The ties between the Navy football program and the New England Patriots continue to deepen in an arrangement that seems to benefit both the NFL team and the Academy. Last week Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo and some of his coaching staff visited the Patriots facility on their first day of minicamp.
“They’re just up here to watch what we’re doing,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said after Day 1 of mandatory minicamp. “We have a great relationship with Ken. He’s been a good friend, and everything I’ve asked, he’s always been there for me.”
There are other NFL teams with strong links to colleges in their area, but the bond between the Patriots and Navy seems to have become one of the strongest, if not the strongest, in the country. The relationship began with Belichick as the Patriots head coach because his father, Steve Belichick, was an assistant coach at Navy for 34 years. This resulted in the younger Belichick growing up in Annapolis.
The ties deepened even further when the Patriots took a chance by drafting Navy long snapper Joe Cardona in the fifth round of the draft in 2015. In this year’s draft there was a feeling that the Pats would have taken former Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds in short order had he not been snapped up by the Baltimore Ravens. This thinking was based on the fact Reynolds had a private workout with New England leading up the draft.
This relationship is interesting because it seems to have helped both teams on the field too. Belichick is known for being a coach that will adapt strategies to help his team win. He is not one of the NFL coaches that is tied into the old way of doing things. The most obvious change was his use of the no huddle, fast tempo offense which was borrowed from the college game. The Patriots though have also subtlety used option looks from the Navy program and their offensive line blocking schemes are very much influenced by Niumatalolo’s teams.
The similarities are even more obvious on defense. The Mids have been running a 3-4/3-3-5 kind of look over the last couple of years, but the front also has the ability to shift to a more traditional 4-3 when required. This scheme shares many aspects with the defense run by Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. The Pats have even been known to run two, one or zero set defensive linemen on obvious passing downs and it will be very interesting to see if the two defenses merge their philosophies even more over the course of the coming season.