Every August, fans and analysts alike try to size up those players who will have the biggest impact on their teams' upcoming season, with this year being no exception. And while Navy fans recognize names such as Ricky Dobbs, Bobby Doyle, and Wyatt Middleton, there is always the potential for a previously unheralded or unknown player to have a ‘breakout' year. Here are seven Navy players who could fit that role in 2009.
SB Mike Stukel (So.)- Slotbacks coach Joe DuPaix told me at Media Day that Stukel has a lot to learn when it comes to playing slotback, but made no secret of the fact that the sophomore athlete and former quarterback has all the physical tools to be successful from the ‘A-back' position. Saying that Stukel has "great" speed, DuPaix pointed out that the Florida native would remain a full-time slotback during camp, a possible sign that the staff expects big things out of him in 2009. Like fellow sophomore Marcus Curry, Stukel has the size to be an effective blocker in the offense, but must show that he hass mastered the sometimes complicated reads for making his blocks.
NG Chase Burge (Jr.) - Like many of the players on this list, Burge was one of the better stories in the spring, earning high praise from defensive coordinator Buddy Green. While he won't beat out starter Nate Frazier, Burge's quickness and technique make him a more than capable backup at the nose position, and should help him see the field in 2009. When I talked to Navy defensive line coach Dale Pehrson last month, he made mention of his confidence to "roll two deep" on the defensive line – a luxury that is becoming more important for defenses against spread teams.
FB Vince Murray (Jr.)- While Alex Teich is the clear starter at fullback, Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo has said on numerous occasions that he's looking to supplement the sophomore's workload this year. Murray, who 6-foot-1, 217-pounds has the quickness and size to contribute at the fullback position, showed tremendous improvement this past spring, and should continue to make a strong case for playing time in 2009. He'll need to improve on his blocking however if he is to ward off senior Kevin Campbell's bid for the backup job.
DB Jarrod Shannon (So.)- Shannon is one of the better athletes in the Navy secondary and a player whom Navy fans have not seen much of up to this point. Out for the spring because of injury, he's made a full recovery just in time for fall camp. When I talked to defensive coordinator Buddy Green after the spring he couldn't stop raving about Shannon, who is currently second on the depth chart behind Wyatt Middleton at safety. He could end up being a key contributor in ‘nickel' situations this season.
WR Mike Schupp (Jr.)- It's almost unfair to call Schupp a potential "surprise" performer, as practice-going Navy fans can more than attest to his tremendous hands and excellent field presence. A consistent blocker who is also a better athlete than given credit for, Schupp won't likely put up monster stats in 2009, but look for him to get involved in the passing game and continue to improve as a downfield blocker.
ILB Tyler Simmons (Jr.) – Like Schupp, it might be unfair to label Simmons a "surprise" performer, especially when you consider that he did win the Admiral Mack Award during spring ball (given to the team's most improved player.) An elite athlete who at 6-foot-3, 228-pounds is unlike many previous Navy linebackers in terms of size, Simmons has tremendous quickness and diagnostic ability, excelling against both the run and pass. Trained at both the MIKE and SAM positions, Simmons is a player whom Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green has said will see the field on a regular basis in 2009.
SB David Zapata (Fr.)- The question has been asked before; which plebe, if any, will emerge to see the field in 2009? While it's an almost impossible question to answer or predict, one player to watch out for will be David Zapata, a 5-foot-7 slotback who ran for more than 6000 yards during his high school football career in Hornell, New York (click for video). Zapata was one of the stars at NAPS during the 2008 season, and given the precedence of past Navy slotbacks to contribute during their plebe years (think Karlos Whittaker) it's not out of the question to see Zapata on the field in some capacity during 2009.
Adam Nettina welcomes reader comments and feedback. He can be contacted at AdamNettina[at]gmail.com.