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In a move perhaps indicative of the difference in coaching styles between the departed Paul Johnson and the longtime assistant Ken Niumatalolo, Navy's players were directed to run a series of physically demanding shuttle drills to begin the session, which officially kicked off the start of fall football camp. When asked about the reason for changing the format of this year's Fan Fest, Coach Niumatalolo affirmed a need to take care of business on the field, hinting at a more serious and potentially urgent attitude to carry through August. Saying that Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium was "our house," Niumatalolo also reported that the offseason workouts conducted by Coach Mike Brass were the best since his arrival at Navy, and proudly reported that the team had met all its designated physical fitness and conditioning goals. Still, he was very careful not to sound too overconfident, echoing the familiar Paul Johnson mantra of "the next game is always the most important" when asked about the team's 2008 schedule. Above all, Coach Niumatalolo harped on a theme of improvement and progression, something he hopes to not only see from his projected starters for 2008, but from the entire football team.
Recruiting Update: I caught up with Coach Niumatalolo after the press conference and asked him about the impact of Army's now infamous (not to mention defunct) Alternative Service Policy and how it had effected the inter-service Academy recruiting trail. While he acknowledged that the policy gave Army a short term boost in recruiting over the course of the offseason, he was quick to point out that its failure to stick would minimize any long term advantage West Point could have developed. Going back to the idea that Army, Navy, and Air Force recruit the kind of High School player that is realistic about his chances in the NFL, Navy's first year headman assured me that Navy's straight shooting style of recruiting will continue to pay dividends against the likes of Army and Air Force.
Carrying the Load: During the press conference I asked Niumatalolo about the depth at the fullback position, and whether or not he feels confident in the ability of junior Kevin Campbell or sophomore Vince Murray to relieve senior Eric Kettani if called upon. Much of Navy's success with the inside running game over the past few years has been largely due to the use of a two-fullback system in which the backup can effectively relieve the starter if called upon, a point seen first hand with the "Thunder and Thunder" approach of Adam Ballard and Eric Kettani last year. For the first time since Kyle Eckel's departure however Navy faces a situation without a proven backup fullback, a point of particular concern for a team which uses the position both extensively and aggressively in the offensive gameplan. While Niumatalolo affirmed that he expected either Campbell or Murray to win the backup job outright by the opener with Towson, he didn't leave out the question of asking Eric Kettani to carry the load largely on his own if needed, a prospect which the 6'1, 233-lb battering-ram-with-speed doesn't seem to mind.
Odds and Ends: It's not at all unusual to see Midshipmen leave the team or the Academy after the season finishes, and with Johnson's departure in December it seemed like a very real possibility that the program could face something of a minor exodus in young talent. Fortunately for Navy this was not the case, as Coach Niumatalolo confirmed that the program has not lost a single player since the spring…QB/SB/PR Jarod Bryant feels confident in his ability to contribute in a number of offensive facets this fall, saying that his knowledge of the game as a quarterback has helped him adjust to playing slotback…Both Jeff Deliz and Clint Sovie talked about how tough it was to sit out with injuries last season, but expressed enthusiasm at returning to the field this fall. Deliz, who told me that he's not going into camp assuming he's already won the starting rover job, said that the secondary will be a particularly interesting group to watch because of all the players returning with at least some starting experience. Sovie meanwhile expects a tough position battle with fellow linebackers Tony Haberer and Ross Pospisil, but ultimately reaffirmed how healthy it was to have position competition going into the season…Watch out for sophomore slotbacks Andre Byrd and Greg Jones. I talked to starting slotback Shun White about both of these young players and he was very high on their ability to not only be significant contributors in 2009 and 2010, but to even see the field in 2008. Byrd, who at 5'7 reminds many of recently departed Navy slotback Reggie Campbell, has unbelievable quickness and cutback ability, while the speedy Jones impressed in the Spring Game…Coach Niumatalolo filled me in on the evaluation process for the incoming plebe football players, and said that the team usually tries to identify the top three incoming quarterbacks to leave at the position before experimenting with position changes for the rest. My bet on the top three plebe quarterbacks? Brian Blick, Mike Stukel, and Kriss Proctor...So, now that he's graduated can we get an answer on how fast Reggie Campbell actually is? I asked around about Reggie's mysterious 40-yard dash time (once reported at 4.25) and received answers from anywhere in the high 4.2s to low 4.3s. I think slotback Greg Shinego said it best though when he confided that Campbell was the best athlete he had ever seen. Let's just hope Navy doesn't miss his presence on the field too much in 2008.
That's all for now, but be sure to check back later for continued thoughts from around the non-BCS conferences and more musings o Navy football's 2008 media day.
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