The Secondary is Primary for Navy Football

When you look at the ways in which Navy's defense teetered and wobbled last season in the shadows of a prodigiously productive offense, the secondary wasn't one of them. Navy's back four do what all good sailors should: anchor the Naval effort. With graduated (and dearly-missed) cover corner Shalimar Brazier on patrol, defending the passing game was not a point of weakness for the Midshipmen.

In the Houston Bowl, it took all-world gunslinger B.J. Symons two and a half quarters to truly get Texas Tech's vaunted passing game untracked. For more than a half, Navy more than held its own against the aerial circus produced by Mike Leach in Lubbock. By posting a first-quarter shutout and proving very successful in keeping the Red Raiders out of the end zone, Navy's secondary showed just how far it came in 2003.

Let's shift the focus somewhat and talk about the excellence of the Navy secondary in these terms: the heartbreaking loss at Notre Dame wasn't on the secondary; rather, it came about as the result of raw physical inadequacy on the front seven, as the Fighting Irish relentlessly pounded the run and found enough success to beat Navy without even having to pass the ball much. Similarly, Tulane—with stud runner Mewelde Moore—was able to gash Navy, but only on the ground. If you had success against the Middies in 2003, you did it by land, not by air.

With this reality serving as prelude, then, it becomes important for the secondary—with Brazier leaving—to find, at least in the first half of the 2004 season, the same consistency and effectiveness it obtained in 2003. If the Midshipmen can once again stop teams from making big pass plays, Navy can zone in on stopping the run, the true Achilles heel of the team's defense last season. Staying strong against the pass—while in itself being a testament to the secondary's excellence—will have the substantial added benefit of enabling Navy's secondary to provide more run support in short-yardage situations. Discouraging opponents from throwing the ball will put the Midshipmen's defense in position to load up in the tackle box with eight or even nine players, and to thereby stifle offenses that can't make Navy pay for gambling.

Gary Danielson of ABC Sports, considered by many—including this columnist—to be the foremost TV game analyst in the college football community, has said that downfield passing is a supremely smart move for college football teams and the offensive coordinators on their coaching staffs. The reason for this line of analysis is that, according to Danielson, the spread-out and diluted nature of talent—given the existence of 117 Division I-A football teams—will present many in-game mismatches between top-shelf wide receivers and weak cornerbacks. Whereas the NFL offers a league where each receiver-corner matchup is contested on very even terms, there are greater variances of talent in receiver-corner matchups at the college level. Therefore, Danielson says that downfield passing is smart football in the college game.

With all this having been said, then, if Navy can regain its back four brilliance in 2004, the Middies will once again meet up with considerable success as a football team. The secondary can indeed be a primary strength for the Navy football team this fall.


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