Team preview: Navy
Blue Ribbon Yearbook previews the 2005 college football season, exclusively on Insider.
There is no question Paul Johnson is Navy's finest football coach since George Welsh.
The question is: How much longer will Johnson stay in Annapolis?
Johnson has authored an amazing turnaround at Navy, transforming a program that was coming off the worst two-year span in its 123-year history (1-20) and had recorded just two winning seasons the previous 20 years. Fueled by Johnson's triple-option offense and his staff's focus on the fundamentals, the Midshipmen have won 18 games and played in two bowl games the last two seasons.
Will Johnson leave like Welsh, who compiled a 55-46-1 record from 1973-1981 before heading to the University of Virginia? After his head coaching success at Georgia Southern (Division I-AA national titles in 1999 and 2000) and now at Navy, Johnson is certainly on the radar of athletic directors from power conferences.
East Carolina showed interest in Johnson after last season and his name was on the short list at Ole Miss early, but he didn't pursue either opportunity. But, there will be other ADs calling if Johnson continues to take Navy to bowl games.
Navy completed last season with a 10-2 mark, its best record since 1963. Its 34-19 victory over New Mexico in the Emerald Bowl gave the Midshipmen 10 victories for only the second time in the 124-year history of the program. Former coach Paul Dashiell led Navy to a 10-1-1 mark in 1905, but back then the opponents were the likes of Western Maryland, St. John's and Dickinson.
The good news is that if Johnson is lured away from Annapolis, he has two qualified right-hand men on his staff the Academy could hire to replace him in assistant head coach Ken Niumataolo (who helps Johnson run the offense) and defensive coordinator Buddy Green. Niumataolo's inspired work with the offensive line enabled Navy to finish third in the country in rushing (289.5 yards per game). Green's efforts in 2004 enabled the Middies' defense to finish 26th in the country in scoring defense (19.8 points per game allowed).
Even with these fine assistants, Johnson, who led the Midshipmen to their most wins in 99 years and to just their fifth bowl win in history, could be hard-pressed to keep the winning going in 2005. The Midshipmen lost 36 seniors and has a depth chart filled with youth. There are only four seniors (two offense, two defense) listed as starters.
Still, Johnson and his staff have recruited well the last couple of years and now it's time for those younger players -- many of whom have sat and watched the Middies win 18 games in two years -- to have their day in the sun.
And with a great coach like Johnson to lead them, no one's betting against a third straight winning in Annapolis. Sure, the Middies won't win 10 games in 2005. But if all the pieces in the puzzle fit, Johnson might be able to coax six wins out of this year's squad.
After waiting patiently behind Craig Candeto and Aaron Polanco the last three years, senior co-captain Lamar Owens (5-9, 185) will finally get his chance to run Johnson's triple-option attack.
Owens and Johnson go way back. Johnson had been recruiting Owens, a Savannah, Ga., native, to play quarterback for Georgia Southern, but changed gears and recruited him to be a Midshipmen after being hired as head coach at Navy in December of 2001.
Owens was far and away Navy's best quarterback in spring ball. Owens is similar to Polanco this time last year in that he's been a career backup. Owens got into six games last season, rushing for 115 yards on 24 carries while completing 2-of-5 passes for 38 yards. Owens showed his big-play capabilities in the Army-Navy game, bursting around right end for a 17-yard touchdown to put the final points on the board in Navy's 42-13 rout of the Black Knights. Owens has been injury-prone during his career, battling nagging shoulder and hamstring problems. However, he is healthy now and has added considerable weight and strength since arriving at the academy at 160 pounds.
"Lamar has a great overall knowledge of the offense and he has some quickness," Johnson said. "He's also got some innate leadership ability. Kids seem to really take to him a little bit. We can win with Lamar."
Scheduled to back up Owens is junior Brian Hampton (5-11, 203), the cousin of former NBA great Charles Barkley who has primarily played special teams during his two seasons at Navy. Hampton has handled the ball as a kickoff returner, but never as a quarterback. He regressed a bit last year after impressing in spring ball 2004, but he's quite an athlete and could be moved to another position (i.e. defensive back) to get his athletic gifts on the field if quarterback isn't deemed the spot for him.
