MLB Biggest Question for Navy

The Mids have questions in the middle. With spring practice back under way the single biggest point of emphasis for Ken Niumatalolo and his staff is to identify the two players who are most likely to start at the middle linebacker positions this fall. Whoever the chosen two are they need reps, and plenty of them, both in practices, scrimmages, and the spring game.

With the way which Navy likes to structure its defense the two middle linebacker spots are critical. This was proven in last year's highly successful season by the play of soon to graduate seniors Cody Peterson and D.J. Sargenti. Just the tackle numbers alone are astronomical, Peterson had 142 (leading the team with one of the highest tackle totals in school history) while Sargenti contributed with 110 stops of his own.

The play of these two though cannot be gauged by raw numbers alone. The middle linebacker spots are asked to do everything from pass rushing to deep coverage in this Navy scheme, all while being the mouthpieces and organizers of the defense. Add in the fact that both Peterson and Sargenti were every down players, often playing in the specialized third down/nickel defenses, and you realize just how difficult it could potentially be to replace their production.

"It's a big spring. We need to find some guys that can get the job done," said inside linebackers coach Steve Johns to the Capital Gazette. "We have a lot of potential there, but we have to see who can play." Navy actually has twelve players getting reps this spring at inside linebacker and the competition is still described as being wide open. One of the more interesting aspects of the inside linebacker position at the academy is that it has not always been filled by players who were recruited to play that positions. That is because of the value based on athleticism and intelligence by the coaching staff at such a difficult spot on the field.

This can be seen even in the very early spring depth chart which has senior James Britton and junior Don Pearson as the two starting inside ‘backers. Britton (6-2, 223) started his Navy career as a safety, while Pearson (6-3, 224), who picked Navy over Stanford and San Diego State, was originally sought to play on offense at wide receiver. What you can tell just from these two player's measurables, however, is that they are both tall, rangy athletes, perfect in modern day football when your inside linebacker has to be so much more than an up the gut run stuffer.

This is a very fluid situation, with players making gains on each other on a daily basis based on their level of play. The battle will continue throughout fall camp, and it wouldn't be any shock at all if at least one of the starting positions was up in the air as close as a week before the opening game against Ohio State. If you just focus on one area of the Navy team this spring and fall, make it the inside linebacker spot. It could well be the key to the Mids season.

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