2012 Army Report Card: Linebackers

Nate Combs (Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE)

ArmySports.com continues its review of the 2-10 2012 Army Black Knight's season, position-by-position. Today we review the cadet linebackers of 2012.

Linebackers: C
Sophomore Mike linebacker Geoffery Bacon (136 tackles, 1 interception, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble) had impressive statistics this year but struggled with his consistency. Bacon has sideline-to-sideline range needed for a Mike linebacker to play in the double eagle flex. Some believe he's too small for the middle but that's not really an issue. The biggest concern with Bacon is his technique. In the flex defense the Mike linebacker has to play inside out. Bacon needs to improve his positioning and take better angles. When you hear Rich Ellerson in a postgame press conference talk about "getting our eyes right" and "stop trying to be a hero" he was often discussing Bacon indirectly. Bacon has a tendency to over pursue, tries to make a play and fails to maintain his gap responsibility. It allowed the defense to be victimized by too many cut-back runs. The other issue is that Geoffrey's inconsistent tackling. In games against Eastern Michigan and Kent State he had decent number but he missed tackles or made too many down the field. He wasn't helped by the fact that opposing offensive lines often dominated Army's defensive tackles and he wasn't always able to keep his legs free. While his play can be occasionally uneven, his effort is always there. Bacon hustles, chases and will make plays. Bacon is the Black Knight's most athletic defender regardless of position. Just watch the tape of the win over Air Force. If it was my call I would move Bacon over one spot next year and have him replace the graduating Nate Combs at bandit linebacker. I think that would be the perfect position for Bacon and allow him to freelance, fly to the ball and just make plays with his athleticism.

Senior co-captain Nate Combs was Army's biggest impact defender at bandit linebacker. He started ten games and missed two with a shoulder injury. Combs made 63 tackles, including a team high 12 for a loss, a team high six sacks, an interception the close out the win over Air Force, five passes knocked down, recovered three fumbles and forced another three fumbles. Combs provided intensity and toughness when he played. He made an amazing recovery in his second year back from knee surgery. In 2010 Combs suffered a season ending knee injury on the first defensive series against Eastern Michigan. He battled back to play in 2011 but lacked his mobility and looked stiff at times on his rebuilt knee. Nate's play improved as the season wore on and he had two sacks in the finale against Navy in 2011. He missed last spring while recuperating from another surgery. This year he was all the way back physically and made a lot of plays when he was on the field.

At Rover freshman Alex Meier played in every game and started nine. In 2011 Meier played safety and was the Defensive MVP last year at the United States Military Academy Prep School. He was looked at initially at Mike linebacker in the summer then moved into the Rover role after Justin Trimble and Thomas Holloway were ineffective. Meier excellent instincts, good range and sure tackling allowed him win the starting job. His play seemed to improve each week. On the season he posted 71 tackles, made one sack, picked off a pass and returned it 65 yards against Eastern Michigan and recovered two fumbles. Alex played a great game against Navy before he left with a knee injury. Meier came across the formation to break up a sure touchdown pass to Navy slotback Darius Staten early in the game co-offensive coordinator Chris Smeland thinks so highly of Meier's savvy play that he might look at him at Mike linebacker if they decide to move Bacon to bandit.

Undersized senior C.J. Shelley played in nine games and was the main back-up to Bacon at Mike linebacker. He recorded only six tackles and there was a major drop off in talent when he replaced Bacon in the lineup. Junior Thomas Holloway played in all twelve games and started one at Rover against Northern Illinois where he was ineffective and was benched in the second half. He played safety in 2011 and was second on the team in tackles but was moved to Rover because his below average speed was a liability and keeping him near the boundary would limit the space he needed to cover. I thought the move closer to the line of scrimmage would help him but he wasn't able to get off blocks against the run when used at Rover. He ended the year with 23 tackles. He's a fairly solid player who understands his assignments. He seems to be a better player in space at safety but lacks the speed and range to be a quality starter. Freshman Dalton Mendenhall played in twelve games last year mostly on special teams. He is a flex player who is a good athlete and can run. Look for him to potentially be a factor next fall.

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