For now, Hampton is in a battle for the No. 2 quarterback spot, along with sophomore Troy Goss (6-2, 214). Goss, a native of Shelby, N.C., really turned some heads, particularly Johnson's, in spring ball and it would surprise no one if he's Owens' backup in 2005.
Johnson expects to get two or three quarterbacks from the Naval Academy Prep School, including talented Hawaiian Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada (6-1, 190). Kaheaku-Enhada came to Annapolis based largely on Navy's Hawaii connection -- Johnson and assistants Niumatalolo and Ivin Jaspers, all of whom either played for or coached at Hawaii. Kaheaku-Enhada chose Navy over Air Force, which was also looking for an option quarterback at the time, as well as Washington (which recruited him to play safety) and Hawaii (which wanted him as a wide receiver).
Navy is also looking high and low for a fullback to succeed Kyle Eckel, a three-year starter who rushed for 1,417 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Fullback is a key position in Navy's triple-option attack, because if opposing defenses respect the fullback dive, or belly option, then the entire system runs more smoothly.
Eckel's rare blend of power, toughness and speed will be tough to replace. He rushed for 2,728 career yards at Navy before signing with two-time defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots as a free agent. New England head coach Bill Belichick is an Annapolis native whose father Steve was a longtime Navy assistant coach.
Hall, who rushed for 63 yards on 19 carries in 2004, has the most ability of the three candidates, but he has had a persistent fumbling problem. Kimbrough runs hard between the tackles as his nickname "Mule" suggests, but he got hurt toward the end of spring drills and missed some practices. Ballard is an impressive physical specimen but is still learning the position and therefore has a tendency to run too high -- giving tacklers a lot of area to hit him.
Senior Marco Nelson (5-7, 178) and junior Trey Hines (5-9, 200), the team's most experienced slot backs, missed much of spring ball with injuries. Nelson was one of the team's surprise players in 2004, carrying the ball 15 times for 107 yards (7.1 yards per carry) and catching five balls for 139 yards and one touchdown. Hines finished 2004 with 20 carries for 114 yards and one score and caught one pass for 24 yards.
Sophomores Reggie Campbell (5-6, 164) and Jonathan Peoples (5-9, 191) took advantage of the absences of Nelson and Hines as both broke some long runs and showed flashes of star quality in spring drills. Campbell, in particular, bears watching after being one of only three true freshmen to earn a varsity letter in 2004. He carried the ball four times for 48 yards, caught one pass for 30 yards and returned nine kickoffs for 163 yards last season. A native of Sanford, Florida, Campbell is the size of a junior high kid but has game-changing speed.
Junior Byron McCoy (5-10, 192) put himself in the slot back picture with a solid spring. Senior Marvin Dingle (5-11, 228), junior Eddie Martin (5-1, 175) and sophomore Jordan Reagan (5-9, 167) are three decent backups at running back.
Johnson's run-oriented offense features three running backs and two wide receivers, but no tight ends. As a result, the wide-outs are asked to block much more often than they get to catch the football.
Junior Jason Tomlinson (6-1, 193) and senior Nick Yokitis (6-2, 223) will be the starters at wide receiver. Tomlinson started the final 10 games last season and finished as Navy's top pass catcher with 16 receptions for 273 yards and one touchdown.
Tomlinson, who was one of the stars of spring ball, has some serious speed, which will make him a threat as a return man and on occasional reverses too.
Yokitis is a position receiver type and a willing blocker. He caught only two passes for 20 yards and a touchdown last season.
The offensive line, which has just one returning starter in junior center James Rossi (6-1, 268), is a major area of concern for the Midshipmen, a squad that lives and dies with its ground attack.
Rossi started the final six games of the 2004 season and graded out very well. He'll be the anchor of a young and inexperienced line. But, Rossi is strong enough to shoulder that load, literally. His 450-pound bench press and 555-pound squat are team bests.
