Navy spring practice begins today, so there is no time like the present to assess exactly what the Mids need to get out of this period of the year in order to be competitive in the American Athletic Conference this fall. Navy had one of the best seasons in recent history in 2015, but after graduating an incredible 35-member senior class there is plenty of work to be done in order to field a team capable of competing at the level where Ken Niumatalolo sees his squad.
One of the major problems with graduating so many players is the big vacuum in leadership that appears. Keenan Reynolds is the obvious example here as the outgoing quarterback recently became just the fourth player in the history of the Naval Academy football team to have his jersey number retired. The fact that the #19 jersey will never be worn again is partly due to Reynolds play on the field, but also due to his work ethic and ability to make those around him better. With the likes of Reynolds and Bernie Sarra now departed, new leaders will have to step up and help set the culture for underclassmen.
Navy graduated every starter from the offensive line and almost all the starters from the defensive line. The line play, on both sides of the ball, was a huge reason for the Mids success last year as the offensive line was so well versed in the option system while the defensive line was solid all season at the point of attack. The offensive line in particular will be a huge focus this spring as players cannot simply be thrown together and expected to work as a unit. There is talent on the depth chart, but there will certinaly be some growing pains with this group.
The most obvious hole on the team right now is at quarterback. You don’t just replace a guy like Reynolds who was essentially a four year starter and who now owns countless school and NCAA records. Tago Smith is entrenched as the new starter and both he and backup Will Worth will be held out of contact this spring. With a number of plebes on the roster battling for the number three spot the battle at quarterback will be interesting to follow.
It wasn’t that long ago that Navy couldn’t find a kicker that Niumatalolo could trust. This changed when Austin Grebe locked in the job two years ago and he started ever since. There are a number of kickers on the roster with senior D.J> Grant-Johnson looking like he has the inside track on the position.
One of the more interesting calls last season happened in the spring when Niumatalolo cancelled the final three practices on the schedule. This happened partly because of injuries, but also because with such a senior heavy team Niumatalolo simply did not think the work was needed. This year however the coach has committed to running all 15 allotted practices as there is simply so much work that needs to be done given the number of new players who will be involved. Expect the practices to be heavy on teaching as the coaching staff works on getting schemes and ideas into the players heads before really hitting it hard this summer.