FIRST HALF GRADES FOR NAVY DEFENSE

Last week, I handed out grades for Navy's offense. This week, after a decent performance against SMU, I hand out the grades for Navy's defense and special teams. The Mids are 5-2 heading into a showdown on Homecoming weekend with Wake Forest. Can Navy's defense keep its strong performance going? We shall see. But first, here are their grades.

DEFENSIVE LINE

 

A look back: 2008

Last season then freshman Jubaree Tuani came out of nowhere to lead all Navy defensive linemen in tackles (22), sacks (1.5), and tackles for a loss (4.5) through six games. Tuani also forced two fumbles at the half-way point last season. The Mids, thanks to Tuani and Nate Frazier, were getting great pressure on the quarterback as they had eight sacks in the first six games in 2008. As a result, the defensive line was awarded a B+ for their efforts.

 

2009: No Nate, No Problem

When nose guard Nate Frazier was dismissed from the Naval Academy in August, fans feared the worst. Frazier was arguably Navy's best all-around player and his untimely departure left a huge hole (literally) in the front part of the Midshipmen's 3-4 defense. However, it didn't take long for Jordan Stephens and Chase Burge to help Navy fans forget about what's his name. Against a highly touted Ohio State offensive line, the tandem held their ground and helped keep the Mids in the game. Although nobody is going to mistake either for Frazier, with the help of senior Michael Walsh, the nose guard position has been a pleasant surprise. At the end positions, Tuani has been a menace and Nechak has been extremely consistent, especially considering he was coming off of knee surgery. Against Air Force, Tuani and Nechak combined for 14 tackles (10 solo stops). That performance aside, the statistics for the defensive line won't impress you too much. Neither will the lack of pressure exhibited against Pittsburgh and SMU. However, the Mids are a top-30 defense in large part to the ability of this unit to overcome adversity and injury, and for the most part to stop opponents' ground game.

 

Grade: B

 

LINEBACKERS

 

A look back: 2008

Last season at this time it appeared as if the Navy linebackers were just beginning to get into a rhythm. The maturation of Ross Pospisil, Corey Johnson, and Craig Schaefer was the main topic of discussion. And after two disappointing performances against Ball State and Duke, the unit responded with three great games against Air Force, Wake Forest and Rutgers. Their efforts earned them a B+ at the half-way point last season.

 

 

2009: In Ross We Trust

Ross Pospisil is on defense what Ricky Dobbs is on offense for Navy. It is extremely rare on any given situation, on any given down, on any given play to not see Pospisil around the ball. The man is everywhere – a fact that is supported by the statistics. The senior leads the team in tackles (53), tackles for a loss (5), forced fumbles (1) and fumble recoveries (1). The senior captain is also second on the team in sacks (2.5). Starting next to Pospisil for all seven games so far has been fellow senior Tony Haberer. The Liberty Hill, Texas native has also been impressive, especially against Air Force when he registered 8 tackles. Also in the mix at inside linebacker is junior Tyler Simmons who keeps taking advantage of every minute of playing time he gets. Simmons is second on the team in tackles (42) and he has already led the team in tackles in two games (Louisiana Tech and SMU). On the outside, Navy hasn't been as consistent, but they have received solid contributions from Clint Sovie, Craig Schaefer and Ram Vela. Vela and Sovie got off to rough starts, but both are coming off their two best games. The bottom line for this unit is simple. Three of the top four tacklers for Navy are its linebackers. That's rarely a bad thing.

 

Grade: A

 

SECONDARY

 

A look back: 2008

After six games last season, Wyatt Middleton and Jeff Deliz shared the team lead in tackles with 42 apiece. Navy's secondary also had 5 interceptions at the half-way point. The emergence of Emmett Merchant allowed defensive coordinator Buddy Green to use Deliz to help stop the run. The unit got off to an impressive start last season and earned a B+ at the half-way point.

 

2009: Wyatt's World

When Navy announces the members of its 50th Anniversary All-Stadium Team who were selected for the secondary, junior safety/rover Wyatt Middleton's name should be included. If he is, he would be the first current player to be named to the list. Even though Middleton is only a junior, Navy fans got a glimpse of what life would be like without him roaming the backfield of the Mids' defense against Western Kentucky. Middleton was not injured, hardly; he was asked to fill in for an injured Ram Vela at outside linebacker. The change, which Middleton told me he was not completely comfortable with, was a disaster for Navy. The Hilltoppers put up a season high 434 yards and 22 points on the Mids. 276 of those yards by Western Kentucky came via a passing game that has averaged just 106 yards in their other five losses. If Pospisil is the Dobbs of the defense, then Middleton is the Doyle of the unit because of his big-play ability. Along side Middleton has been Blake Carter, Emmet Merchant and Kevin Edwards, who in their own right, have had very good years thus far. Merchant's two interceptions lead the team and the three combined for 20 tackles against Ohio State.

 

The bottom line is that currently the Mids are ranked #40 in pass defense yardage. Opponents are averaging less than 200 yards per game against the unit. And I'm willing to bet if they can keep their next three foes under that amount, Navy could go 3-0. It will be a great challenge especially against Wake's Riley Skinner and Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen. 

 

Grade: A-

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

 

A look back: 2008

Last season, all the rage was about Matt Harmon and Navy's punt blocking unit who virtually secured the win over Air Force; their return teams, however left a lot to be desired.

 

2009: A Cup of Joe is Good for the Soul

Ever since Joe Buckley won the field goal kicking job prior to the Air Force game, the junior is 4-4 with two overtime game winners. I think it is safe to say at this point that there is no ‘icing' of Buckley when the game is on the line. Meanwhile, his colleague, Jon Teague has done a credible job pinning back opposing kick-off return units. Also doing a very good job and getting little recognition is punter Kyle Delahooke, who is averaging 43.2 yards per kick. His punts against Air Force and SMU in particular were extremely important as they helped keep the Mids in the game when the offense was struggling.

 

As far as Navy's punt and kick-off return teams, well, they have been awful.

 

Grade: C (Kickers: A, Return Teams: D)


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