In spring ball, sophomore Antron Harper (5-11, 249) was the most impressive of the new starters along the offensive line. He's smallish for a Division I-A guard but has quick feet and good balance. Junior Joe Person (6-4, 260) is the likely starter alongside Harper at right tackle. He's the fourth Person brother to play football at the Naval Academy, joining Andy, Chris and Dan. The starting left-hand side of the line appears to be senior left tackle Marshall Green (6-1, 268) and junior left guard Zach Gallion (6-2, 300).
Gallion saw action in every game last season, including starts against Tulsa, Vanderbilt, Notre Dame and Air Force. Green is battle-tested too, starting games at center as a sophomore and as a junior.
Junior Cole Smith (6-0, 257) will back up Rossi at center, while senior Dan Wendolowski (6-1, 267), sophomore Jesse Scheff (6-2, 290) and junior Ryan Roeling (6-3, 281) are the key reserves at guard.
Senior Matt Pritchett (6-2, 267) is No. 2 on the depth chart at left tackle. Second-string right tackle Brian Rutledge left the Academy after spring ball, so the coaches will need to find a new backup for Person.
With Geoff Blumenfeld gone, there's an open audition for the starting kicking job. Sophomore Joey Bullen (5-10, 178), who kicked for the sprint football team as a plebe last fall, emerged from spring drills as the No. 1 place-kicker. He's narrowly ahead of junior Ethan Gouge (6-0, 168) in the fight to replace Blumenfeld, the team's third leading scorer last season with 53 points (5-of-12 field goals, 38-of-42 on extra points).
Much like the offensive front, Navy's defensive line is very much a work in progress. The good news is that the d-line has a clear ringleader in left end Jeremy Chase (6-2, 270), one of the team's two senior co-captains along with quarterback Lamar Owens.
Chase, a 2005 All-East candidate, started all 12 games at defensive end last year. He finished 2004 with 46 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, a sack and a fumble recovery. The 11 tackles for a loss were the second most on the team. Chase had his best game against Notre Dame, coming up with eight tackles and two tackles for a loss. Chase underwent off-season shoulder surgery, but will be healthy by Navy's Sept. 3 game against Maryland.
Navy will miss the interior push of 290-pound nose guard Babatunde Akingbemi, who enjoyed a terrific senior season. Junior Larry Cylc (6-2, 285) had a great spring and is the current starter at that all-important line spot, a whisker ahead of fellow juniors Rick Amos (6-0, 253) and David Wright (6-3, 261).
Replacing Jeff Vanak (44 tackles in 2004) will be one of two juniors in Tye Adams (6-3, 224) or John Chan (6-1, 246). During spring ball, Adams received the Vice Admiral William P. Mack Award as the most improved player. A converted linebacker, Adams is a hard-nosed player with good speed off the edge (4.7 in the 40 speed).
Chan came to the Naval Academy from one of the nation's most storied high school programs, De La Salle High School in California. Chan has a nice combination of explosion and strength (500-pound squat). He was in on two tackles and broke up a pass last season.
Providing additional depth at end will be junior Andrew Tattersall (6-4, 249) and senior Ed Kotulski (6-5, 259).
Among the most notable losses on defense were inside linebackers Bobby McClarin (107 tackles in 2004) and Lane Jackson (102 stops), who ranked second and third on the team in tackles a year ago.
Junior outside linebacker David Mahoney (5-9, 216), a returning starter who recorded 85 tackles in 2004, played at a high level during spring drills, as did junior inside linebacker Rob Caldwell (6-0, 222). Mahoney is a disruptive force on defense, having registered a team-high five sacks and team-best 12 tackles for loss last season. Mahoney's inspired work in spring ball showed that he'll be one of the leaders of this young defense.
Caldwell, who starred on special teams as a sophomore, was all over the field in spring drills too. Caldwell has all the attributes to be a big-time player -- he's tenacious, has a non-stop motor and great strength (560-pound squat).
