Alarm Signal: Aaron is Errin'

Yes, to err is human, but Aaron Polanco is erring a bit too much in practice. That's the one potentially worrisome sign from the Navy football team's early practice sessions and scrimmages, where the kinks are being worked out in August, as is the case for all other 116 Division I-A football teams across the United States.

Head Coach Paul Johnson has noted that the defense is ahead of a sluggish offense, that the offensive front--especially further down on the depth chart--is getting clobbered, and that a ton of work needs to be done.

None of those developments should matter. This is a time for weeding out sloppiness and gaining (or perhaps, in light of Navy's excellence last season, RE-gaining) a feel for the game. This is a time when the hard-hitting defense will outclass the offensive unit, which has to reacquire smoothness and seamlessness in ballhandling, reads, motions, and the other nuances of Navy's finesse-oriented ground game. There ought to be a boatload of work left to do for these sailors as they prepare to navigate the choppy waters of college football life as a favorite, a heavy, in 2004.

All in all, Paul Johnson should be barking at his team, mentioning the flaws, lamenting the mistakes, and generally sounding a critical note to get his team on edge and create a culture of hard work. Navy's head man is sounding the right themes with the appropriate level of intensity, for these Middies will have to outwork last year's team--not to mention their opponents this autumn--for 2004 to be even better than 2003. Ninety-nine percent of practice has been normal, all things considered.

Aaron Polanco is the lone exception.

Yeah, he shouldn't be expected to be lights-out just yet, but one would have thought that the senior who saw significant action two years ago, when thrown into the fire against Notre Dame in Baltimore, would use this August to stake his claim to the mantle of leadership under center. It was not unreasonable to expect Polanco to grab the quarterback position with two hands, and to let everyone know that after Craig Candeto's departure, there's no reason to expect any appreciable drop in offensive productivity.

But in this past week's scrimmage, Polanco went 4 of 11 for 36 yards.

Let's pick those numbers apart.

If Polanco is going to throw for that poor a percentage, he must at least hit a big play every now and then. But the 36 yards indicates a lack of a big play. A 36-percent completion rate combined with a low yardage total offers nothing to admire, nothing that would make a coach say, "Well, at least there's THAT category where he excelled." Nope, there's nothing you can cling to given Polanco's scrimmage numbers.

Navy could certainly use both potency and efficiency in the passing game this season, but that would, quite frankly, be something of a bonus. At the very least, however, Navy MUST have at least ONE of those two elements, with potency being slightly more important (as long as a low completion percentage is brought about by a lot of incompletions and few interceptions; turnovers must be minimized regardless of any other factors involving Navy's offense).

Yet, Aaron Polanco's first scrimmage session brought neither potency nor efficiency to the table. So, while this is only the first practice, and while--furthermore--no one's going to dispute Polanco's position as the main man under center for the forseeable future, the next few weeks before week one against Duke must witness discernible growth from Polanco, and the emergence of something in the passing game--either potency or efficiency--which will assure Coach Johnson that, on the few occasions when the Middies need to pass (and at some key points in the year, they will; that very ability could determine the really tight games in which Navy will be involved), they'll be able to get the job done and keep defenses off balance just enough to win.

Much of Navy's practices and scrimmages have offered nothing new to the way a college football team takes shape during the formative month of August.

But Aaron Polanco's progression is an exception. Results and growth need to emerge in the next few weeks if the outlook is to remain particularly sunny in Annapolis.


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