The Midshipman return six starters on an offense that finished the season ranked third in team rushing at 280.9 yards per game while averaging 28 points per game. It was the first time since 2004 that Navy didn't lead the nation in rushing but no one is complaining about the rushing offense of a team that scored 44 touchdowns on the ground.
Under head coach Ken Niumatalolo's direction Navy hasn't missed a beat since Paul Johnson left for Georgia Tech. This spring highlighted the overall team speed and depth and athleticism that Navy has recruited since it emerged as the premier service academy football program. With spring practice behind them, Go Mids.com recaps the offense as it heads into the fall.
Newly elected Captain senior Ricky Dobbs (No. 4) returns as starting quarterback. The charismatic Dobbs is considered a dark horse Heisman candidate after coming a tremendous junior campaign in which he rushed for 1,203 yards. Dobbs established a NCAA record with 27 rushing touchdowns despite missing nearly two full games and playing the last six games with a cracked knee cap that required off season surgery. What's made Dobbs so unique among Navy option quarterbacks isn't just his toughness or ability to break tackles; it's his arm strength. Navy fans are so used to seeing Ricky make big plays in the passing game that it's surprising to realize he has only seven career touchdown passes. Dobbs only participated in non-contact drills this spring after his knee surgery. The good news he will be ready to go this fall.
Dobbs only weakness, according to offensive coordinator Ivan Jasper, has been his occasional failure to correctly read the option. During Navy's bowl win blow out against Missouri Jasper used a no huddle offense and called the plays for Ricky. It will be interesting to see how much the no huddle option offense is used this season.
With Dobbs out of the starting lineup backup quarterback Kriss Proctor (No. 2), a junior, emerged as the star of spring practice. Proctor split his two starts last year when Dobbs was injured and did a solid job. This spring he was a revelation, proving himself to be a lot faster and more explosive that previously thought. In the Blue and Gold game Proctor ran eleven times for 99 yards and scored three touchdowns. While the lefty Proctor will not remind anyone of Steve Young passing the ball he did show a nice feathery deep touch on a 56-yard touchdown pass in the B &G game. Proctor completed 8 of 11 passes in the spring game and looked a lot more polished and accurate throwing the ball than he did last year.
With backup quarterback Gordy Laws leaving the program due to injuries sophomore Travis Keating (No. 14) volunteered to be moved from safety to quarterback. Keating scored the first touchdown in the Blue and Gold game. Tyler Lynch, nephew of former Navy great Tom Lynch, also saw some action at quarterback. Expect both to be bypassed by incoming quarterback recruits with Keating probably moving back to safety.
Vince Murray (No. 47) was the biggest surprise on offense last season. The 6-foot-1, 217 pound senior proved to be a physical runner with surprising quickness along with great vision as he ran through the line. Murray started the last eight games he played in and finished the year with 971 yard and six touchdowns.
Backing up Murray is last year's opening day starter, Alexander Teich (No. 39). Teich, a junior, is smaller than most Navy fullbacks but is fast and physical. Teich seemed to be a little dinged up early in the season before being forced to miss two games with an ankle injury. When he returned he seemed to regain his burst and was very impressive both at fullback and on kickoff returns.
Junior Delvin Diggs (No. 37) rushed for 23 yard on four carries and scored a touchdown in the Blue and Gold game. Diggs held off a trio of sophomores Kevin Eckel (No. 25), Austin Beaty (No. 15) and Jarred Mack (No. 38) for the third string fullback slot.
To paraphrase the old "Three Amigo's!" movie; " Would you say Navy has a plethora of slot backs Jefe?" Head coach Ken Niumatalolo said after the Blue and Gold game that "Slot back is probably the most competitive position we have."
Even with the loss of Marcus Curry, Navy appears loaded at the position. In Navy football lexicon "A" backs, slotbacks, make plays. This group is loaded with players that have the ability to take a pitch the distance.
The most exciting is Gee Gee Greene (No. 21) who possesses electric quickness. Greene, a sophomore, was probably guilty of running a little bit two much east-west instead of finishing off all his runs. Greene did average 6.2 yards per carry and has the potential to be an impact player.
With Curry gone the other slot back figures to be a wide-open battle right up to opening day kickoff.
Junior Aaron Santiago (No. 26) right now occupies the starter spot. Santiago possesses excellent speed (4.49 in 40 yard dash) and rushed for 25 yards on three carries in the Blue Gold game. Tiny Andre Bryd (No. 20) hopes that this is finally the year he can contribute more to Navy victories beside being used as a human beach ball during the Mids post game victory celebrations. Bryd is one of the quickest players on the team but has seen very limited action from scrimmage. Converted quarterback Mike Stukel (No. 17) might bypass them all. Stukel , a junior, has good speed and can block on the move.
A number of sophomores also look like they can contribute this fall. Bo Snelson (No. 23) who lettered last year as a special teams player, had a terrific spring. In the Blue and Gold game he averaged eight yards a carry and showed off his speed on a 56-yard touchdown reception. John Howell (No. 33), who played on the JV team last year, is another slot back that can really run. Howell led all slot backs in rushing with 29 yards in the spring game.
Senior Greg Jones (No. 84) is expected to be one starter. Jones is one of the fastest players on the team and one of the best blocking wide receivers. Jones one touchdown reception last year was a memorable one, a 52-yard bomb from Ricky Dobbs in the upset over Notre Dame.
Mario Washington (No.1 formerly, No. 85), a senior, right now is the starter at the other wide receiver. At the beginning of camp Buddy Green looked at Washington at cornerback. However a series of minor injuries limited his practice reps and he was moved back to offense.
Mike Schupp (No. 80) also returns for his senior year. Schupp is a excellent perimeter blocker and started nine games last year. Junior Doug Furman (No. 82) is a physical blocker but needs to show more consistent hands.
Both starting tackles return for their senior years. Left tackle Jeff Battipagllia (No. 61) has been named to the Lombardi watch List. Battipaglia has started 27 consecutive games for the Mids and is their most consistent lineman. Right tackle Matt Malloy (No. 70) has started the last nineteen games.
Sophomore Josh Cabral (No. 65) won the left guard spot with his physical play. At 6-foot-3, 285 pounds the highly regarded recruit impressed all spring. Junior Brady DeMell (No. 75) is Navy's biggest lineman. DeMell started last year at both center and guard and is scheduled to play right guard this year. Eric Douglas (No. 71), a junior who had a terrific game in his first start against Notre Dame, is expected to play center. David Hong (No. 63) is the only backup guard with any significant playing time from scrimmage last year. He is considered the strongest player on the team.
With four returning starters this is an area of the offense that should be improved. Last year the line did a good job run blocking but pass protection usually looked like a fire drill. Before last season offensive coordinator Ivan Jasper said he expected to throw the ball more with Ricky Dobbs at starting quarterback. However those plans went by the wayside due to the offensive line's inability to pass protect. As mentioned on the Birddog blog site, Navy had the worse sack percentage in the nation by a wide margin. Navy will once again have one of the best rushing teams in the nation and should have no trouble scoring. If the line improves its pass blocking so that the Mids can unleash their passing game this offense could potentially be the best Navy's produced in its triple option era.
Next GoMids.com will look at the Navy defense.