Junior Jacob Biles (5-11, 224) is another weight-room junkie (385-pound bench press, 545-pound squat) who is penciled into to start at inside linebacker, alongside Caldwell in Navy's 3-4 defense. If Miles gets dinged up, then promising sophomore Keith Lisante (6-2, 229) will get the call.
Backing up Caldwell will be the capable junior Tyler Tidwell (6-2, 216), who had seven tackles in one of Navy's main scrimmages in the spring.
Manning the other starting outside backer spot will be senior Jason Monts (6-0, 227), who was banged up during spring drills but played in a half-dozen games last season. Other linebackers to watch on the two-deep include junior Joe Cylc (5-11, 229) inside and vastly improved sophomore Irv Spencer (6-0, 230) on the outside.
There were changes aplenty in the secondary with 2004 starter Jeremy McGown (5-11, 184) moving from safety to corner to replace departed senior Vaughn Kelley. McGown will fit well there with his savvy, speed and playmaking skills (91 tackles in 2004).
Junior Keenan Little (5-11, 194) moved from cornerback to rover and struggled somewhat with the adjustment. Once he gets confident and just lets loose rather than over-thinking things, Little will be a big-time star at the rover or strong safety spot.
Ultra-athletic junior DuJuan Price (5-11, 217) succeeds leading tackler Josh Smith at free safety. Price appears to be right for this crucial position in Navy's 3-4 scheme. He is one of Navy's fastest players over 10 (1.43), 20 (2.68) and 40 yards (4.65). He's strong as an ox (510-pound squat) and can really leap (35-inch vertical). He'll make plays galore for the Midshipmen.
The Navy coaching staff will be forced to do some serious juggling in summer drills after starting cornerback Hunter Reddick decided to transfer after spring ball. Reddick, regarded as the team's top cover man in 2004, apparently was not prepared to serve a five-year military commitment after graduation.
Midshipmen are allowed to leave the Naval Academy without penalty before the start of their junior years. Reddick, a native of San Diego, started the last 10 games of 2004 and tied for the team lead with three interceptions. He also notched 52 tackles and blocked an extra point. An impressive athlete with good size (6-2, 192), speed (4.6 in 40) and explosion (35.1 vertical), Reddick was versatile enough to play either corner position or safety. It's believed that he'll head home and play for San Diego State.
Defensive coordinator Green must now find a new starter at right cornerback. Sophomore Greg Thrasher (5-8, 170) was listed No. 2 on the depth chart behind Reddick after spring practice. He is a bit undersized (5-8, 170), but is one of the fastest players on the team.
Juniors Dorian Smith (5-8, 177), Kerwin Scott (5-7, 177) and Matt Garcia-Braigel (5-8, 177) could also contend at cornerback. A wild card to keep an eye on is Quentin Griffin (5-9, 180), a cornerback coming up from the Naval Academy Prep School. Backing up Price and Little at the two safety spots will be sophomore Greg Sudderth (6-2, 200) and junior Clay Carter (6-4, 208).
Senior Eric Schuey (5-10, 182) isn't a shoo-in to be the team's punter again after averaging just 36.8 yards on his 34 boots in '04. However, sophomore Greg Veteto (6-1, 173) will have to be more consistent than he was during drills to wrestle the job away from Schuey.
There's some experience here. Senior Matt Williams (5-11, 214) will handle the long snapping, while quarterback Lamar Owens (5-9, 185) is slated to be the holder on field goals and extra points. Junior starting cornerback Jeremy McGown (5-11, 184) will return kickoffs for a third straight season after averaging a combined 21.6 yards per return as a freshman and sophomore.
He'll be joined back deep by small, but speedy sophomore slot back Reggie Campbell (5-6, 164), who returned nine kickoffs for 163 yards last season. Junior wide-out Jason Tomlinson (6-1, 193) will bring back punts in addition to serving as the team's go-to receiver.
For the most comprehensive previews available on all 119 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college football, the 2005 Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbook.com or call 1-866-805-BALL (2255).