Unfortunately for the Mids the transition from Kettani to the next fullback may be easier said than done, as the pro prospect accounted for some 88% of Navy's carries from the position last season. The fact that Navy's two backup fullbacks from a year ago combined for only 96 yards on the year (compared with Kettani's 982 yards) makes the situation appear all the more perilous, especially given the fact that Navy must also replace leading rusher Shun White at slotback and break in Ricky Dobbs as a fulltime starter at quarterback.
Still, the Mids are not without talent in the offensive backfield, and believe one possible answer may be found in current plebe Alex Teich, who comes into camp listed first on the depth chart at fullback. In terms of physical standing alone Teich looks every bit the part of the Division I tailback, having put on "ten or fifteen pounds of muscle" in just a few months of offseason training with Navy strength coach Mike Brass. Clocking in at a low 4.5 in the 40-yard dash and sporting a maximum bench press that approaches 340 pounds, the rising sophomore has more than passed the looks test for fans and coaches alike, but credits offseason film work and mental preparation as just as important in gearing him up for the spring season.
"Last year was just kind of a learning experience and everything" said Teich, who carried the ball only seven times for 24 yards as Kettani's backup last season. "This year I've spent a lot of time in the offseason in just going over film with coach and pretty much just learning the whole offense from square one again…I expect to be able to make plays and help the team to win."
If Friday afternoon's practice was any indicator of Teich's ability, he may just make good on his expectations. The native Texan had several nice runs in full contact, eleven-on-eleven drills, including a nifty touchdown run in which he broke several tackles and evaded defenders with a combination of quickness and deceptive speed. While he freely admits he may not have as much straight ahead power as past Navy fullbacks like Kyle Eckel or Adam Ballard, he says his speed and agility set his game apart.
"I think I can run kinda fast" chuckled Teich, who when asked to describe his running style compared himself to Eric Kettani. As for the fullback competition itself, Teich said it has been a good experience, especially in regards to going up against rising senior Kevin Campbell, who is also in the mix for the starting job.
And while Teich expects to be challenged primarily by Campbell this spring, the young but talented fullback also expects newcomer Jordan Eddington to be in the mix, as well as junior Vince Murray to compete for playing time. If anything, says Teich, the position may be decided more by committee in 2008, as the players vying for playing time bring complimentary styles of running to a position which demands the complete back.
"I think it will be more of a split thing this year" said Teich, who coming out of high school also held scholarship offers from Louisiana Monroe, Tulsa, and Air Force. "Not as much as Eric [Kettani] last year when he was the lone guy…I think more this year, we'll have two fullbacks in there."
And while Campbell and Murray may very well be the other fullbacks if the position does come down to a committee approach, the case of Jordan Eddington presents another intriguing possibility for the Navy staff. For Eddington the chance to play fullback represents a second chance in his Navy career, as the rising senior moves over from outside linebacker after failing to crack the two-deep in three years on the defense. The 6'0, 230-lb former linebacker has good speed and athleticism for his size, giving reason enough for coach Niumatalolo to ask Eddington to make the switch shortly after the end of last season. Eddington, who is listed in the Navy media guide as having run a 4.47 second 40-yard dash last spring, become something of a prime example for the disparity in speed between Army and Navy when he ran down Army kick returner Pat Mealy from behind last year in the Army-Navy game. Asked if a similar show of speed would be the determining factor in the competition for the starting fullback job, Eddington grinned and said he didn't know, but that it couldn't hurt.
"I think it helps to have speed, but at this position you need to have a combination of speed, quickness, and strength. Hopefully [my speed] will help me out…It's definitely one of my skills."
Despite spending the past three years with the defense, Eddington has had experience running with the ball in the past, with the San Antonio native having played tailback during his prep career at Taft High school. Even with his background as a runner however, Eddington says the transition into the triple option offense has been a challenge, pointing to the difference in offensive schemes between his high school team and what the Academy runs as the main points of adjustment.
"It's a big change" said Eddington. "[In high school] we ran a Power I when I played tailback, so I was carrying the ball like 35, 40 times a game. I had a lot of time to read what was going on in front of me, so it's a lot different. This is just a lot quicker."
Eddington credits Kettani, who has been working with the Navy offense as a mentor this spring, with helping ease the transition.
"I've been watching film of [Eric] all offseason, trying to catch the little nuances of the game and stuff like that," said the soft spoken Eddington after practice on Friday. "He helps me out and gives me a lot of good advice when it comes to foot placement, which way to turn my shoulders, which way to cut, stuff like that. So he's been a big help."
And while Eddington has used that help to earn his way onto the depth chart through the first week of the spring, coach Niumatalolo has made no promise to the speedster in keeping him at fullback for the long haul, saying that the senior will have to prove he's able to reliably carry the load if he is to earn playing time at the position. While all signs are pointing to Eddington's staying at fullback for the time being, Niumatalolo did make mention of the Texan after practice on Friday, saying that Eddington probably "learned that you better get your pads down when running the ball or you are going to get blown up pretty quick. "
Despite taking his knocks during the first week of practice, Eddington says he just wants to do whatever he can to help the team and finish his Navy career on a high note. Whether it Alex Teich, himself, or someone else on the roster, the senior fullback remains committed to the brotherhood mentality of Navy football, and said he's prepared to contribute in whatever way necessary for the 2009 team to be successful.
"Right now I just want to enjoy my senior season. It's my last go-around. I want to help out the team in anyway I can so we'll see what happens."