Football is in the air in Annapolis, as the Naval Academy begins the first of fifteen spring…
Preseason Chat Wrap: Ken Niumatalolo (Part 1)
Ken Niumatalolo: We've talked as a staff about some of our goals, both offensively and defensively and at each position. Our big push this spring is that basically we're starting from ground-zero and I want our guys to understand that. Whether it's Ricky [Dobbs] or Wyatt [Middleton] or Vince Murray or Jeff Battapaglia -- guys who've played a ton for us -- we still want to say to those kinds of guys that we're starting from ground zero. I want our guys to understand that. My main goal is to make sure we get across that we haven't done anything – the 2010 team hasn't done anything. We want to make sure our guys aren't looking in the rear view mirrors and are not looking at the 2009 season at all. We're starting as if everybody doesn't know anything. It's more the mentally that I'm looking for, and making sure our guys understand that we're starting from ground zero, and teaching our younger guys how we play Navy football and how we do things.
AN: Does that change the emphasis of what you're trying to accomplish in the spring? With so many returning players, is the next month more about developing an offensive identity as opposed to just evaluating who can play and who can't?
Ken Niumatalolo: I think there are a lot of areas where we are still looking for guys. Offensively I feel very good about our tackles with Jeff [Battapaglia] and Matt [Malloy], but interior wise it's going to be a battle. We want to see who can step up and get better this spring. We have some young ‘A' backs who will be fighting over all the reps that Bobby Doyle and Cory Finnerty got last year, and we've got some young guys who want to break into that role. Wide receiver wise we have a lot of guys who've played. I'm looking to see what Brandon Turner and Jonathan Gazaille and some of our younger wide receivers can do. We know what Vince [Murray] and Alex [Teich] can do, but we're still taking the attitude that we're starting from ground zero and we want to see what some of our younger fullbacks can do.
Defensively, I think we have a lot more question marks. Basically we lost all of our linebackers, so we're starting from ground zero there, although it's a great opportunity for some of our younger guys. But up front too, we have Jabaree [Tuani], Chase [Burge] and Shane Bothel who have played, but other than that we have some young guys who we feel good about but haven't played much football.
Secondary wise we got a lot of our guys back. Kevin Edwards will miss spring ball after coming back from shoulder surgery and won't be back until fall camp. We've moved Mario Washington over to DB to experiment, and from a personnel standpoint we are looking at a number of those positions.
Football wise and X's and O's wise you always tinker and see what you can do. Spring is a time to experiment, but I'm not really so much worried about our depth chart during the spring. My biggest goal, and our biggest goal as a staff, is to teach our guys what it means to win and what it takes to win football games here.
AN: You mentioned the interior offensive line, and some of the questions there. Are you sold of Brady DeMell and David Hong at the guard positions, or is there an opportunity for other players to step up?
KN:It's definitely a question mark. We've got some guys who have played. We've talked to Brady and David Hong and [center] Eric Douglass, and stressed to them that this is a new season and a new spring. They have to get better from last year, and we feel like they have the tools to do it but they do need to get better. We've moved Francis Archibald from the defensive line to the offensive line. Josh Cabral and Josh Corby are two young guys who we are excited about looking at to see what they can do. But the interior is a big question mark, and it's going to be a big spring for all of them.
AN: You also mentioned the move of Washington to DB. What went into that move?
KN:It's just an experiment. It was more of my thought process. We are going to try it out this spring. Mario knows what we are doing on offense, so if it doesn't work we can always move him back. We feel good about our receiving corps with Gary Myers, Greg Jones and Mike Schupp. They are guys who've played a ton of football for us. We're excited about Brandon Turner and some of the younger guys we have coming from the prep school too. We feel like we're pretty deep there, and I just felt like with losing Blake [Carter] and with Kevin [Edwards] being hurt this spring, just from a depth standpoint to see if Mario can help us. Spring is always when you're tinkering with things and just trying to get your best guys on the field.
AN: How is Ricky Dobbs' rehab going after offseason surgery? What are your expectations for him this spring?
KN:Ricky's rehab is going very well. The surgery went exactly like the doctors thought it would, and he is ahead of schedule in his rehab. We're planning on him to get some work in the spring, but we're going to be very smart and judicious about it. At the same time, we don't want him sitting around for 15 practices and we want him out there practicing and continuing to get better in his option mechanics. We're not sure how much live work he'll get, but we plan on him practicing this spring.
AN: Is there still a lot more for him to learn in the offense?
KN:Yes, and I think with some of our team stuff and self-scouting Ricky will have the chance to get in there and get some reps in. Sports is something that you've got to constantly work on. Whether you're a quarterback or a three-point shooter – whatever your skill is – if you don't do it for a while you're going to get rusty. We're going to make sure he gets some work, but like I said we're not going to rush him back too quickly. If he's not 100% we'll do it in seven-on-sevens or some throwing drills where he can at least get some work this spring.
AN: By the same token this has got to present a great opportunity for someone like Kriss Proctor. What are you looking to see from Kriss and the other backups this spring?
KN:It's going to be a great opportunity for all of them. I think this is going to be a great spring for Kriss. I think he's way more comfortable in our offense. He's a guy who we have high expectations for. I thought he played great in the games he played, and was great in helping us to beat Wake Forest. I thought he played a good game against Temple in a close lose, and I've been very pleased with his work ethic. The guy has taken his work ethic and his offseason workouts to a new level. I think he sees this as a great opportunity to solidify himself as a player. We don't want anyone to get hurt, but we know with this offense that having two quarterbacks is definitely a luxury and if somebody does get injured we will feel better if we have that.
Tyler Lynch is a young guy who has gotten better and better, and this will be an opportunity for him to get more reps and to improve.
AN: Following the 2009 season you talked about utilizing the ‘no-huddle' approach that worked so well in the bowl game against Missouri. Have you been able to follow up on that, and have you and your staff traded ideas with other teams?
KN:We're continuing to investigate. We did that basically after the Army game and right before the bowl, where we had a good amount of time to tinker with it. We've continued during the offseason with trying to get better with that and we'll continue to work on that.
AN: How has the strength and conditioning portion of the offseason gone? Are you pleased with some of the gains your players made?
KN:I've been very impressed with our work ethic. We tried to name our captains as soon as possible, and we think we have two great captains with Ricky [Dobbs] and Wyatt [Middleton]. I've been impressed with our seniors and our older guys with taking the mantle and picking up where last year's seniors left off in giving our younger the idea of what it means to work. I think coach Brass and his assistants have done a great job with our guys this offseason. When we start to go recruiting they get into their conditioning, and I've been very pleased with the conditioning aspect. We have a ways to go but I like where we're at right now.
In Part Two of his preseason interview with Adam Nettina, coach Niumatalolo addresses recruiting, staff changes, and the getting to the "next level" after one of the most successful seasons ever at Navy.
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