Navy Practice Update: Week 1

Navy opened preseason football practice this past week. Ken Niumatalolo's challenge in his fourth year as head coach is to replace a number of key impact players. Many of these graduated players were the core players of Niumatalolo's success in his first three years as Navy's head coach.

The Midshipmen prepare for the 2011 season hoping to continue their team record streak of eight straight years with at least eight wins and bowl appearances.

Navy opened preseason football practice on Wednesday afternoon. Niumatalolo had the opening work out conducted without pads and helmets. The rest of the week the team practiced in shoulder pads and helmets. The team held a practice Saturday before begin two-a-days Monday in full pads. For Niumatalolo these practices are tightly scripted to establish the culture of Navy football and to teach the schemes and techniques. For new players to the program it's important that they learn to understand the pace and tempo with which Navy plays. The plebes need to learn the effort level that is expected by the coaching staff.

"Everything we do is full speed," said Niumatalolo. "There is never any walking."

Niumatalolo also made special mention of strength coach Mike Brass' offseason workout program.

"Once again, Coach Brass has done a phenomenal job of getting our players ready for camp," Niumatalolo said. "Coach Brass is always tweaking things to make the conditioning program better, and I think this year he has taken it to another level. Our players look great."

The team received a shock when punter Justin Haan, who won the starting job this spring, announced he was leaving this fall to perform church missionary work. Haan is a junior and possesses a strong leg. He made all 12 punts this spring for both teams in the Navy Blue-Gold spring game. He averaged 38.3 yards a kick and placed five punts inside the 20-yard line. Haan had a nice coffin corner punt in the fourth quarter to pinned the Gold team at the seven. Haan boomed one 62-yard punt in the game.

"As a person, I'm not disappointed because there are more important things than football," said Niumatalolo. "I commend Justin for his humanitarian efforts. From a football standpoint, the timing is horrible. Hopefully, somebody will step up so we don't have to make Teague perform double-duty."

While placekicker Jon Teague entered summer camp listed on the depth chart as the starting punter, the staff expects talented plebe Pedro Beltran will win the job. Beltran attended the Naval Academy Prep school last season and punted well. He broke his high school's record for punt average when he averaged 43.5 yards per attempt. Playing on a very good offensive team in high school, Pablo showed the ability to directional punt when he placed 21 punts inside the 20-yard line his junior year. He was Scout.com's 11th rated punter in the Class of 2010. Beltran earned First Team All-District 19-5A honors as a punter. Backup sophomore Brymor Hughes is the other candidate for the job. Haan leaving also means the Mids need to find a new holder. John Howell and Kriss Proctor auditioned this week to replace Haan as Jon Teague's holder but once again the staff hopes Beltran wins that job because the specialist can spend more time practicing together during the season.

Summer preseason practice saw the return of long time defensive coordinator Buddy Green to the field. Green missed all most all of spring practice after he suffered from complications following gall bladder surgery. The Mids need Green as Navy returns just three defensive starters from last season's bowl game lineup. Green recognizes the challenge.

"We lost a ton of really good players, guys that started for us three years, four years," said Green. "We've got some big holes to fill, and it's important that we have good competition, which I think we do."

Two other key players, senior co-captains Jabaree Tuani and Alexander Teich, returned to the practice field this week. Both missed spring practice recovering from off season surgery. They are two of Navy's best players and unquestioned team leaders. Teich rushed for 863 yards and scored seven touchdowns last season. He looks like he was locked in a weight room this summer and practiced extremely well the opening week. Tuani played and showed no ill effects of the surgery that was performed on his right knee. After missing all of spring practice Tuani participated in all drills.

"I'm so excited to be back," Tuani said. "Even though it's practice, I love to be out here with the guys getting the energy up."

Before summer camp opened it was announced that third string full back junior Kevin Eckel was dismissed from the Navy football program. The dismissal was a result of a violation of team rules. Eckel played well this spring leading all runners in rushing in the spring Blue & Gold game. Kevin is the younger brother of former star fullback Kyle Eckel who graduated but had his own issues with military discipline.

With reality shows, the rage on television the Army & Navy classic was added to the list when CBS and Showtime announced a documentary series on the lead up to the game. Film crews will be embedding with the teams. The show titled "A Game of Honor." will incorporate footage and interviews leading up to the game and the results. It will air on Dec. 21. The partnership between CBS sports and Navy football has been a great one in positive exposure for the Naval Academy.

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