Navy Captain Brye French
Don’t look now, but spring football is in the air. Army kicked things off last week, and by the end of this week Duke, Texas, and Texas Tech will have all taken to the practice field. And while Navy’s players won’t don the shoulder pads until March 19, it’s never too early to take a look at some of the key spring questions for Ken Niumatalolo’s Midshipmen.
Is there depth at quarterback?
All eyes will be on junior quarterback Trey Miller as he takes over for 2011 starter and three-year contributor Kriss Proctor, but the real question might not be so much if Miller can effectively lead the offense as can any of his backups even manage the offense? Miller, who at 6-feet tall and 191-pounds has a good mix of upper body strength as a runner and accuracy as a passer, showed promise last year against East Carolina, but was the only quarterback on the roster besides Proctor to attempt a pass. 2011 third-stringer Jarvis Cummings did have a touchdown run in garbage time against Notre Dame, but Cummings has already moved to linebacker for this spring. That means the backup job is up for grabs, with JV MVP Cody West and John Hendrick expected to be the front-runners for the position. What if none of the candidates impresses offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper? Then pay attention to the incoming names this summer, where help may or may not be on the way from NAPS.
How good can Brye French be?
Many fans speculated that after his late season success last year Brye French might devote himself exclusively to football this offseason, wondering if he’d hang up the lacrosse stick after two seasons of playing as a midfielder. French, who was forced to begin camp last season at the bottom of the depth chart after being dismissed from the team for part of spring camp last season, will not only be back on the practice field in full force, he’ll be the Captain of the defense and switching to inside linebacker. Considering his quick rise up the depth chart once 2011 got underway, it’ll be interesting to see how French progresses this offseason, especially with the position move. He certainly has always had the athleticism and tenacity to be an impact player, and now that he’s a senior and gets the offseason to work on his conditioning, expect the bar to be raised even higher.
Who emerges for Teich
It’s been a few years since Navy faced significant questions at fullback, but with the graduation of three-year contributor and emotional leader Alexander Teich, Navy finds itself having to replace its second leading rusher from a year ago. Compounding matters is the graduation of the team’s sixth leading rusher in backup Delvin Diggs, who proved a serviceable fill-in while the athletic Teich served a single-game suspension. Noah Copeland, a 5-foot-10 sophomore, will get first crack at assuming the starting role, but also watch out for 5-foot-8 junior Mike Patrick.
Who will be switching fields?
Spring football is the time to experiment with personnel changes, and with questions at fullback and in the secondary it’s not unreasonable to think those positions and others will see new faces move over from other positions. We've already seen a few changes with Cummings moving to linebacker and French moving from the outside in, and by the time spring ball is over we could see more. A lack of position changes could mean the coaching staff is confident in the current depth, but it also could point to expected help coming in from the prep school this summer.
Will the team be more physical?
There’s just no way around it; the Mids were not as physical – especially on defense – as they needed to be last year. Missed tackle in the backend were only part of the problem for the injury-riddled group, and aside from shoring up fundamentals, defensive coordinator Buddy Green and his staff will need to find a way to maximize production from their front three. It won’t be easy. Departing end Jabaree Tuani might just have been the best defensive linemen in the history of the Academy, and while they’ve shown promise, players like Joshua Jones and Josh Dowling-Fitzpatrick have yet to weather a full season.
Will a kicker please stand up?
It goes without saying; Navy had kicking “issues” last season. But if you thought missed extra points and blocked game-winning attempts were cause for concern, consider that Niumatalolo wasn’t even considering replacing kicker Jon Teague (10-15 on the season) because the gap between him and the next “best” kicker was too great. Junior Steven Picchini is expected to get first crack at taking over, but spring conditions won’t exactly simulate late-game pressure.
Who will be the most improved?
One of the most enjoyable aspects of spring practice is looking ahead to spot the next breakout player, and with plenty of seniors departing this offseason we should have plenty of candidates for the Admiral Mack award given to the spring’s most improved performer. Quarterback Trey Miller won the award last year, and judging by the competition we’re sure to see at the backup quarterback and fullback positions, we could easily be in for another winner from the offensive ranks.
Adamnettina – at – gmail.com