Talent, poise tested in three-hour Army scrimmage
By JUSTIN FEDICH | The Times Herald-Record | Published: August 11, 2019
Aug. 11--WEST POINT, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) -- Maurice Bellan wears neon-yellow Crocs. Lineman Kamaron Holloway teases him for it, calling him "highlighter," but Bellan just laughs it off. The freshman quarterback will find any way to stand out, and on Saturday he and his rookie teammates were given the chance to do so on the football field.
On a day that featured nearly the entire roster, a preseason scrimmage at Michie Stadium brought out the best in those competing for big roles on the team and also shined a spotlight on some of the freshmen who hadn't yet received the in-game reps to prove their worth.
On a larger scale, it was a battle between the offensive and defensive units.
In the first seven plays from scrimmage, the offense failed to gain more than two yards. Defensive lineman Nolan Cockrill punctuated the end of the second drive, wrapping up Clay Czyzynski for a sack.
Head coach Jeff Monken approached the defense on the sidelines, uppercut the air with his right fist and demanded that they start making some noise. He wouldn't need to ask again.
"I see you, R.P.!" captain Cole Christiansen screamed as he watched one of his backup middle linebackers, Ryan Parker, stuff the run game.
Parker played with a tiny smiley face etched on his stomach in black ink. The artist behind the sketch was offensive lineman Peyton Reeder, and it was a reminder that "you need to smile more."
Your time to shine
Following a day when Monken analyzed that the number one defense outperformed the number one offense, Parker said on whether or not he took Reeder's advice: "Absolutely. It was a great day."
The theme from the practice fields played out in Michie Stadium on Saturday, especially in the early going. A deep and talented defense toppled the offensive line, read the triple option like a valedictorian reads a syllabus at the beginning of the school year and knocked down passes like they were trying to remind Army of its true identity.
The offense, though, wasn't having it for long. With the most notable starters sitting this scrimmage out, it opened up opportunities for guys like Czyzynski -- who switched from quarterback to fullback this spring and is now back under center. The stout but bulky signal-caller who has had a tendency to short-hop his check-downs but bullseye the deep ball lifted a 29-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone for wide receiver Kevin Hamilton.
A side-hustling barber who specializes in the medium fade, Hamilton knew he couldn't fade on this cut. "You've prepared for this moment," Hamilton said to himself as he turned his head and locked eyes with Czyzynski. "Don't mess it up."
"I knew if I were to drop that pass," Hamilton said, "I probably wasn't going to get that opportunity again." He reached around his defender and snagged the ball, and an eruption followed from the offense on the sidelines.
One day at a time
The scrimmage was full of guys like Hamilton who were provided ample time in the huddle that they know may not be afforded to them once the season begins.
The freshman quarterbacks were each given a shot at leading at least one drive. Bellan -- a high school wide receiver who concedes "I'll play anything for this team" -- converted an 8-yard run for the scrimmage's first touchdown. He leaped into the arms of lineman Cody Winokur and shouted, "Good job!" as if he were a seasoned veteran. Jemel Jones, the lone rookie quarterback who matriculated through the prep program at West Point, stuck a dart into the twisting body of wide receiver Sean Eckert and then weaved his way to a 22-yard touchdown run. Steven Migut sprinted for a 20-yarder of his own, making it official that Saturday belonged to the unheralded yet gifted rookie quarterbacks.
Jabari Laws and Christian Anderson both have a little more experience at the position and likely a better chance to serve second string behind Kelvin Hopkins this fall. In their limited action in the scrimmage, each managed to slip through holes in the defense, separating themselves from white jerseys but perhaps not from one another in the contentious backup quarterback battle.
Afterward, Monken's gave glowing assessments of each player, including special teamers Andrew Bagley and Cole Talley who blasted a kickoff past the end zone and nailed a 45-yard field goal, respectively. But speaking for the collective, Monken was less impressed.
"We didn't look as clean as we'd like to right now, but I guess that's to be expected," Monken said. "August 11 or whatever day it is."
Technically it was August 10, but perhaps it was a Belichickian way of suggesting that as soon as the day's action wrapped up, he's already on to tomorrow. On Sunday, Army will enjoy -- or endure, depending on who's asked -- its second off day since camp began at the first of the month. With a scrimmage that nudged the three-hour mark, it was the longest session (at least among those open to media) Army has experienced since the start of preseason camp. For Monken, there's never enough time.
"We've got a couple more weeks here before we play and we're going to use every opportunity we've got," he said.