Five questions for Navy football this spring

Ken Niumatalolo passed George Welch as Navy's winningest head coach with his victory over Army. This spring Navy will again keep it basic. For the second consecutive spring the Mids aren't scrimmaging and there will be no spring game. The Mids will work three days a week for a month. In looking at this year's roster these are the key questions GoMids.com believes Navy must answer this spring.

REBUILDING THE OFFENSIVE LINE
Navy ranked second in the nation last year while averaging over 336 yards rushing per game. The success of Navy's option offense greatly depends on the offensive line and the Mids enter 2015 having to replace three senior starters.

One of the most likely replacements is at center where Blaze Ryder played in nine games and filled in at center for Tanner Fleming against Western Kentucky and Air Force. Ryder (5-11”, 265) is the younger brother of former Mid junior defensive back Wave Ryder. Ryder has played well when called upon the last few years. He is a short, stocky linemen with surprising quickness. Big junior Maurice Morris, a 6-3”, 315 pound road grader, will probably be Ryder's main competition at center.

Replacing left tackle Bradyn Heap will likely be junior Blake Copeland. Copeland was a First team All-State offensive lineman for Muscle Shoals Alabama in high school who was a direct admit. He is a 6-4”, 258 offensive lineman. He is an average athlete but has good functional football strength and is ready to compete for the starting job. The biggest challenge will be replacing right guard Jake Zuzek who ended his career starting 39 straight games and was Navy's best offensive lineman. Backup Ben Tamburello finally will get his chance to earn a starting job as a senior. Tamburello is strong, physical and quick off the ball. Tamburello was a three star recruit with a multiple offers when he signed with Navy. Tamburello father, Ben Jr, was a two time All-American at Auburn and a member of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. Ben Jr. played five seasons in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles.

LOOKING FOR LINEBACKERS
The Mids enter 2015 needing to replace three of their four linebackers. Fortunately this is a position the staff has recruited solid depth. Only Daniel Gonzales (86 tackles, 3 INTs.) returns at inside linebacker. The other inside backer is likely to be Tyler Goble, is a 6-2, 222 pound senior who made eleven tackles last season. Tyler appeared in eleven games at inside linebacker. Goble was a three star rated recruit after an impressive showing at national high school combines. The former direct admit has worked his way up the depth chart. Senior Inside linebacker Don Pearson was expected to compete for a starting job last year but injuries limited him. If healthy, Pearson is an athletic inside linebacker who was originally recruited as a wide receiver. Person had offers from Stanford, San Diego State and UNLV when he was recruited in high school. Junior Ryan Harris (15 tackles) played in every game last year and is in the mix at inside linebacker. Harris is a workout warrior. Ryan appeared mostly on special teams and flashed some of his ability in the Georgia Southern blowout victory. Sophomore Tony Mack flew all over the field making plays for NAPS in 2013 at SAM linebacker and could provide depth.

At striker linebacker the Mids lose talented Chris Johnson but this position is loaded. Athletic junior linebacker William Tuider (30 tackles) started four games at Raider linebacker but lost the job last fall and was moved back to striker linebacker. Tuider had one of his best games against Georgia Southern starting in place of Johnson. Tuider made five tackles, one for loss and forced two fumbles before leaving the game with a shoulder injury suffered in the first half. Tuider is very fast and can rush the passer and drop into coverage. He can be an impact defender. Tuider will likely be backed up by two athletic and talented linebackers. Josiah Powell, a junior, suffered a badly broken ankle at NAPS in 2012 but looks to be recovered and he runs very well. Another unknown who impressed me initially at the prep school is sophomore Kevin McCoy (6-4”, 205). McCoy was probably the most talented all round athlete on the NAPS defense in 2013 in my opinion. McCoy is quick, active, good speed off the edge and he dominated at times. McCoy has huge upside to his game. At Raider linebacker the projected starter is sophomore D.J. Palmore who appeared in five games as a direct admit and made seven tackles. The 6-3', 235 pound Palmore has nice size and strength for a Navy linebacker. He can bench press over 365 pounds and squat 475 pounds.

