Starters: Casey Bolena #88 Sr. OR Matt Aiken #85 Sr.; Shawn Lynch #87 Sr.
Backups: Thomas Wilson #8 So. Brendan Dudeck #81 Jr.
Third String: Greg Bryant #7 Jr.
Navy must replace outstanding receiver Brandon Turner whose big, strong body and excellent catching ability helped the Mids offense immensely last season. After spring drills Casey Bolena and Matt Aiken were in a dead heat to take over for Turner while Shawn Lynch maintained control of his same starting receiver position that he manned last season.
Shawn Lynch (6-0, 190) is a senior from Alabama who started all 12 games in 2012 and is Navy's top returning wide receiver. Lynch was moved from safety, where he was a part time starter, following his sophomore season. Last season Lynch caught 14 passes for 281 yards and a touchdown. Lynch's biggest game of the season came in the opener in Ireland against Notre Dame with star Brandon Turner sitting out the game. Lynch scored Navy's first touchdown of 2012 when he and Trey Miller hooked up for a 25-yard reception. Lynch also made a 41-yard reception earlier in the game against the Irish and later in the season made a beautiful 68-yard reception in the loss in his home state against Troy. Academy football analyst Jim Lawler commented on Lynch's ability.
"He is a natural receiver who has a ton of big time ability," wrote Lawler. "He has exceptional balance and body control. Lynch gets in and out of his cuts quickly and is a good runner after the catch."
Casey Bolena (6-2, 210) was part of the same Navy recruiting class that included the aforementioned Shawn Lynch and Matt Aiken, the player Bolena is in a dead heat with for the starting position. Last season Bolena started two games and played in every other contest finishing with 17 receptions for 194 yards and a touchdown. Bolena had his best two games (reception wise) in the two contests versus Notre Dame and Penn State. Bolena made three catches for 61 yards versus the Irish and caught five passes against Penn State. As a sophomore in 2011 the Arizona native saw action in all but one contest catching four passes for 53 yards. Bolena doesn't have breakaway speed but is considered one of the best blocking receivers on the Mids' roster. Lawler wrote about Bolena.
"While Bolena doesn't offer much in yards after the catch he does use his size well to shield defenders to get open," said Lawler. "He has good hands and rarely drops the ball. His tenacious blocking style should help him to see playing time in the future."
Virginian Matt Aiken (6-0, 195) was considered the top receiver coming out of the prep school in 2009. In 2011, as a sophomore, Aiken started 11 games catching 13 passes for 201 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Aiken was considered one of Navy's top returning receivers for 2012 and was selected as a team captain by his teammates. However, a knee injury sidelined him for the first four games and he finished the season with only seven catches for 61 yards. He did catch two touchdown passes including one 3-yard scoring reception against Arizona State in the bowl loss. Lawler wrote about Aiken.
"Aiken is a... receiver who runs well and has excellent acceleration in and out of his cuts," wrote Lawler. "He knows how to get open, adjust to the ball in the air and he catches the ball cleanly."
Regardless of whether Aiken starts or not look for him to see significant playing time in 2013.
Brendan Dudeck (6-0, 202) is a junior who played quarterback his first season but was moved to wide receiver in the spring of 2012 and quickly working his way up to third string. Dudeck- who now finds himself as the backup to Lynch- is said to have good speed, hands and quickness. He didn't garner a reception during the 2012 season but that should change during the upcoming season. Jim Lawler wrote on Dudeck following the spring of last season.
"Dudeck has good speed and quick feet," wrote Lawler. "As the son of a coach, Brendan has good instincts and an understanding of the game. He made an impressive move on the wide receiver depth chart despite his inexperience at the position this spring."
Thomas Wilson (6-0, 192) was moved from the quarterback position to the wide receiver in the spring. Although Wilson doesn't have much experience as a receiver, his experience as a quarterback and knowledge of Navy's offense should help him at his new position. Wilson, a lefty, also has 4.5 forty speed and possesses good hands. Additionally, the Kentuckian played safety in high school and picked off six passes as a senior so he knows how to make catches.
Greg Bryant (6-2, 206) is another quarterback who was moved to wide receiver in the spring. Bryant is a good runner who has solid size and quickness which should bode well for him at receiver. Bryant was considered the top quarterbacks coming out of his prep school class but with the emergence of Keenan Reynolds it makes sense to move Bryant (along with Wilson and Dudeck) somewhere that they can contribute and have a chance to see the field. Jim Lawler described Bryant as having "a wide receiver like stride when he takes off" when he introduced Navy fans to the North Carolina star a couple years back. Now Bryant will indeed have a wide receiver's stride.
With three outstanding wide receivers graduating following the 2013 season, look for both Bryant, Dudeck and Thomas to see plenty of action during the 2014 season and beyond in Thomas' case.
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