of Army’s new shotgun offense to the public.

Most watching and more importantly those executing the offense saw encouraging signs that the Black Knights can make a successful move from the triple option/flexbone. Five of the game’s seven offensive touchdowns were through the air.

Fullback dives were replaced with RPO (run, pass, option) reads or shuffle passes not necessarily pitches. Bryson Daily connected with wide receiver Taylor Saulsberry for a 28-yard touchdown pass on an RPO.

There are wide receiver screens. Repeat, there are wide receiver screens.

And as Miles Stewart stated in a postgame interview, the running game is going to remain an integral component. Stewart broke off a 36-yard touchdown run in the second half.

“We are running the inside zone so the first half it may not look pretty,” Stewart said. “It may be three yards, five yards, three yards and three yards. But, then in the second half, the holes were gaping because the offensive line starts leaning on them and the offensive line trusts themselves and seeing the tight end trust the process and keep on pushing the defensive line back, that made my day and made it easier to throw the ball.” 

Friday Night’s game had a little bit of everything from wide receiver Taylor Saulsberry’s punt block and touchdown, some unexpected with receiver Isaiah Alston, who caught a 36-yard touchdown pass from Dewayne Coleman, getting opportunity to advance the ball behind or near the scrimmage, field goals by Charlie Barnett (30 yards) and Trey Gronotte (35 yards) and running back Dakoda Wagner’s amazing one-handed touchdown catch to close the scoring.

The defense made its share of plays. Defensive end Austin Hill recovered a fumble on the Black team’s first possession. Cornerback Donavan Platt and linebacker Josiah Banks picked off passes. Linebacker Kalib Fortner reads an outside run and recorded a tackle for loss.

Not bad considering 35 players, including running backs Hayden Reed, Markel Johnson and Tyson Riley, linebacker Kalvyn Crummie and tight end Josh Lingenfelter, did not see action. Some were held out due to minor injuries occurring late in spring practice. Others are recovering from offseason surgery or injury. Quarterback Alex Meredith was mostly limited to running plays after straining his shoulder.

Coleman, a freshman quarterback, was singled out by Monken in the postgame team huddle after his three passing touchdowns to Alston, Noah Short (20 yards) and Wagner’s 12-yard catch

“I thought Dewayne Coleman had a really good scrimmage tonight but the first 14 days of the spring I wouldn’t have said that, ‘The guy has a good chance to play and be in the mix right now,'” Monken said. “Tonight, just to get in that game situation and see him respond the way he did, I thought he did a great job. I feel a lot better about him.”

The spring game gave the Army fans and the more than 70 commits and recruits a glimpse into the future. Can a shotgun-based offense work at West Point? We’ll find out when the games start to count Sept. 2 at Louisiana-Monroe. But, it was sure fun to watch Friday night.

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