And unlike the opening of practice, this part was filled with anticipation. From the staffer filming the practice on the scaffolding high above the field to the now very-sore players in red jerseys on the sidelines, everyone was all waiting anxiously for that first big hit. And it didn't take long for rising junior fullback Eric Kettani to deliver it and for fellow classmate and linebacker Clint Sovie to be on the receiving end of it. And even though Kettani got the best of Sovie on this play, don't feel too bad for the linebacker – he got in a few whacks of his own later on, and so did several members of the young defense. I was particularly impressed with the defensive line as they seemed to be making plenty of stops at or near the line of scrimmage. Their performance was more significant in my mind because whereas the offense was rotating between the first and second teams for the first ten minutes or so, the first-team defense was staying out there.
On the offensive side, rising junior quarterback Jarod Bryant was doing a good job running the first team, and in particular he made one really nice touchdown throw to a slot back whose number I didn't catch (I think it was Zerbin Singleton though). Bryant was in with the first team because his classmate Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada was playing slot back. You can imagine my surprise when I saw that, but I quickly learned that Kaipo was only covering the position because of some minor injuries to other slot backs. That was unfortunate because two slot backs who I was really hoping to catch a glimpse of, John Forbes and Bobby Doyle, were both out for the day after being "dinged up" in Saturday's scrimmage. So Kaipo was at slot back and from the looks of it he was having a good time out there.
As the 15-minute session came to a close I felt quite impressed because, to steal a phrase used once by Coach Johnson, "snot bubbles were flying" all over the place. I thought Nate Frazier held his ground and for the most part the defense showed great intensity. On offense, Kettani and Bryant looked smooth but as a whole neither the first or second team seemed to get completely in synch. Now can you draw any conclusions from any of this? Of course not, but for my money it was good to see the defense able to keep the more experience offense in check a bit.
For the next 25 minutes or so, most of the defense went to another field to do a light scrimmage (no hitting) against each other, while the offense separated into a few different groups. I decided to stay put on the same field to observe the offensive backfield run some passing drills against a core set of linebackers and defensive backs. Once again, Kaipo was lining up as a slot back/receiver which gave Bryant, rising senior Troy Goss and rising sophomore Greg Zingler a bunch of reps at quarterback. From my expert (Pop Warner) point of view, the one quarterback who really stood out was the one not throwing the ball – Kaipo. The Hawaii-native who rushed for ten touchdowns last season showed off a good set of hands to go with his impressive route running. On a few occasions he was separating himself from the secondary and even finding seams when it appeared the defense was playing some kind of zone.
Coach Johnson opened the Boston College game with Bryant behind the center and Kaipo at slot/receiver for a different look, but I'm curious to see if he may think about using a similar alignment if Navy is losing late in a game this season. I realize Kaipo was only out there catching balls today because of injuries to other teammates, but who knows?
Ok, back to my way too in-depth, blow-by-blow review of spring practice, which was about to conclude with another 15-minute sparring session between the offense and defense. I'm sure it will disappoint most of you still reading this article that I didn't pay as close attention to this scrimmage because I was informed at the beginning of it that I was the only journalist on the field and I could pretty much interview anyone I wanted to. Since I thought I would be in the company of other reporters, I only came with six questions for Coach Johnson – figuring I would piggy-back on some of the other queries launched his way. So I needed to throw together a few more questions for Johnson and possibly some other coaches and players. Therefore in between plays, I scribbled notes which took away from my ability to analyze each play to the fullest of my potential. However, what I did notice was rising sophomore fullback Jack Hatcher has a really quick burst of speed but not nearly the size of either Adam Ballard or Eric Kettani. I think I overheard one of the defense players refer to him as a quick dump truck or something like that. I'm not exactly sure what they said because all I wrote down on my notepad after he broke off a big run was ‘#41-dump truck.'
Once the scrimmage ended, Coach Johnson called for the team to practice a few field goals, and after a few accurate kicks the team came together for a final chat with their leader. As they did this, I readied myself for my exclusive interview with the coach.
Now, when I started this column, I had planned on getting into my conversation with Coach Johnson, but Navysports.com was kind of enough to put the transcript of the interview on their web site before I finished. So if you would like to see how he managed to top his aforementioned "freaking awful" comment, click HERE.
To conclude, the two-hour practice provided me with great insight in regards to the effort expected by the coaching staff of each and every player – even the injured ones. It was one thing to read Coach Johnson's disparaging comments about the team, but to actually go to the practice field and see for myself what freaking awful – or double freaking awful looks like up close was very enlightening - and a lot of fun. Now if they can only put in a concession stand near the practice field, I'd be all set.
To send a comment to David about this column, email him at Ausiellodp@yahoo.com