Navy Nose Guards Holding Their Ground

Consider this: Ohio State and Notre Dame both struggle with the job of recruiting interior defensive lineman. Regrettably for defensive coaches, there are simply not a lot of 300 lb high school students prowling football fields. The relative few that are have their choice of top schools. So if the Buckeyes and the Irish have a tough time, imagine how tough it is for Navy to find them.

This challenge is one reason why Navy runs the 3-4 defense. The reality is that it is far easier to recruit a Ross Pospisil or Ram Vela (linebackers) than it is to recruit a 300 pound Nate Frazier. Knowing this, Navy beefs up on recruiting linebackers. Still, Navy's 3-4 allows them to be more selective when searching for a nose guard when recruiting.

"Finding defensive lineman is hard for everybody in the country, and we only need (to recruit) one true D-lineman – that is the nose guard," said defensive line coach Dale Pehrson.

Pehrson then finds defensive ends, wherever he can, to fill out the remaining two spots along the line. In some cases you recruit a player like Jabaree Tuani. Other times players originally recruited as linebackers grow enough to play the defensive end position. The defense is particularly appealing because it allows the team to put more speed on the field.

"It allows you to play with 5 or 6 guys who can run," said Pehrson.

With only three men along the line of scrimmage, however, there is added pressure on one of the more overlooked (but crucial) positions on that defense: Nose guard. In the 3-4 this position represents the defensive tip of the spear.

"It's the key position of the entire defense – you have got to have a guy in there who can hold the point and demand double teams," said Pehrson, who is in his 11th year of coaching the defensive line at Navy.

The Midshipmen started the season with senior Nate Frazier returning to the position after a season in which defensive coordinator Buddy Green described his play as the best seen at that position since at least 2002. However, three weeks prior to the opening game against Ohio State, Frazier was dismissed from the Naval Academy for an honor offense, leaving a question mark on a line thought previously to be a great strength.

Junior Chase Burge (6'4 270lbs), whom Pehrson had counted on to spell Frazier, was asked to step up into the starting lineup. Senior Jordan Stephens, who was battling for a starting tackle position, offered up to Pehrson that he had some high school nose guard experience, and the new rotation was born- just in time for Ohio State.

"It was definitely a shock knowing I would be starting at nose guard without any varsity experience," said Burge.

Any questions about how this would work out, however, were quickly removed when the Midshipmen took on Ohio State and generally gave the Buckeye offensive line fits. And the line has been improving throughout the year to the pleasure of Pehrson.

"This group has done a pretty good job," admitted Pehrson.

Most fans don't single out line play when they watch a football game, but it's a safe bet to say that when you see a Navy linebacker celebrating a big tackle, it is usually a pretty good indicator that the nose guard is doing his job of filling gaps and taking on double teams. If Navy's linebackers are fighting off offensive lineman, they are not free to roam the field and make tackles in space.

"The big thing is just keep the offensive linemen off the linebackers and try to wreak havoc on the line and take on double teams so the backers can make plays," said Burge.

So far Burge and his teammates have been up to the task and they are a huge part of the reason why Navy is having one of its best defensive seasons in recent memory.

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