Navy lineup takes shape

With the start of the 2012 Navy football season looming head coach Ken Niumatalolo announced a number of key moves on the depth chart recently. Niumatalolo said plebe Nick Sloan had won the kicking job in one of the most competitive position battles. Sloan beat out seven kickers for the starting spot. Last year Navy's lost possibly four games because of special teams mistakes.

It was the difference between a winning and losing season. The placekicking job was wide open entering this summer camp after all the returning kickers struggled miserably during spring practice. None of the returning upperclassmen made the final cut. The competition was narrowed down to Sloan against direct admits Austin Grebe and David Reisner by last week with Sloan being named the starter. Austin Grebe, who finished a close second, made the travel squad as well as sophomore Colin Amerau who will handle the kickoffs against Notre Dame.

I had a chance to see Nick Sloan kick last year at the Naval Academy Prep school where he also served as the punter. Sloan has a reputation for being a clutch kicker in high schools and at NAPS. Last fall at Annapolis against Navy JV Sloan lined up for a 38-yard field goal attempt with seconds left. The Navy JV called a time out in an attempt to ice him. Sloan kept his poised and calmly nailed the ball through the uprights as time expired for a 23-20 NAPS victory over the Navy JV. In a conversation I had with NAPS head coach J.P. Shevory he stated that Nick tends to be his own harshest critic and can get down on himself but Shevory believes he can succeed at Navy. When he's confident Sloan has shown consistent range up to 45 yards.

The other big move was the announcement that junior Graham Vickers would change positions with sophomore Bradyn Heap. Vickers will move to center and Heap will move from center to Vickers right tackle spot. This is a move head coach Ken Niumatalolo has traditionally made in the past of moving a bigger or more experienced player to center since establishing the fullback is critical to the success of the triple option. In 2008 in his first year as Navy's head coach he moved Ricky Moore from tackle to center where he started all 13 games. The following year he moved physical sophomore Brady DeMell from guard to center and he started the following two years. Graham Vickers played in every game last season and started the last three games at left tackle last fall. He has experience at center. In 2009 he played center at the prep school and I thought he was that team's best lineman. Vickers was a highly regarded recruit who ESPN proclaimed during his senior year was "one of the most athletic offensive linemen in the country." At NAPS in 2009 Vickers looked like the prototypical Navy option center. Vickers is quick off the ball, strong and runs extremely well for a lineman. Graham can get through to the second level easily due to his movement skills.

Junior Shawn Lynch is now the starter at Matt Aiken's wide receiver spot and has replaced him as the punt returner. Aiken injured his knee in camp and is expected to be out for a while. Lynch started last season at free safety but was switched back to wide receiver this spring. Shawn played wide receiver at NAPS and as a plebe. Lynch started the first five games at free safety but struggled. He made only 18 tackles and lacked the instincts for the position. Wide receiver is a better fit for him. He was a good receiver in high school and at NAPS. In 2008, as a high school senior, Lynch caught 73 passes for 969 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has solid hands and has demonstrated some ability to run after the catch.

The defense took a hit when sophomore striker linebacker Chris Johnson, who was having a great camp, injured his knee when he caught it in the turf. He will probably need surgery. Jordan Drake, also a sophomore, is expected to start in his place. The very physical and hard hitting John Tate, the projected starter entering camp, missed most of the practices after failing his physical readiness test. He is now back with the team. Tate along with wide receiver Brandon Turner and cornerback Albrey Felder who also failed the PRT are all with the team and getting back in football shape. I expect all to regain their spots on the depth chart soon if not for the opener.

With the absence of Felder the secondary depth chart has seen an influx of four freshmen listed in the backup and third string roles. The staff has been disappointed by the play of the returning cornerbacks. They have removed all except starters Parrish Gaines and Jonathan Wev off the depth chart. This wouldn't be the first time that Ken Niumatalolo has used the depth chart to motivate underperforming players. While no one wants to see four freshmen in such key roles this early in their careers, it does speak about how talented the secondary that played at NAPS was last fall. Naval Academy Prep school head coach J.P. Shevory stated to me that it was the most talented secondary he had seen at NAPS in both in terms of size and speed. GoMids.com featured current plebe back-ups cornerback Kwazel Bertrand, Quincy Adams, Shelley White and Myer Krah in our Meet the new Mids series last month. LINK.

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