It is no secret that Navy has been as good as at any time in the modern era over the last four seasons. The Mids have become a bowl mainstay, own Army and were a threat to win the American Athletic Conference in their first season in the league in 2015. Now though the Academy is at something of a crossroads. This spring, for the first time in a long time, is filled with uncertainty. This post is the first of two that will offer different takes on how the 2016 season will play out. On Monday there will be a post focusing on why Navy will exceed expectations this fall, because everyone needs something positive on a Monday. Today though we will look at five reasons Navy may struggle this year.
Keenan Reynolds has moved on
It is no stunning revelation that Navy will miss quarterback Keenan Reynolds. You simply cannot just magic up a replacement for the 88 rushing touchdowns and almost 4,600 rushing yards Reynolds put together in his epic Navy career. Reynolds control and command of the offense grew year upon year until he was as close as you will find, albeit in a different way, to Peyton Manning in the college ranks. Reynolds loss simply cannot be understated both in terms of his play and leadership both on and off the field.
The lines have been decimated
Navy was as senior heavy as it gets in 2015, especially on the offensive and defensive lines. The Mids graduated their entire o-line, while there is just one starter back from the defensive line starting crew. On the plus side there is some starting experience left on both units, but so much of the spring and early summer ball will be about trying to put the right players in the right positions to succeed this fall. The Navy offense is well documented as being complex and complicated to run effectively, these new players will have to get into the scheme quickly for Navy to be better than expected.
The schedule is uncompromising
Army will be better. Air Force will be better. Notre Dame will be Notre Dame. The AAC has a bunch of strong teams at the top. Heck, even the Mids one “gimme” game is against an FCS school that beat Army last fall. Navy now has the most rigid schedule of any school in the country, so in years where other schools are on the up, and the Mids are looking to rebuild, it could be a nasty combination.
Expectations are high
There is an aura of success around Navy right now that head coach Ken Niumatalolo is trying hard to instill into his players over the spring. Success at the level Navy had over the last half a decade is not easy to attain and very easy to let slip away. The Mids fans now know what the Naval Academy is capable of and expect the team to compete at, or at least close to, that level in 2016.
Danny O’Rourke is the Mids new special teams coordinator and he has a job on his hands to get Navy to be better in this phase of the game. This is especially true on kick returns, and area where the Mids were weak in 2015. Special teams play is all about depth on the roster, and athletic depth at that, so often when a team is not particularly strong or deep it shows first on special teams. As noted above Navy is young all over the field, so watching this part of the game will give a great insight into just how fast the underclassmen are picking up the nuances of the college game.