SEARCHING FOR NEW SAFETIES
With the graduation of senior captain Parrish Gaines at free safety and George Jamison at Rover the Midshipmen need to search for some new safeties. One of candidates is senior Kwazel Bertrand who moved from cornerback to Rover last year and started nine times before missing the last three games with an injury. He is tall and can cover but his inexperience at rover showed last season as he was beat a number of times on play action. Bertrand should regain his starting Rover spot. Kwazel finished the 2014 season with 53 tackles, an interception and he broke up two passes. At free safety Lorentez Barbour is first in line with the unenviable task of trying to replace Parrish Gaines. Barbour moved up the depth chart to second string last spring. Barbour is a former direct admit who has spent his first two years mostly on the JV team before earning a varsity letter last fall. The 6-1”, 194-pound Barbour is a good athlete with range. I'm a little surprised junior Daiquan Thomasson (6-0”, 205) hasn't pushed for more playing time yet. He was the starting Rover in 2012 at the Naval Academy Prep school. Thomasson really impressed me at the NAPS. Thomasson is a tremendous athlete. He is fast, strong, loves to hit and possesses a 38-inch vertical leap. He can cover a lot of ground. This could be a breakout year for him.

THE BREAK FROM BELTRAN
Navy must finally replace punter Pablo Beltran who was a four year starter. Beltran was probably the best punter in Navy history along with John Skaggs (2000-2003). He was a Ray Guy Award nominee. Her earned First team All East and honorable mention All FBS Independent. Navy is not going to have a punter as good as Pablo but someone has to replace him. Senior Gavin Jernigan was Beltran's backup last year and is first in line. The former direct admit was rated as one of the top 2012 high school kickoff/punt combo prospects on the West Coast. At Chris Sailer Kicking camp he was ranked by Sailer's camp as 26th nationally as a punter. Behind him are two former NAPS punters I've seen. Alex Barta was the punter for the Naval Academy Prep school in 2012. Barta (6-3”, 205) was a highly ranked punter by all of the major special team high school recruiting services. He possesses a very strong leg and can really drive the ball. Barta can kick for both distance and hang time. Barta’s punting averages can be deceiving because, for example, rather than blast a punt into the end zone from midfield he’ll put air under the ball and force a fair catch inside the twenty yard line. A lot of his punts weren’t returnable because of the hang time he puts on them which creates positive field position. He can challenge for the starting spot. Luke Holley (6-0”, 170) was the punter for the Naval Academy Prep school in 2013. He is a versatile athlete who was a punter and wide receiver in high school. Luke is an unorthodox left footed punter. He has a short delivery and has a rugby style punting when he directional kicks. He won both punting competitions at the Kohl's Kicking Camp at ASU as well as the Kornblue Kicking camp at the University of Arizona before his high school senior year. As a high school senior he averaged 43.01 yards per punt.


THE FULLBACK DEPTH CHART

Navy's three headed fullback backfield had a tremendous 2014 season rushing for 1,727 yards. The Mids lost almost 59% of their production from last season but the B-back position looks again to be a deep position. Senior fullback Chris Swain was bigger and faster last year as he rebounded from a somewhat disappointing sophomore campaign. Chris ran 104 times for 693 yards, averaged 6.7 yards per carry and scored four times. He showed his impressive burst he had at NAPS and during his plebe year with a 46-yard touchdown run against Air Force. At 245 pounds the Swain Train ran with power and speed all season. He lost only one fumble against Temple. His only catch was a twelve yard juggling touchdown reception against Notre Dame.

Senior Quentin Ezell (6 att., 29 yards) is to Swain what Quentin Singleton was to former starter Noah Copeland. Ezell has played behind Swain since their days at NAPS. He is a B-back with size and speed but has seen few game reps in the backfield due to the talent in front of him. He should get his chance this season. Junior Shawn White (6-1", 255) didn't carry the ball last year in a lost season for him. White looks the part of a Navy fullback getting off the bus. He is a big, tough punishing fullback who has good feet for his size. White has run the forty yard dash in 4.78. Shawn is a burly, thick heavy leg runner who runs hard and can break tackles. White isn't shy about taking on linebackers. He has good balance and can slide at times laterally to slip tacklers. White showed his punishing running style in very limited duty as a plebe in 2013 when he carried a number of South Alabama defensive players into the end zone for his only career touchdown. There is plenty of talent here but the question is who will backup and spell Swain.

GoMids.com Top Stories