10 Things We Learned This Spring

The number one goal each spring for college football coaches is to keep their healthy players healthy and to let their injured players recover. That mission was accomplished at Navy, Army, and Air Force as each of the academies avoided any major setbacks while keeping their hurt starters on the sidelines. In addition to that good news, here are ten more things we learned this spring.

1. Kriss Proctor is good.  Not only did the rising junior for Navy run for 99 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game, but more importantly, he looked much improved in the passing game. He completed 8 of 11 passes for 105 yards which included a pretty impressive 56-yard touchdown throw to Bo Snelson. When called on to fill-in for Ricky Dobbs last season, Proctor was less than spectacular throwing the ball, so his performance this spring should make fans feel a lot better about 2011.


2. Navy could be nicknamed ‘Slot Back U'. Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo confirmed after the Blue and Gold game that slot back is the deepest position for the Midshipmen. The mere fact that rising sophomore David Zapata is going to have his hands full to even make the travel squad confirms that Navy is loaded at a-back. It is hard to imagine but as of the last depth chart, John Howell, Mike Stukel, Andre Byrd and the aforementioned Zapata will see very little of the field this fall. Of course the rotation at slot back is all subject to change, but you better believe that most of these athletes would have no problem finding the field for Army. Indeed ‘the gap' may be narrowing between the two service academies, but not at slot back. Navy is loaded there.


3. Injured stars get special treatment. Gone are the days of Paul Johnson yelling at Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada for ducking out of bounds to elude a hit during a Blue and Gold game instead of fighting for more yards. Now you've got players like Dobbs, Jabaree Tuani, and others sitting out altogether when, if it were game time, they would be playing. Anyone who thinks this is a bad idea obviously was not at last year's Blue and Gold game when Niumatalolo watched Dobbs fall to the turf in pain after fighting for an extra yard in a meaningless scrimmage. It is a great idea. Moreover, I would have probably put Wyatt Middleton in a green jersey for the entire spring, but that's just me. Players like Tuani, Dobbs, and Middleton have nothing to prove in the spring.


4. Jared Marks is not small. I hesitate to make any comparisons to former Navy nose guard Nate Frazier, but in terms of mass, Marks is definitely in the same category. On a few plays this spring it seemed to my untrained eye that Marks just swallowed up a center and guard to make a play in the backfield. Don't tell Shane Bothel and Chase Burge that I said this, but look out.


5. Future of linebacker corps is bright. I could be wrong, but I think defensive coordinator Buddy Green held a casting call for the linebacker position this spring and all of the best athletes on either side of the ball tried out. If you haven't heard of Collin Sturdivant, Matt Warrick, Eric Stein, and Andrew Sharp yet, it won't be long before they are roaming the space in between the likes of Tuani and Middleton. Sturdivant, a rising sophomore, is already pushing Jerry Hauburger, a rising senior, at outside linebacker, and the others may be pushing other starters in the fall. I'm not ready to call this a position of strength yet because Navy lost a lot of talent here, but it will be in 2011.


6. Homerun threat still needed. If the first phrase that comes to your mind when you think of Alexander Teich is ‘homerun threat' then, well, we may have to agree to disagree on that topic. Sure, Teich is probably a very reliable (think ball security) option as a kick-off return man, but how nice would it be if one of those talented and quick slot backs could emerge as a threat to take a kick to the house every time he touches it? Maybe Bo Snelson will develop into that type of threat, but for now it looks like he will be doing more blocking for Teich on the kick-off returns than vice versa.


7. No signs of the no huddle. I failed miserably by not asking Niumatalolo or Jasper this spring about the future of the no huddle offense that was on display against Missouri in the Texas Bowl. In the handful of practices and scrimmages that I attended, I never saw it. I do remember reading somewhere that they were still tinkering with it which gives me some hope that it will become a staple in the offense. Ever since the end of the Temple game in 2008, I have been a strong proponent of letting Jasper call the play from the booth instead of leaving it up to the quarterback to get the team in the right play. This will be the first thing I look for when camp opens in the fall.


8. Adding some spice would be nice. Somehow I managed to attend both scrimmages that were open to the public and the Blue and Gold game. And I was not alone. Several hundred fans attended the scrimmages and over two thousand (or so) were at the Blue and Gold game. Now, I realize that Navy isn't Alabama and they aren't going to sell out NMCMS for any of these affairs, but I think there is definitely some potential here to fill the stands a bit more. In the coming days I will post some of my ideas in my blog. Here is one of them for starters: How about a flag football game at halftime of the spring game that pits Navy alumni against each other?


9. Air Force could be in for a long year. It is rare to hear that a team lost all five starters on the offensive line, but that is exactly what the Falcons will be facing this fall. In fact their most experienced offensive lineman, junior left tackle A.J. Wallerstein, has one career start. That could spell trouble, especially out of the gate as Air Force has three very tough games before Navy rolls into Colorado Springs on October 2. After dispatching with Northwestern State in its opener, Air Force will face three teams (BYU, at Oklahoma, at Wyoming) coming off bowl victories in 2009, all of whom have plenty of talent coming back. And if the Falcons are looking for a week to catch their breath this season, they are out of luck. In a weird twist of scheduling, Air Force plays 12 games in 12 weeks, and none after November 18. 


10. Army could be in for a good year. Before I get to the positive vibes coming out of West Point, I must first make a quick comment about the ticket prices for the Army-Notre Dame game this season. According to this release, it will cost at least $125 per seat ($90 if you don't mind standing for three-plus hours) to watch the game in Yankees Stadium. Most tickets are $175. To compare, you can get a seat to watch Army-Navy for $65. As for the on-the-field situation, Army has a good shot to start the season 3-1. I previewed their schedule here and I can not help to see why their fans are excited about the upcoming season. Their defense will be licking their chops when Air Force's retooled offensive line comes to town in early November. It should be a really good game.

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