Defensive Line: Senior defensive-end John Chan has been a beast. He leads the team in tackles for a loss (3.5) and sacks (3). Against Massachusetts he led the team in tackles with nine. Against East Carolina and Stanford, the defensive line as a whole did a great job stopping the run, allowing 76 and 74 yards respectively. However, the pass rush has been less than stellar, which has allowed several opposing quarterbacks to read a magazine or two while waiting for an open receiver to break free. Against Connecticut, though, Navy's blitz schemes were very effective as the defensive strategy to make the UCONN quarterback beat them with his arm was a good one. I expect Navy to use a similar strategy against the run-happy Falcons this Saturday.
Bottom line is that when facing offensive linemen who weight over 300 lbs, the Navy front three continues to need as much help as they can get. When they do, they flourish. When they don't, they flounder.
Linebackers: When I asked Reggie Campbell which Navy defender he fears the most in practice, he said quite simply, "Dave." At first, I thought he was talking about me – but at 5'7" and 155 lbs, I don't exactly instill fear in anyone…so I quickly realized he was talking about #40, senior linebacker, David Mahoney. When this season is over and folks start to think about next year, the conversations should always begin with the rebuilding that will need to happen at linebacker. Mahoney along with classmates Rob Caldwell and Tyler Tidwell only know one speed – hyper drive. And if I was an opposing running back, I'd try to find out real quickly which direction they are channeling that speed and avoid all of them. All three would probably agree that the Tulsa game was by far their worst effort, and rightfully so. In addition, they should all (Clint Sovie included) have nightmares about any pass that contains the word, ‘screen' in it. Connecticut seemed to pick up on this weakness as well as they were able to find their #1 player wide open in the flat for an easy touchdown. But I'm getting a little picky with this bunch…and if Reggie fears them, so will I if I give them a bad grade.
Secondary: You can't really get much more inconsistent than Navy's secondary; however injuries to starters Dujuan Price and Ketic Buffin have definitely played a factor in their performance. Statistically speaking, it isn't too pretty. Navy has given up 240 passing yards a game – only 18 teams (out of 119) have given up more. Perhaps more disturbing is that Navy has given up 56 first downs through the air – only 9 teams have given up more in that department. Luckily, the best aerial assaults on the schedule– with the exception of Notre Dame – should be behind the Navy secondary. Of the eight offenses not from South Bend left to play, Duke has amassed the most yards per game (166) through the air. Getting Price back for the Notre Dame game would be a huge lift. In the meantime, the secondary should probably work a little bit on catching errant throws. Considering the upcoming opponents, there could be a few misdirected passes, and unlike the Connecticut game, an interception could prove to be a big difference in the final score.
Special Teams: From inconsistency to consistency. With the exception of a missed extra-point, Navy's special teams play has been a pleasant surprise. Recognizing the biggest hole to fill in the off-season was at punter, Coach Johnson must be pleased with the success of junior Greg Veteto. Veteto has averaged 37.2 yards per punt with seven of his boots landing inside the 20-yard line. Last season, Eric Shuey averaged only a yard more per punt and managed to down ten kicks inside the 20-yard line in 12 games. I wouldn't necessarily call our punting game a strength but because of Veteto and the efforts of gunners Reggie Campbell and Zerbin Singleton, it sure isn't a weakness. As far as field goals go, let me just be honest. I get extremely nervous with each snap, hold and kick. However, Matt Harmon bounced back nicely against Connecticut (2-2 on FGs) after missing the extra point against Tulsa. The 39-yarder against the Huskies may have been good from over 45 yards – so Harmon's got a good leg, which Navy needs since junior Joey Bullen is still hampered by a groin injury. As far as our kick and punt return/coverage teams – I've got no complaints as long as they hold onto the ball and prevent the long return. So far, so good.
Coaching: Prior to the Connecticut game, I was prepared to fill this section with some constructive criticism. However, one thrashing of a solid Huskies team and it's probably a good thing I held off. Prior to the aforementioned game, my biggest problem with Navy's offense was its inability to get the ball into Reggie Campbell's hands. I realize it is the triple-option and its function depends largely (if not entirely) on the defensive scheme – but come on! There is no denying that Campbell is an extremely special talent, so why not put a special wrinkle or two into the game plan in order to get him the ball. One wide receiver screen and one inside counter play later against Connecticut and I am satisfied that Coach Johnson and I are on the same wavelength. As far as Defensive Coordinator Buddy Green and the ‘Bend but Don't Break' defensive scheme; I was all set to lay into that idea a bit last week, but alas we turned our linebackers and corners free and blitzed the heck out of Connecticut. Any team who is able to run on Navy will probably be able to tear our secondary to shreds. Successful blitz packages can be a great equalizer…let's do more of it! If we are going to get beat deep, at least don't allow the quarterback to admire his pass while still standing up. Now, my only advice to Coach Johnson is to take more defeats personally…heck, take them all personally. He readily admitted after the 41-17 victory this past Saturday that the 38-0 loss to UCONN in 2002 was something he never forgot. The result…the Navy offense came out of its ‘phone booth' and gave its best performance of the year. Therefore, for this week's inspiration, Coach Johnson please remember that Air Force beat the pudding out of us, 48-7, in 2002 as well.